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  • Writer's pictureMark McMinn

Why are People So Mean? Challenge #10: Love

Updated: Dec 9, 2023

I loved his Bostonian accent.


Amidst a crowd of tall people, I was just 9 years old on May 17, 1968 when I listened to Robert F. Kennedy speak at the school where my father taught algebra. Kennedy had taken time out of a tireless campaign schedule to be part of a Model Democratic Convention at Sunset High School.


Three weeks later, Juan Romero, a 17-year-old busboy at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, shook Kennedy's hand just as .22 Long Rifle bullets started pulsing through his body. Moments later, as Kennedy lay suffering on the ground, Romero knelt beside him, offered him a rosary, and placed a jacket under his head. Kennedy then spoke in that beautiful Boston accent, "Everything is going to be okay."


Time & Life Pictures


Romero later recalled, "He made me feel like a human being. He didn't look at my color, he didn't look at my position... and like I tell everybody, he shook my hand. I didn't ask him."


1968 was a rugged year. Only months earlier, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on a balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.


Dr. King has been criticized in recent years for his non-violent, love-based ethic in addressing injustice, but I still hold his ethic in high regard even as I grieve the violence of a world that takes the life another because of racial, ethnic, or ideological differences.


We recall the lives of these men in shorthand, using initials MLK and RFK, more a sign of respect than diminution. They gave their lives to public service, both falling to violence even as they spoke of a more loving world.


Just 284 days before those shots rang out in Memphis, the British Broadcasting Corporation aired Our World to 400 million viewers where The Beatles debuted John Lennon's song, "All You Need is Love."


Simplistic? Maybe. Or maybe not.


On the day of Dr. King's death and 43 days before his own, RFK spoke poignant words in Indianapolis:

What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness; but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black. 

Notice how Kennedy juxtaposed love, wisdom, compassion, and justice even as he contrasted these virtues with hatred and division. Today, almost 56 years later, it seems we have flipped this around again, justifying our division and hatred under the false name of justice. 


If I can stand up to you, call you out, cancel you, hold you publicly accountable for something I believe you have done (whether or not you actually have), then I display a hubris easily mistaken for heroic courage which I can then rationalize in the name of justice. When this happens, love, wisdom, and compassion have once again given way to division and hatred.



I’m finishing up a series of blog posts inspired by David Brooks’s article in The Atlantic: "How America Got Mean." The series includes ten challenges for how I want to live in these days of venom and vitriol, and the final challenge is the biggest of all: love.


When some religious leaders tried to trick Jesus by asking about the greatest commandment, he offered words to reverberate through all centuries:

You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself.

The Beatles, MLK, Jesus, RFK, and most moral philosophers in human history all seem to agree on the cardinal role of love in our complicated world.


Seemingly, so does David Brooks. His new book, How to Know a Person, puts hands and feet on what it means to be loving. I find myself mentioning something I read in his book or learned in his Templeton Ideas podcast almost every day. [1]



Similarly, scientists studying love have come up with creative ways of teaching people how to be more loving, such as:


  • Imagining the value of more positive connections with people

  • Trying new ways to connect with others (e.g., smiles, laughing, acts of kindness)

  • Considering ways to show kindness to those outside one's close circle of friends


Those who grew in love (what the researchers call "positivity resonance") also grew in kindness. [2]


It's a vicious world today much as it was 56 years ago, though today we have both bullets and social media. Back then, Kennedy identified his favorite poet to be the Greek tragedian, Aeschylus, who wrote:

In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.

The awful grace of God calls us toward love when every impulse in our bones pushes the other direction, toward violence and hate and destruction.


If I could say anything to my 9-year-old self standing in that room with tall people, it might be to worry less about whether my family and I agreed with RFK's political persuasions and to ponder more his words about love.


From where I stand today, those words seem wise and good. Every now and then I even wonder if he might have been right that somehow, someday, "everything is going to be okay."[3]


 


 

Previous posts in this series

Challenge #1: Vengelessness

Challenge #2: The Other Team Matters

Challenge #3: No, I am NOT Omniscient

Challenge #4: Hermeneutic Humility

Challenge #5: Minding Our Social Media Matters

Challenge #6: Meeting Our Inner Narcissist

Challenge #7: Good Grief

 

Notes:

  1. A hearty thank you to the reader who pointed me toward this podcast.

  2. I've simplified the results somewhat. More details can be found in the linked article.

  3. Much of the inspiration for this post came from a daily quotation I receive by email from Luminary Quotes. Today's was from RFK's Indianapolis speech.

1 Comment


Michael Vogel
Michael Vogel
Dec 09, 2023

What a beautiful and timely message, Mark. Kairos. I have truly savoured the wisdom of this series. Thank you. Your friend, Mike Vogel

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