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3 Ways to Love Those We’ve Never Met

Published:
December 14, 2023
June 26, 2023
Learn how to love others by following these three ways.|Learn how to love others by following these three ways.

My morning routine begins when my iPhone alarm rings. (The phone was made in China of individual parts from so many different places the shipping miles required to bring it to my house exceed the distance from Earth to the moon.)

After refusing to leave my Egyptian-made sheets for a few minutes, I turn on my bedside lamp, which is powered by electricity most likely generated from coal mined in, say, West Virginia. I take a shower (Mexican soap), get dressed (Old Navy shirt made in India), brush my teeth (plastic toothbrush made of petroleum that was pulled out of the ground somewhere), hop in my Japanese car and eat a bagel while driving to work (wheat grown somewhere in Middle America).

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., used this rhetorical device during his sermon on Christmas Day, 1967, making a list of routines and their global origins. “And before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you’ve depended on more than half the world,” Dr. King said. “This is the way our universe is structured, this is its interrelated quality. We aren’t going to have peace on earth until we recognize this basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality.”

There are literally thousands of people all over the planet who make my day possible. As Dr. King put it in that same sermon, “We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” When I think of myself as part of this web of all humanity, it raises a challenging question: If we are all connected in one big familial human web, what do we owe each other?

What I think Dr. King was saying in his sermon, and what I want to suggest, is that it’s not good enough to love only the people you’re closest to. As part of this “inescapable network of mutuality,” we are not fully human unless we are also doing our best to love total strangers, people we will never meet.

The idea that it’s a good and worthwhile pursuit to love strangers is admittedly a tough sell. For instance, if I have 100 “love points” to spend on various people, my wife and kids get the most points (say 50), my parents and siblings next (30), then other relatives and my friends (15), and, if I want to take Jesus seriously, a few points for people I actively don’t like. That leaves little if any room on the ledger for 8 billion strangers.

There’s no question that I have a special obligation to the people closest to me. But I can’t let the intensity of my love for my family and friends keep me myopic, unable to notice anyone else. Luckily, I don’t think love is anything like my 100-point quota system. The most loving people I know aren’t kind and caring just to their relatives while telling other people to kick rocks. Their love is expansive and generous. 

To paraphrase the Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the energy of love is like fire. Once lit, it can grow in strength and reach far beyond our expectations. Just think of a parent who thinks they love their first child with all the love they can possibly muster. Then they have a second kid and discover they love them totally, too. They don’t love kid no. 1 any less than before. Their heart has grown into previously uncharted territory. 

Even if you accept this contention that love is a renewable resource and there’s no risk to you if you love more people than fewer, loving strangers can feel abstract. I love my children through concrete acts: feeding them, hugging them, spending time building with Legos on the floor. I can love my elderly neighbor by mowing their lawn without expecting any sort of reward or just pausing for a short conversation while I’m hauling in my trash can from the curb. These loving actions are easy enough to see and describe. But how do you love a stranger? Here are three ways you can go about it.

1. Reduce the number of strangers in your life. 

This idea is sort of cheating. But America is in the middle of a “loneliness epidemic.” The “strangers to friends” proportion is always going to be high, but it could certainly be a bit lower. The connections I make at my weekly Wednesday night pickup basketball game, for instance, are so good for my soul. I see some of those guys and their families out around town and I feel much more connected to my community. 

Making connections across traditional social divides can also reduce the abstraction of “strangers.” A relative of mine has recently started teaching a couple of immigrants to this country English as a second language. For her, migration issues have transformed from political issues to highly personal ones. When she hears about the migrants arriving at our southern border looking for a new life, she feels a new type of affection for them because of the several individual migrants she has gotten to know.

2. Get to know other realities. 

Travel. Watch the documentary “Youth” when it comes out, which is about Chinese garment factory workers. Keep up on international news. Awareness of the other is a precondition of loving them well.

3. Make loving choices however you can. 

Donate money to organizations working on causes you care about. Try to buy clothes and food that were produced by people being paid enough to live well. As climate change most adversely affects people who are already living in poverty, do what you can to promote sustainability. If you’re a praying person, pray for the people you will never meet whose lives are nevertheless bound up with yours. 

All these little actions can form loving habits, and loving habits make a loving life. Love your family; remember that your family has 8 billion members.

Creators:
Mike Jordan Laskey
Published:
December 14, 2023
June 26, 2023
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