All you need is love

by Don Hartness

John Lennon got it wrong.

It’s just another evening at the late-night diner I work in while going to school. Sitting across from me is the father of a coworker of mine. We know each other a bit; that is to say, we’ve had a few chit-chat conversations in the past, but neither of us would ask the other for a loan.

At least I wouldn’t. I can’t say the same for him. He saw the white-collar around my neck, the one I never wore in my life (maybe the invisible collar left an invisible mark?), so it’s clear he trusts me. If I had money, I would loan it to him. He looks that pathetic. But I’m more broke than the priest he mistakes me for.

He sits with his head drooping on his shoulders, his right hand alternating between fiddling with his straw and keeping his other hand company. He’s winning the fight against letting his tears fall into his Coke, but his voice lost the fight for steadiness long ago.

“I don’t get it,” he keeps repeating as an introduction to the next part. “I mean, I did so much for her. We have a nice house. I bought her a Mercedes. We took family vacations. I never forgot her birthday or her anniversary; I always bought her a nice present. She had everything she needed. If there was anything she wanted, all she had to do was let me know, and I would have bought it for her.”

“Why did she leave me?”

Normally, I simply listen and try to console my patient. But there’s a change coming over me lately. I’ve heard too many of these stories, and I’m seeing a reoccurring theme. This time, I decide to say something.

“That’s a lot of stuff,” I say softly, slowly building up to what I want to say. “I can’t afford all of that.  What do you do?”

“I run a construction business,” he replies. “It’s my second business; I sold the first for ten million.” I detect a sliver of pride under his sadness.

“That’s impressive. You’re pretty good at business, it seems.”

It’s the only prompt he needs. His depression disappears, replaced by an enthusiastically gushing captain of industry. He starts talking about how he started his first business, the difficulties he faced when building, the accomplishments and achievements, and how he felt seeing all of it come together with such resounding success.

I merely listen, allowing the cure to take full effect. When he pauses to take a sip of his Coke, I affirm his success and then make a simple observation.

“You obviously loved that business. I bet all that success came with a lot of effort.”

“Oh yea,” he replies while nodding vigorously. “You don’t get that far without working your ass off.”

“So you were never home?”

He pauses for a moment, startled by the question. “No…” he drawls slowly.

“Did you ever ask her what she wanted?”

The horror spreads across his face. “No,” he replies again, in a tone barely above a whisper.

“Seems like you loved that business more than her, and that’s why she left,” I say simply while reaching for my drink.

The cure was the cause.

What do you love?

Many will say that the greatest problem in the world today is a lack of love. It certainly seems that way, what with all the bitterness, hatred, and discord going on around us.

But go deeper and you’ll discover something else. All these warring factions, in addition to their bitterness, hatred, and discord, have something else: passion. You can’t have passion without love. The problem, then, is not a lack of love. The problem is an over-abundance of misguided and misdirected love.

You see, all of us, with few exception, love something: spouse, self, children, career, friends, money, family, fame, religion, ideology, etc. It doesn’t have to be something profound either: it could be something cultural (music, movies, theater, art), materialistic (houses, cars, boats, technology) or simple (nature, sleeping-in, a favorite game). From petty to profound, whatever it is, we all love something.

When John Lennon said “All you need is love”, he might as well have said “All you need is oxygen”. Of course you have love; you can’t be human without it!

In addition, very few of us love just one thing: we love a multitude of things. The complete set of the things we love all sit in relation to each other in a hierarchy of love. I love my cat and I love my spouse but (for most) I love my spouse more than my cat (although a few will love the cat more).

“Hate that, indifferent to this, like that, love this and…oh, this? This is my favorite thing!”.

The question is not whether you have love. The question is simply this: What do you love most of all?

The husband’s story is cliché, repeated over and over in story and song. How often have we heard of the man or woman on their death-bed, wishing that he or she would have spent more time with their family and loved ones. Well, why didn’t they?

You see, it’s not what you claim to believe or even what you do that will define you: it’s what you love the most. For the husband, he loved his wife, but not as much as his business. Drilling deeper, it wasn’t even his business that he loved the most. No, he loved the thrill of success, fame, and fortune, evidenced by his excitement in telling the story, even in the midst of his pain. He loved himself more.

For many, “self” is the one thing we love the most.

And that presents a problem.

Anybody will acknowledge that we live in a society in which no one person is more important than the whole. Or, to put it simpler, everybody will agree that “loving your neighbor more than yourself” is the right thing to do.  Even if a person secretly doesn’t agree with this noble fact, that person won’t say it openly, since to do so would expose their narcissism.

Only problem is, exercising this noble fact requires a person to place their “self” in second place, or even lower. You can’t just jockey the positions of your loves like a leader-board in golf. Replacing one with another is like replacing the engine in your car. It involves untangling all the emotions, commitments, and thoughts connected with your love, rearranging and connecting them with your new love. Our primary love is often only replaced through heavy lifting, spurned by traumatic violence.

So what do we do instead?  Simple: we create every appearance that we our selfless, while secretly advancing our agenda of selfishness with every step.  Self-deception is born.

This dynamic between misguided love, and the self-deception that follows it, creates a twisted and complex tapestry of evil in our world that is impossible to see in its entirety. Hence, the rest of this series consists of snapshots highlighting this dynamic.

And it starts with a group of good boys doing a horrible thing…