The world appears to be getting more, not less crazy, in all of the ways I’d somehow hoped that it wasn’t. In all of the madness I anticipated back when I was a young adult and single and nobody other than grandparents had died, I believed that the madness to come would make the times I lived in as an adult all the more interesting. Now that I am a married man with a child, I can’t help reading the headlines and wondering what kind of world my son will see when he finishes college. Sometimes, I have trouble imagining there being enough stability to even see him to college and see my wife and me into retirement.
We were told in college that because it was a post-Cold War, post-Soviet world, we would see all kinds of little extremist factions popping up everywhere, including in the U.S., and blowing things up with suitcase bombs. My college years saw the arrival of the World Wide Web, and so I eagerly anticipated the day when all shopping would be done online and robots delivered us our packages. I didn’t care about the impact these kinds of things would have on others. I didn’t care about people losing their jobs to globalization and automation. Drugs were cool and fun–only the really depraved ever got sucked into being totally addicted to them.
I was told by my father that computer programmers would always be grunts, and that there was no glory or career to be found in being a solider. He was wrong on both counts about this, though he was right about some things. He said Amazon would be good stock to buy in 1997, but he also thought Yahoo was, too.
The truth is, nobody knew nearly as much as they liked to think they did, whether they were an older person ramming advice down my throat or me, a younger person who thought he knew everything and pretty much assumed that my Generation would be the last one to reach full adulthood before the world ended.
For me, it was all going to be a big adventure. I would try out different jobs and roles as if they were clothing, and treat relationships with people in a similar fashion. I had no idea that I still possessed a big, giant warm Christian heart beating inside me, and that I felt incredibly awful beyond description when I considered breaking up with women I’d started to date with the intent of it being a quick fling. The idea of severing ties with someone became utterly unbearable, as did the burden of keeping ties with them.
For those who are of the world, and completely at home in the world, creating loose ties and having casual sexual relationships is like nothing at all. There is no heartache beyond the slight feeling of malaise approaching the intensity of a mild hangover. I thought I was one of those people, until I saw how such people treated each other. Once you’ve convinced yourself that the other person has no heart or soul that can be broken or crushed, and they are all body, face and personality, it becomes quite easy to pick people up and put them down with no lingering sense of culpability for the bad karmha you are generating.
The people I met had lost all sense of kinship to the point where family itself no longer functioned in this manner. Perhaps this was due to them being latchkey kids, the product of me generation parents who freely divorced and remarried as they pleased without any thought for the psychic and emotional welfare of their children. Or, maybe, there really is some kind of grand narrative, a telos we are approaching, where some of us are being recycled and refined to be completely severed from what it means to be truly human and God fearing, while others of us become more and more seized with the sense that kinship must be extended beyond our immediate families.
You might think some of these people understood the extension of kinship, in their willingness to open their doors to neighbors, friends of friends, and sometimes complete strangers. But then, the engagement would be superficial, the connections ice cold, and the true sense of there being anything other than a purely economical, tit-for-tat sort of obligation between you and the other person, would be completely eradicated. At other times, you would encounter people who clearly longed to get back whatever sense of kinship they’d lost, and they would become clingy, needy people in ways that were exceptionally unhealthy, inordinate and sometimes co-dependent.
I think this is what the real fall of Man and original Sin looks like–our being separated from having a real sense of kinship with each other. We don’t understand the proper boundaries, we are baffled at the idea of doing something for someone and not getting paid for it in some fashion. Great thinkers propose that it is impossible to do something with a complete disinterest, a complete sort of altruism or even unconditional love that might be equivalent to a mother compelled to do something for her child. We are oversexed–we are polluted with sexuality being necessary for many of these closer relationships, and so we refuse to associate with people for fear of what that closeness might bring.
The Brotherhood of Mankind sounds lovely, but nobody knows exactly what that means. Surely we could take a stab at trying to define some of the boundaries–what does a healthy kinship relationship look like? You are not my master, slave, child, parent, sex partner. (Unless you actually are, but most people are not). You don’t have to repay every single kindness I do for you with something of equal value and likewise, I should never feel burdened by any gifts that you give me.
I have fought so hard with my own sense of what these things mean. I can’t stand it when I do something nice for someone, and they immediately feel obligated to return the favor. But, I don’t want to become impolite and refuse them doing something nice back to me. I have tried very hard to give gifts to family and to non-profits that I think are doing good work in the world in such a way as to not expect to ever see a return on my investment or even see myself repaid karmically or in some other fashion. I cherish greatly the mindset that says, when you are compelled to give, just give, when you don’t feel like the time is right for giving, don’t let anyone shame you into giving.
When you give, you give solely for the sake of giving something away. You do not expect gratitude or to be paid back by the other person or by the Universe. You might give today and receive bad things tomorrow, but you keep giving because you have decided in your heart that you are the kind of person who prefers to live as someone who gives away more than he takes or keeps. On the other hand, when some person or the Universe pays you a kindness, you don’t reject it–either because you know you don’t deserve it for you haven’t done anything to deserve it, or because you do know you deserve it except you are trying to disrupt the tit-for-tat state of affairs in our world. You accept freely when things are given, unless you get a bad feeling that the gift would somehow bring you or your family harm–or, you simply are overwhelmed with the sense that it would be better to turn this particular gift down.
In other words, you don’t try to disrupt the tit-for-tat economy that humans inevitably lapse into in every single time and place that they get organized, but you do try to remove any of your own particular sense of tit-for-tat–gifts are to be graciously and freely given and received, as we often do when we are living out the best sort of kinship relations.