Willing the Good of the Other

Although the phrase, “willing the good of the other”, may never appear in a sentimental greeting card, it captures the genuine and generous selflessness that should always be understood when we speak of love. St. Thomas Aquinas first suggested that true love derives less from emotion and more from decision. According to Aquinas, love is a choice to will the good of the other.

Loving only ourselves will never satisfy. We can’t give ourselves value. It is like trying to push a bike uphill, while we are sitting on the bike. Only selfless giving, and selfless willing the good of the other, can lead to true love.

Helping someone less fortunate might be an act of love. However, it depends on why it was done. Doing such an act just to feel good about the act, is self-centered and not based on love. We are willing their good, but not for their sake but for our own. It needs to be a virtuous act of generosity or fighting an injustice. To love neighbor as self means seeing the outcome of their good as fundamental to our sharing in the good.

Marriage is understood as the ultimate picture of ‘neighbor-love.’ When a marriage is lived well, it becomes a source and witness of what love is meant to be. It is the achievement of both parties willing each other’s good. It’s more than having powerful feelings for another person. There is an objective aspect of looking outward toward one’s beloved and seeking what is best for that person. It’s about being committed to them and their good, sacrificing one’s own preferences and desires. It includes serving one another without a contingency subjected to romantic feelings.

Willing the good of another is a mainstay for effective families but it also needs to be prominent in teamwork. As with the prior two concepts I blogged about, Enlightened Self-Interest and I am Third, this “serve others” approach opens the door to success at levels unfathomable if done by an individual. I saw firsthand a great example of this in college. I had a teammate, who in his 4-year football career played about 100 total snaps. Not much when you figure that a starter plays that much in just two games. However, his contribution on game days came from his practice effort during the week. He served as the scout-team center on offense and scout-team end on defense, where his goal was to make the starter lined up across from him work their hardest all week long. Those players, our Nose Guard and Offensive Tackle, were named All-Americans at the season’s end. He willed the good of those two players by getting his butt kicked and clock cleaned all week.

Willing the good of the other is a fundamental theme of democratic capitalism, which drives our Nation’s economy. The practice of democratic capitalism occurs within the arena of free will. The fulfillment of the individual lies in a non-coercive society and beloved community. A community worthy of such love also values the uniqueness and sacredness of each person. The vision is that of a republic of independent, self-reliant, cooperative citizens, each of whose interests includes the interests of all in neighborhood, from sea to shining sea. We the people are society’s most important asset. We must be people who seek to bless each other and treat others with dignity.

An “all in neighborhood, from sea to shining sea” includes strangers and even those with whom we are in conflict. If we are called as Christians to love one another, then we are called to will the good of one another. The soundtrack of Forest Gump solidified for me the Youngbloods’ version of “Get Together.” Written in 1963, it didn’t break through as a hit until 1969, when The National Conference of Christians and Jews distributed it to radio and TV stations to support Brotherhood Week as part of a public service announcement campaign. The song’s call for unity and understanding is one of the defining songs of the ’60s.

Come on people now

Smile on your brother

Everybody get together

Try to love one another

Right now

Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians emphasized that love is to be practiced by living out the imperatives of a Christian life; principles for acting morally. Moral conduct as the practical and personal expression of one’s faith with love and promise. Paul regards “worthiness” not as grounded in one’s own talent or moral self-righteousness but in God’s discerning of our genuinely selfless attitudes and actions.

In the 12th chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus is coming to the end of His ministry on earth. He has indicated to His followers that He must suffer and die, not only for them, but for all. Jesus wills the good of all others to the point of losing his life, so that we may be saved. Jesus challenges us to authentic discipleship, even to the sacrifice of life itself. Whoever wishes to save his self-centered earthly existence will end in destruction, but life lived in loyalty to Christ, despite earthly death, arrives at the fullness of eternal life.

I will live love; not by feelings but by acting accordingly and giving the gift of self to those around me, friend, or stranger. To love God, is to will the good of what God loves, which, of course, is our neighbor’s good.

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