News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

What’s simple isn’t easy

The ancient philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, and Epicurus spoke a lot about relationships. How these relationships were connected determined what they called “soul happiness.” They also knew that this was central to the human experience of finding purpose and productivity in life. The organizing of these relationships in our society was the role of politics. Politics were to promote human flourishing, what they referred to as “The Good.”

While the philosophers often disagreed on how to get there, they all shared the central idea. We long for a community where human flourishing exists, but the only way to find it is to live intentionally and particularly in meaningful relationships. Neither virtue nor its fruit, “human flourishing,” happens accidentally.

Being a people person, I do have to admit COVID-19 is driving me a little crazy. The isolation that we all have found and find ourselves in creates a concern for all of us. This isolation is also placing a psychological hardship on us that I didn’t expect. Whatever happened to “rugged individualism”? It makes for good books and good movies but maybe it is just another defense mechanism trying to compensate for the fact we are not created for isolation.

Isolation has been associated with poor health, depression, cognitive decline, anxiety, substance abuse, and suicide. Loneliness has a way of getting into our heads so that our lack of relational interaction undermines our sense of value. Families, friends, and neighbors have been separated by pandemic and partisan politics in ways that undermine our communities.

Our Declaration of Independence seemed to agree with the philosophers regarding this pursuit:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Where would they get such an idea that all men are created equal? The same place that Martin Luther King got his inspiration for the Civil Rights movement. It was the belief that we were all created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26,27) and that gives us an intrinsic value. Our value is not in our bank account, our political party, our education, our race, or our religious affiliation. If we place our value on what makes us different, we will either promote judgmentalism or a crippling inferiority. This places value on what makes us different, it corrodes trust, and we remain divided. Our value comes from our common humanity endowed as image bearers.

But there is something else about being an image bearer that is crucial to our common humanity for human flourishing. This Creator also said, “It is not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18).” This gives us a communal purpose which is greater than ourselves. This is a part of the “soul happiness” the ancient philosophers spoke of. This gives us meaning and purpose. Thus, we find the cultivating of community.

We find ourselves in a period of time where all of the technology that we have developed, all of the wealth we have accumulated, all of the cognitive therapy that was to make the world a better place to live has not produced human flourishing. In some ways it has created more isolation.

Connectivity is the key to well-being. It’s this connecting with other human beings that gives our life meaning. It is this meaning and connecting relationally that produces fulfillment, whether it is with our family, co-workers, friends, or neighbors. This is what the ancients said produced “soul happiness.” How we pursue happiness will determine the character of a person and the character of a nation.

Where do we go from here? What is the solution to building this kind of community? It’s not rocket science. But that is not to say it is easy. Author of “Everybody Always,” Bob Goff, says, “What is simple often isn’t easy; what is easy often doesn’t last.” You ready?

Love one another! Love your neighbor, everybody always! Grumpy neighbors, frightened neighbors, needy neighbors, hungry neighbors, sickly neighbors, single-parent neighbors. “EVERYBODY ALWAYS!”

Societal change through meaningful relationships instigated by sacrificial love is productive. It’s unstoppable. Heck, it’s what is known as abundant life!


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