Ira Chernus  

MY NEW YEARíS RESOLUTION: Think globally. Love locally.

Which character was it in the Peanuts cartoon who said so famously, "I love humanity. Itís people I canít stand"? All of us who work for progressive causes ought to put that cartoon up on our bulletin boards and take a good look at it, as we start this new year so fraught with the prospect of war and injustice.

We hope that somehow, during the coming year, we will stop our country from going to war. But we know that there is no peace without justice. We want an end to all bigotry, oppression, and persecution. We want every person to be treated equally, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or difference of any kind. Thatís what we mean when we say we love humanity. That is our politics.

Politics means dealing with people en masse, with humanity at large. But why do we care what happens to huge groups of people, people we will probably never meet or see? Why do we work so hard to help them all get equality? We want to help relieve their suffering, if we can. But that is just a start. What we really want is for every person to have an equal opportunity to flourish, to fulfill their highest potential, to live the happiest life they possibly can.

Now think about your own highest potential, the moments when your life feels fullest and richest, when you feel as happy as you can. Iíll bet you are not thinking about humanity at large or huge groups of people. Iíll bet you are thinking about a few very particular people, whose voice and touch and love make you feel that your life is as good as any life could be.

Isnít that the goal of progressive politics: to help every person, everywhere, be free to feel the fullness of particular human connections, the fullness of individual love. The real crime of bigotry, oppression, and persecution is that it blocks the path of connectedness and stunts the possibilities of love. Of course the poor and downtrodden know love. Love is not bound by socioeconomic class.

But whenever injustice prevails, all of us, rich or poor, lose something of our potential to give and receive love. Whenever we are perpetrators or victims of oppression, we feel diminished, degraded, dehumanized. We feel empty and unworthy of love. The greatest tragedy of our society, built on such deep foundations of injustice, is the way it kills our capacity to love.

Our political work should be guided by our belief that no one should have to live that way. It is all about the particular people we love. It is through those people that we meet the humanity we serve. Our efforts will be wasted if we love humanity more than we love people. The two must go hand in hand. So here is a resolution for us all, for this new year of two thousand and three: Think globally. Love locally.