by Michael Maciel
We have two models by which we can form our society, both of which are based on love — love as expressed within families and love as expressed between families. And since we’re talking about love, both of these models are understandably positive and life-affirming.
So, at the outset, we can dispense with the negative models, which by definition are not loving. An example might be the authoritarian model for writing laws and the punitive model for enforcing them. Neither of these is based on love but on power and control. Since we are talking about forces that support and sustain societal health, we will focus on them and not their opposites.
The loving models — the means by which we can grow and develop our society in constructive and sustainable ways — are based on the Family model and the Friendship model.
The Family model is based on the relationship between parents and child — provider, nurturer, dependent. It has three components — father, mother, and child. Let’s look at all three in terms of the love-bond — the primordial force that unites all families:
The primary quality of a loving father is encouragement. The primary quality of a loving mother is nurturance. And the primary quality of a loving child is devotion:
- To encourage (to instill courage) is to prepare a child for taking risks in the world. Obviously, this can only happen after a child has reached a certain age, spanning a seven-year range between seven and fourteen. Before then, children are simply too young to venture too far from home. But once they’re more or less independent, they must be taught what’s safe and what’s not and who’s friendly and who’s not.
- To nurture is to love and protect. Infants, toddlers, and children under seven need constant supervision. They need help in learning how to work their bodies and to navigate within a controlled environment. They need to trust their parents and to feel their love, both physically and emotionally. But, most of all, they need to know, in their flesh and bones, that they are part of their family, that they belong.
- From a physical standpoint, a child’s primary relationship with his or her parents is one of absolute dependency. But on the psychic or soul level, the relationship is one of devotion — a love of that which is greater than oneself. Devotion is the positive acceptance of the dispensation of a manifest ideal. It is aspirational. Parents are the sun, the moon, and the stars to their children, who orbit them with admiration and unquestioning loyalty.
The Friendship model is based on shared affections, tolerance, and trust. Whereas the Family model gives society cohesion and stability, the Friendship model gives it the ability to adhere to like-minded others. It gives society the opportunity to grow.
The Friendship model has three primary components:
- Family bonds are universal, but they exist within the larger context of culture and geography, both of which add their unique flavor and ideals. So, families that share the same culture and locale will also share similar affections for them. Cultures consist of a shared history and a destiny to which all within the culture aspire. This creates lateral (rather than hierarchical) relationships based on deep similarities, thus producing friendships grounded in shared affections.
- However, no matter how similar they are, the perceptions and interpretations of a shared culture and locale will vary, sometimes substantially, because the roles individuals play in their culture vary. This leads to learning how to abstract from a variety of experiences the commonalities among them and to recognize that outer differences are tolerable as long as the foundational verities remain intact. Societies can tolerate differences in interpretation of its innate qualities by its members, as long as that which is being interpreted is the same for everyone, meaning that everyone must agree upon the historical narrative they share and look forward to the same destiny they envision.
- As long as these requirements are met, everyone will know what to expect of each other. There will be a certain level of conformity in all aspects of their relationships. In fact, expressions of that conformity will be taken as a declaration of each person’s loyalty to and respect for each other. And because of the cultivated tolerance that allows for reasonable differences in interpretation of shared goals and behaviors, the code of conformity will be wide enough to allow for experimentation and growth. When these parameters are well-established in a society’s collective consciousness, trust will abound and will thus establish a friendly environment for a viable commonwealth. Everyone will prosper.
When a society possesses the proper amounts of cohesion (family bonds) and adhesion (shared values) to hold itself together over time, the need for authoritarian power diminishes accordingly. Cooperation, not coercion, governs its activities. Crime, too, is handled adequately, because what constitutes a crime stands out in bold relief against the backdrop of universally accepted norms. The letter of the law becomes more malleable because the spirit of the law is so clear. And because the relationships among the people are predicated on family and friendships, the penalties for crime will be tempered with compassion and thus be more just.
In order for this ideal version of society and its governance to be practical, there must be a certain degree of autonomy at every jurisdictional level, both regional and national. Each city and state must be free to express its local culture and geographical uniqueness. Mandated, large-scale conformities at the national level must be flexible enough to accommodate the sovereignties of individual communities — and vice versa.
But without a nationally shared grand narrative, this would be impossible. America’s shared grand narrative is “Liberty and Justice for All,” which is set within the context of “E Pluribus Unum” — out of many, one. The latter is the expectation that disparate peoples who have different ethnicities and religious loyalties can nonetheless peacefully coexist, as long as their national identity is the same.
It’s a schema that places secular values front and center, while at the same time relies on ethnic and religious values to nurture and form the culture from within. It’s the “out of many” part of the equation that fosters diversity, not only of ethnicities and religions but innovation, too. And it’s the “one” part of the equation that makes it possible for everyone to live in peace and prosperity.
Perhaps it’s the fact that the world is divided into continents separated by oceans that makes social boundaries and national sovereignty so important, because the differences between cultures (driven by religion, ethnicity, history, and geography) have made the gulf between some of the world’s cultures too wide, at least for now, to permit them to work closely together, at least at a cultural level. Trade is almost always feasible, but even it is not enough to bridge cultural differences when they are extreme.
The countries that work together best are those that have interacted the most. And this has largely been the result of geography, not differences in intelligence or race. Cities with access to water navigation have advanced the fastest because long-distance travel was relatively easy, which made sharing goods and ideas easier, too. On the other hand, landlocked societies were slower to advance, both technologically and culturally — the more isolated, the less opportunity for economic growth and development.
So, the ability of the nations of the world to peacefully work together depends on the cohesiveness that national sovereignty provides along with their attraction to the unique values of other nations, as long as those values aren’t too different from their own. Of course, the Family model has to be sufficiently established, lest one nation becomes too enamored of the other, getting lost in the glamor and forgetting its own values. Too much of a good thing is, well, not good.
Finally, it’s not enough to simply pray for world peace, unless prayer also includes action. It takes work to understand the “other,” but it also takes work to understand one’s own culture and its values. And that takes an appreciation for the labors of those who have gone before us — their accomplishments and the values that made those accomplishments possible. Unless a society honors its fathers and mothers, it will fail. And unless it continually strives to reinterpret and re-articulate those values — to resurrect them from the dead — its culture will solidify and precipitate out of the lifestream of the world. The sands of history will cover them and they will be remembered no more. But when a society calls its members friends rather than subjects — treating them as equals and not as children — that society will live for a thousand years.