To my fellows in Anchorage who love their scenes and communities,
I keep seeing people repeating this phrase, “I don’t know how to explain to you that you should care about other people.” I have an afternoon to kill, so I think I’ll take a crack at it.
Let’s prime ourselves by considering a few questions:
How old will we be when we realize how deeply we impact our communities? When are we going to transform ‘belonging’ from a feeling to a state of being?
How long is it going to take for us to see ourselves less discrete from each other than fibers in a fabric?
I believe there is a kind of love that is fundamentally and intrinsically unselfish. The mutuality of this love is as obvious and central to one’s being as the knowledge that one is a being. I believe I will participate in this kind of love.
I am not yet participating in it, because I’m in my thirties and I have yet to walk into a roomful of people, take a slow breath, and allow my eyes and lungs to drink up one continuous honeyed, body-temperature slurry of existence, with Andrea melting into Zachary who is himself not himself without that same Andrea, as well as Andrew and Zoe. One long intimate slurp of love and being.
I can’t do it yet. I know I can’t do it because this kind of love is, like I said, unselfish. I’m plenty selfish. I do awful things all the time. I find fault with my friends’ art so that I feel better about the problems I perceive in my own. I “teach people lessons” they didn’t ask for and anyway, who am I to teach anyone anything? I eat meat, even though I believe firmly that I should not, and feel disgusted when I’m unable to keep my mind on the track that deliberately circumvents the slaughterhouse. I haven’t forgiven and made up with my brother, even though I know he needs me right now and also that it isn’t 100% his fault he acts like an ass.
Of course I’ve experienced love, but obviously, if I am ever going to participate in anything like the love I’ve described above, I have a lot of work to do.
A specific realm of this work concerns community. Every person we know is an actual person, as really real as we are ourselves. Every person we know and care about within the spaces of our community also knows lots of other people who are also really real, and all of these people exist sometimes in other spaces within our larger community. You may have also been to those spaces and met those people, maybe you haven’t visited any of those spaces, maybe you’ve been to some of the spaces and met some of the people. The point is, we’d have a hard time counting the overlapping connections, and even that would be excluding the connections we are not able to perceive.
Because the love I am describing has a permeating mutuality, it is important for all other people in the space to be able to participate in unselfish love as well.
We can consider under what conditions we ourselves best practice unselfish love in order to help us understand under what conditions others best practice unselfish love. We probably are least selfish when we are free from fear and other stressors, when we are physically taking care of ourselves, when we feel relaxed, secure, confident, etc. We can bundle all of this and say that we are likely most capable of loving unselfishly when we are “doing well.”
It’s not unreasonable to say that we are likely to encounter obstacles between ourselves and others when we are experiencing anxiety, depression, physical pain or problems, and other indicators of “not doing well.” In other words, “not doing well” gets in the way of participation in unselfish love.
If we want to participate in deep, unselfish love, we must be able to. Because other people are a fundamental part of this experience, the people in our communities must be able to participate in this kind of love. If being able to participate necessitates “doing well,” it is in everyone’s best interest to foster and support conditions where people are “doing well.”
This is beside the fact that, duh, these are either ourselves or people we love we are talking about, and so we want them to be doing well.
Because we love these people, it hurts us when they aren’t doing well. It hurts us to see our community members suffering. If we are hurt, we have greater difficulty participating in unselfish love.
Remember that most of the people we love are sometimes in other spaces where there are other people whom they love as much as we love the people in the space we are in. We may not have encountered all of the people loved by the people we love, and those people are connected to other people whom they love and so on and so on.
Knowing these connections exist, regardless of whether they are obvious and visible to us or not, and knowing that we suffer when the people we love suffer and the people we love suffer when the people they love suffer, it makes sense to participate in efforts which increase a person’s capability to participate in unselfish love, whether the person in front of us has been to our perceived main community spaces or hasn’t.
I’m sure by now you know where I’m going with this, and that’s great! Your cleverness is a big deal, and yep, you guessed it, helps me in my own ability to participate in unselfish love. Consider in your mind what your own community spaces look and feel like. If you’re my target audience, these places probably include open mics, dive bars, indie book stores, live performances taking place in museums after typical operating hours, etc.
Don’t we want to walk into these spaces and immediately be “belonging” itself, awash with the perfect love that is conserved the way energy is?
If you are thinking to yourself, “I already have that experience,” I respectfully am challenging you to consider if you are evaluating situations clearly, if you really believe the love you experience in these spaces truly has reached its ultimate depth, and if you are being fully honest with yourself. If you are repeating now, “I already have that experience,” then I am asking you to please contact me, because I need your help in achieving this alongside you!
For everyone who is still working toward unselfish love, we can think about ways we can help protect the people in our communities from suffering, realizing the importance of the betterment of all, rather than just the betterment of ourselves or our immediate communities.
Something that immediately jumps out at me is following guidelines designed to reduce the spread of COVID-19 while we are inside of our community spaces. We want to do things like dance, sit closely, and be together unencumbered by a mask. I get it. I want to be able to do all of those things, too. The reality, however, is that evidence indicates that following masking
and social distancing guidelines connects to a trend of fewer infections and deaths, and flouting these guidelines connects to a trend of more infections and deaths.
It’s very likely you personally know someone who is considered “at risk” either due to their age, or due to already having to go through life dealing with some illness. If this person suffers through COVID-19 infection, or is hospitalized, or dies, you will likely be affected. You will have lost someone, and thus, likely won’t be “doing well.” If you don’t know anyone like this, chances are nearly 100% that someone in your immediate community does, and if they lose that person, they will be suffering. Remember how we feel when we see our community members suffer.
It is lame and annoying and just not as fun to follow the masking and social distancing guidelines, but “not as fun” is not the same thing as “no fun at all,” just as “no fun at all” is not the same thing as suffering and death.
When we decide to flout COVID-19 guidelines in community spaces, we are saying “my own enjoyment of these spaces is so important to me that I am unwilling to temporarily modify my behavior within those spaces in order to help lessen the suffering of my fellow community members.”
If we’re being honest with ourselves, it’s even uglier than that. Because we understand that “not as fun” is not the same as “no fun at all,” we are acknowledging that having a good time, some amount of fun, in these spaces is possible while also behaving in a way that reduces the suffering of our community members.
When we decide to flout COVID-19 guidelines in community spaces, we are saying “my fun being at its maximum possible level at all times is so important to me that I am unwilling to temporarily modify my behavior to help lessen the suffering of my fellow community members.” In other words, we are saying “my desire to have all of the fun is so great that I don’t care if it comes at the expense of my community members’ suffering.”
Do we really believe we “love” the people of our communities if this is how we are treating them? Does a community where the members care so little about each other (and lie to themselves and each other about it, because we all are so quick to say how much we “love” our communities) sound like a community at all? Let’s say we weren’t shooting for some kind of real, transformative, purifying love, and instead were only going for a chill place to hang out. Does a space where the people within it are totally comfortable contributing to the suffering of others in the pursuit of “fun” sound like a chill place to hang out?
Do you like the cookies so much you need to eat all ten of them, knowing the friend you’re sitting beside and whom you claim to “love” is hungry and has no cookies at all?
Because that’s what you sound like.