William Shakespeare, and other poets of old and new; Isaac Izmove, and other engaging novelists; Albert Einstein, and other intellectual heavy weights. All of these men in their own way ask how to love well. Throughout our society, the endless search for love, appreciation, and acceptance does not stop. But what is love? I will make the over-simplification and say that love is a healthy selflessness that desires the best for the other person. Existential and philosophical analysis is well-intended, and word-smithing attempts to make progress, but how are we to answer a question so near the heart of humanity and life? And can the answer itself change us? It is one thing to ask a question to further a point in a conversation, it is quite another to seek an answer with tenacity, expecting the answer to change how we live. So, how are we to love well? Allow me to propose a hypothesis: to love well is to responsibly cultivate compassion and empathy without compromising the truth. I will not attempt to prove my hypothesis at the moment, but instead will ask questions about it. Let us discover responsible compassion and how to empathize with integrity, and explore what it means to maintain the continuity of truth in the context of love.
Compassion is truly an awesome thing! Every human being has the capacity for compassion. As defined by Webster’s Dictionary, compassion is “sorrow for the distress or misfortune of another with the desire to help, pity, or commiserate.” There is a balance in emitting compassion though. An example of when compassion gets the better of us at times is the homeless person we see sitting in a corner on a cold winter day. Shrewd judgment is required to give or offer the right thing, if anything at all. Irresponsible compassion is possible and sometimes detrimental. How then are we to conscientiously endow compassion with responsibility? Are we not required to give compassion in this life? Is compassion selfish in nature? I dare not answer just yet.
Empathy is one of the “oddities” that constitutes the human. Empathy is defined by the same dictionary as: “Projection of one’s own personality into the personality of another in order to understand ‘him’ better; intellectual identification of one’s self with another.” If you put together a “sheltered” individual and a person who has suffered a great injustice and still bears the marks of victim-hood, empathy would cause the former to put themselves in the latter’s position in order to better understand them. Empathy can greatly assistant in compassion. But when is it dangerous to project out identity onto others, and to what extent is it permissible?
And what role does truth play in loving well? “Judge not, that you be not judged” is one of the most quoted Bible verses. How is it that so often we are terrified to be judged, yet partake in harsh judgment ourselves? To be honest, our society is one of hypocritical bigotry. It makes truth seem unkind. If someone is wrong, however, how do we “lovingly” correct them? The purpose of correction, which is truth, must be in the forefront of our motivation. Is it loving to allow someone to be deluded? If we are apprised of knowledge, is it not our responsibility to act on it? Jeff Myers, President of Summit Ministries and a speaker here at Summit Semester, has said many times that truth must be given in relationship. The maturity to accept correction without a presence of relationship is far above most. I think it vital to create relationship before promulgating truth. Another, sometimes annoying, aspect of truth-telling is that it must be done in love, or a mixture of responsible compassion and empathy.
We struggle to allow empathy for the sake of gaining perspective, to yield to wise compassion, and to build relationship. And truth is sometimes discarded as a smelly sock in the presence of a dainty nose. No doubt, the question of “how to love well” with truth is a large and difficult one. Yet I believe the answer to this question informs our understanding of what it means to be human. And it must include the attempt to console unbelievable pain, to caress the aching hearts, and to prevent unnecessary pain. We must ask ourselves, are our compassion, empathy, relationships, and desire to tell truth selfish? I beg you, consider how you love.
These questions have been on my mind, but mostly my heart. I do believe it is possible to think with your heart and your mind, sometimes simultaneously. It has been said, “it is not the answers given, but the questions asked that creates a wise and humble heart.” I have read many books, and I have met many inspiring people here at Snow Wolf Lodge. Summit Semester has been amazing. Living in community with 29 other students, plus staff and faculty, has given ample opportunity to consider what it is to love well. Taking high and lofty thoughts, grounding them in our actions, and asking better questions is not easy, but it is worthwhile! Little happens here where an opportunity for growth cannot be found.
Jim Miller attended the last summer session at Summit in Manitou Springs, and decided to come straight to Semester directly afterwards. Jim was raised in Williamsburg, Virginia, not far from Colonial Williamsburg. He thrives in the great outdoors and enjoys working with his hands. Consequently, he is often sighted fixing things, buildings structures, and even hauling around giant logs just because they are interesting. With an eagerness to learn and to serve, Jim can be counted on to help out in any capacity asked of him. After Semester, Jim plans to continue pursuing his degree in Mechanical Engineering at Thomas Nelson Community College.