There are two basic ways of knowing things, or rather, two broad levels of knowledge–there are the things you know in your heart, and the things you know in your head. Sometimes you know something in your head but you need to make your heart know it also. Sometimes it’s the other way around. But you know what I mean: an intellectual understanding of a thing (war hurts people) as opposed to a deep and heartfelt knowledge of it (you have experienced firsthand the way wars tear apart lives). But this goes beyond knowledge–it also goes into feelings. You can feel something in your heart, or you can feel it in your head. You care about that one annoying fellow intellectually–you know he’s another human and you would (it is to be hoped) help him if he needed it. But that isn’t the same as the deep, heartfelt care that you might have for a sibling or a dear friend. Or consider a complete stranger. I will look at that person and think “there’s a human. I ought to care about that person just because he’s human. I don’t. But I’ll act like I do anyway.” Which seems the fairly typical reaction of most people, because let’s be honest, most humans don’t care overmuch for complete strangers. But not everyone is like that. I have a friend whom I was speaking to about this recently. She looks at a stranger and she sees a human, someone who she cares about for his sheer humanity. She does not have to act like she cares. She really does.
Hopefully that illustrates the difference I’m trying to point out. The ability to care for someone on a real, heartfelt level without even knowing them is an ability that I envy. I have to know a person before I can care for him on that level, and I have to like him, too. I can be frightfully cold towards those who are not part of my own personal group of friends and family. While this is a trait which, I think, is generally considered to be more natural than bad–who can be blamed for not caring very much about the people they don’t know?–we seem to be, by and large, plagued by the feeling that this is a wrong attitude. Why is it wrong? Perhaps it’s not evil. But I think that most everyone would join me in admiring my friend who can care on a heartfelt level about complete strangers. If we find that trait admirable, then it follows that its absence is bad or at least not to be desired.
Some people–myself included, in times past–would say that it’s more wrong to act like you care for someone than to not care for them in the first place. The reason for this is that it seems pretending to care when you don’t would be a sort of falsehood. Better to be honest than to wear a mask, they might say. But this is the wrong way to look at it. Acting as if you care even if you don’t is not wearing a mask and it is not false. Saying that you care and then taking no action is false and a mask. But the acting is the only way to bring yourself to the point where you can care for real. It is like faith; you make a practice of acting as if a thing is true even if you are not sure, and by the practice come to see its truth.
And so I suppose all I want to say is that I find in myself and see in others a general absence of heartfelt care for strangers, and that we all ought to act as if we care until we really do. God is love, after all, and if we want to be like God then we should love as much as we possibly can.