(Loving them too much, anyway.)
Love everyone. Doesn’t that sound nice and cuddly? The devil’s in the details.
Many spiritual-minded but naive folk will tell you to love your fellow man. But you can’t choose to love. Love doesn’t work like that. If you try, it will go badly. I tried to for several years, just to make sure.
First, I defined love as benevolent action, not feeling, because I didn’t know how to will a feeling, but I could will an action. That at least gave me a place to start. But where to from there? Here’s what happened to me. Here’s what happeneded with others I knew who tried the same thing. Here’s what will probably happen if you try it.
With nearly each person that you show kindness to, you will get one of two results. Either you will discover too late that you didn’t know what was best for him after all, or you will guess right and then he will use you, take advantage of you and betray you. There is the occasional exception, but the point is to love everyone. So no, an occasional exception isn’t enough. You can’t make it up on volume when you lose that badly on most deals.
Then an internal voice will emerge, telling you to hate your fellow man for how that second group take advantage of your kindness. This is a dark and ugly path. I’ve been down that path, but now I know better. Better not to force love than to end up hating like that.
Another internal voice will emerge, telling you the first group proves that a sense of empathy is not to be trusted, and that people don’t know what’s best for each other. Listen to this voice. It’s the voice of wisdom.
I have also observed people who talk way too much about their love for all mankind, but treat actual people in their lives abominably, and also speak hatefully about various groups. This is why I never take anyone at his word when he talks about his noble values and how he’s a better person than you. Better not to profess love for mankind in the first place than to be this kind of hypocrite. Know your spiritual limitations. You’re not Jesus, and you never will be. So don’t signal virtues that no one actually has.
Elie Wiesel once said: “the opposite of love is not hate. It is indifference.” Hate is the flip side of love. It’s what you end up with when you love stupidly. To try to force a love that is not in your nature or is beyond your capabilities – that’s one way to love stupidly. Indifference is benign. Embrace indifference. I’m not saying you should try to force yourself not to care, as Buddha seems to have said. Just don’t try to love the unloveable, and the peace of indifference will descend on you, leaving you free to love something more deserving instead.
And what of ethics? Ethics is complicated, but it will be a lot less complicated if you don’t try to be something that no one can be. Any ethics that demands the immpossible is worse than useless. Give me an actionable ethics. I propose a negative approach to ethics: don’t make problems for people who aren’t giving you problems. Never mind being good, just try not to be evil and let good take care of itself.
Because not being evil is quite hard enough. A major corporation once had a slogan: “Don’t be evil.” They didn’t quite manage to live up to it, probably because a corporation has no soul. But an individual human being? You might just manage it if you really, really try.