My last two letters have been about a love of knowledge: How to love learning things, and how to love the things you haven’t yet learned.
But there is more to life than knowledge. Today I want to share about loving something even more important than learning . . . more important than all the knowledge in all the books in all the world.
I want to talk about loving people.
I’ve touched on this briefly in previous letters. I wrote that everyone has something they can teach you. I wrote about the difference between learning about someone and truly knowing them. I wrote about making decisions without having perfect knowledge of the situation that faces you.
And that’s really what this is about. As you grow, you’ll hear a lot of discussion about truth . . . what is truth? Does real, absolute truth even exist? If so, where does it come from? Is it all just a figment of our individual imaginations, based in our various cultures and upbringings?
This is one of those things that we can study for hours, days, weeks, months, and years . . . and still never be able to prove conclusively. This is one of those things where knowledge eventually gives out, and you’re left with faith.
So let me tell you what I believe about truth:
I believe everything we do, everything we see, everything we have, and everything we are comes from somewhere. I believe – though I cannot prove to you – that it comes from an organized, intelligent, intentional mind.
I believe absolute, objective truth exists, independent of my opinions, beliefs, preconceptions, or cultural influences.
And I believe that I am in no way equipped to capture all of it, even if I try to do so every hour of every day, forever.
I believe that what is limited is not truth itself, but my ability to grasp it.
What, though, does that have to do with loving people?
Simply this: People . . . every single one of them . . . will disappoint you. I will disappoint you. Your mother will disappoint you. Your brother will disappoint you. You will disappoint yourself. Given enough time, and a deep enough relationship, everyone you meet will let you down in some way.
There are two ways you can respond to this: First, you can judge them for failing to live up to your standards – or their own. You can bristle at their hypocrisy, rail at their failings, and cut them out of your life for not adhering to the things you know – or think you know – to be true.
Or you can love them.
In my very first letter, I told you that there’s nothing you can do to make me love you more, and nothing you can do to make me love you less. This, right here, is what that means. It means that right now, at this very moment, I love you with my whole and entire being – that you never have to worry that I’m holding anything back. There’s no extra reservoir of love that I’m holding back and requiring you to earn, and there’s no chance that I’ll take back any of my love because of something you decide or do.
And that will never change, even if you say or do or believe something I don’t think is true . . . which, given that you and I are distinct and different people, is probably inevitable at some point!
My goal for myself is to be that way with every person who comes into my life. Once in awhile, I even succeed at it. You’ll hear people say that it isn’t loving to allow someone to continue on in an ongoing mistake . . . that it isn’t loving to let someone make a wrong choice without speaking up.
But that assumes something critically important . . . it assumes that you know what’s true . . . beyond all doubt. It assumes that whatever belief or opinion you’re using to judge that they’re making a mistake . . . that they’re choosing wrongly . . . is based in fully and completely known facts, correctly gathered, comprehensively examined, and accurately interpreted.
If you’ve spent any time around people, you know that the number of fully and completely known facts that meet all of those criterion is so vanishingly small as to be almost nonexistent.
And yet people keep judging . . . keep putting knowledge (or supposed knowledge) ahead of loving people . . . keep assuming that precisely by judging and condemning and ostracizing, somehow they are loving people! We live in an increasingly polarized world, in which every person is more and more capable of cloistering himself or herself off from any sort of disagreement or contradictory thought process or opinion. It’s a world we seem to have embraced with gusto . . . and it’s absolutely killing our ability to love one another. More and more frequently, agreement over this topic or that issue becomes a gateway to having any sort of contact at all, much less a real relationship. If you agree, you’re in. If not, you’re out.
And virtually everything around us seems almost designed to make that problem worse.
So here is my hope for you: I hope that, even as you learn and grow and love learning and growing even more, that you never place that love of knowledge above your love for people. I hope that you constantly surround yourself with information and opinion that challenges the information and opinions you already have, and I hope that you don’t condition your relationships upon others agreeing with your beliefs or opinions.
Most of all, I hope that you approach every interaction with every person in your life, secure enough to believe what you believe, but humble enough to realize that your belief might not be completely accurate, and wise enough to change course when necessary.
Because knowledge is important, but people are more important by far.