Can We Love Everyone? A Valentine to the World

02/14/2008 12:59 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

I admit it's hard. Every day, several times per day, I stifle mean thoughts about passers-by. The S.U.V. driver taking up two lanes. The teenagers blocking the sidewalk. The person who keeps stealing my paper, who I've never even seen but bother to imagine just so I can be mad at them.

Remember how Winston Churchill once said, "Democracy is an awful way to run a country, but it's the best system we have." He had trouble just co-existing with everyone. So loving everyone seems a very high bar.

The Bible commands to love they neighbor as thyself. Clearly, Jesus' neighbor wasn't stealing his paper.

In theory we're all the same. All human beings have 99% DNA in common. Thankfully we don't act the same. That diversity propels not only biology but reality TV. But while some of us are light skinned and some of us are dark skinned and some of us like to flaunt our midriffs while competing for the affection of aging pop stars, we all need food and shelter and knowledge and joy and love.

Then why love myself more than my neighbor? Why love my mother more than a stranger in Africa?

These aren't just abstract moral questions. They have real implications. As a nation, we can only launch a war because (implicitly or explicitly) we love ourselves more than our supposed enemy. We wouldn't (or most of us wouldn't) launch a war against our siblings, so we must love our siblings more than Iraqis. Why?

I'm not talking about romantic, intimate love. I'm talking about the love of humanity, the love of compassion and empathy and community values, the love that makes us clutch our chests and catch our breath when we see families floating in New Orleans or digging out from earthquake rubble in Peru. It's what Martin Luther King, Jr., called the "love that does justice", that links us to each other in shared fate. When we say we love our country, this is the kind of love we mean. Why not love the world?

It's easy to rationalize why I would care more about my out-of-work uncle than the millions of Americans facing foreclosure. But that doesn't make it right. For too long, we have used genetics, national borders, race, class, gender and so many other accidents of birth to parcel out more love to some than others, perpetuating gross inequalities and injustices worldwide. We cannot shed love at the doorstep of our homes or the doorstep of our nation. Love can't just be a fad among friends. Love is giving. Selfishness and hoarding are its enemies.

The democracy Churchill spoke about and that we aspire to today can never achieved by a set of close knit, ruling elites. The idea of democracy is endlessly inclusive. So is love.

I don't have enough stamps to send a valentine to the world. And, anyway, the billions of people living in poverty and billions more at the teetering edge need more than candy hearts. They need those of us with an ounce of privilege or power -- whether because we're well-off or because we're white or simply because we're American -- to care as desperately about their plight as we care about the fate of our own children and act accordingly. With the globalization of information, the world is getting smaller. Whether around the corner, across the tracks or on the other side of the globe, our sphere of moral concern should only grow. And our policies of prioritizing the elite rich over everyday people, the worldwide, should be nothing more than faint memories. Healthcare for all, not HMO subsidies. Foreign aid, not foreign wars. Homeowner assistance, not Wall Street bailouts. Great public schools, not separate and unequal. Conserving our planet, not funding big oil. A path to citizenship, not a wall at the border.

Call your members of Congress and demand more jobs and better jobs for everyone in America and guaranteed healthcare for all, ensuring everyone is in and no one is left out. Send emails and letters to the editor when you see media pundits pushing us-versus-them rhetoric and trying to edge people out of the American dream. On Valentine's Day, imagine what a world of love would be like. And then challenge yourself to do your part.