Everyday Ethics: Choose Love Over Hate

“It is more important to see simplicity, to realize our true nature, to reject selfishness and to temper desire.”

The words are attributed to Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu, who is believed to have lived around 3,000 years ago but whose wisdom still resonates with us today. He taught the Tao, the creative and constraining force of the universe.

In the complex and information-laden world we live in, it’s hard to think clearly. We are overwhelmed with data and opinions on a scale never before seen. Worse still, fake news dominates the media until it seems impossible to sort out the real from the fake.

We don’t seem able to see our true nature, to reject selfishness or the desire for the temple, as Lao-Tzu recommends. Some become addicted to one interpretation of the world we live in, rejecting all others, while others go numb, disconnect, and retreat to their private enclaves. Meanwhile, the planet tends to become dangerous for life itself.

Lao-Tzu’s wisdom on simplicity got me thinking about the world as it is and what is really going on. And I went back to the wise words of British mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell in a 1959 radio interview when asked what message he thought was most important to leave for future generations. In less than a few minutes, I believe he simply summarized what is most important if we are to survive as a species.

“I would like to say two things, one intellectual and one moral.

“The intellectual thing I would like to tell them is this: when you study a subject or consider a philosophy, ask yourself only what are the facts and what is the truth that the facts confirm. Never be deflected either by what you want to believe, or by what you think will have beneficial social effects if believed. But look only, and only, at what the facts are. That’s the intellectual thing I want to say.

“The moral I would like to tell them is very simple: I would say love is wise, hate is crazy. In this increasingly interconnected world, we have to learn to tolerate each other, we have to learn to put up with people saying things we don’t like. We can only live together in this way – and if we want to live together and not die together, we must learn a kind of charity and a kind of tolerance, which are absolutely vital for the continuation of human life on this planet.

His words “love is wise, hate is foolish” are ones I’ve remembered over the years and kept close at hand in times like ours when hate is on the rise. You don’t need a philosopher to figure out what they mean. You know intellectually and morally that Russell is right. And you don’t need a social scientist to see who’s exposing hate and who’s exposing love these days. You know each one by their equally important words and deeds
Simply put, love is about caring about others as much as you care about yourself, while hate is about putting yourself first and treating others as unimportant.

There are essential questions of our species. Is our essential nature to cooperate with each other or to dominate? Are we consumed solely by self-interest or concern for ourselves and others? And do we behave rationally or do we become slaves to our greed and our thirst for power?

The question is: which side are you on: love or hate?

John C. Morgan taught philosophy for many years at the college level. His column appears weekly on readingeagle.com.

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