I was listening in on a heated e-mail interchange about the American Friends Service Committee’s Afghan blanket project. Someone was objecting vehemently, saying that it was just a response to media hype, would waste tons of oil transporting things around the globe, and the real issue, anyway, was in Iraq. A mild response that no other programs would be cut back and that people were looking for opportunities to give things was met with more passionate denunciation of waste and distorted priorities.
This interchange left me troubled. While the point about needing to address our own oil consumption as a significant root of global problems was cogent, and charity is rightly suspect if its main goal is to make the givers feel good, I was not won over. Something was not right. Late at night as I lay in bed, puzzling over how I might best join the conversation, I realized what had been missing. It was love.
I was reminded, as I have been so often in recent years, of the story of the sun and the wind. The wind was boasting of its power. Seeing a man in a cloak, the wind said it could get the cloak off before the sun could. The wind blew and blew, strong and fierce, but the more it blew, the tighter the man held on. When the sun’s turn came, it just shone, warm and steady, until the cloak was too hot and the man unfastened it and laid it aside.
This man who understood about oil and our policies in Iraq blew strong and fierce. What he blew contained much truth. But I imagine others responded as I did, clutching our point of view more tightly, protecting our impulse toward generosity, tensing against attack, waiting for the storm to pass.
What might the sun do differently with the same truth? The sun would love us. It would affirm our caring and our longing for connection with the poor of the world. It would support our impulses to make that caring visible, regardless of the form they took. It would appreciate the Service Committee unreservedly for its long history of giving form to our sense of connection and desire to have things right in the world. It would invite us all to notice how much we care, how deeply we want the world to be right. It would suggest that we are bigger than we know, that there is more love in us waiting to show.
As we warmed to this possibility the sun would support us to look more closely at our place in the world and how we might show our love more powerfully. It would open the possibility of not just giving of our surplus but changing our lifestyle in big ways. We would breathe deeply and have to agree, profoundly relieved that someone had seen not just our surface desires but our deep longing, and had called us to our truth.
Now, this would not happen in one well-crafted e-mail message. The single blast of hard-edged righteous truth is so seductive in its seeming power and purity. It would be so quick—if only it worked. But truth without love is an incomplete truth at best. We had been chided for responding in ways that were selfish and ineffective, yet I had to wonder if the chider’s angry truth was much different or did any more good. At worst it was a bludgeon that could actually make things worse, neutralizing people’s good intentions by making them doubt their motivations or divert all their energy into protecting their assaulted sense of goodness. We would do better to seize on people’s good intentions and nurture them to their fullest flower, helping them to have a safe place to stand—from which they could embrace even the hardest truth.
I would choose truth. But I would choose to spread it with love, like the sun.