What Has Happened to “Love of Neighbor”?
HOW pleasant life can be when we have neighbors around us who are friendly, warm, kind and helpful! It adds so much to the joy of living and helps to make life’s problems seem smaller. When that is the case, the Bible proverb certainly applies that “better is a neighbor that is near than a brother that is far away.”—Prov. 27:10.
But how many neighbors like that do you have? Unfortunately, today that kind of neighborliness appears to be fading. People in many places note a change, a growing lack of concern for others. Doubtless you have read newspaper headlines like these recently appearing:
“Bystanders Ignore Attacked Woman”; “Man Is Stabbed to Death as Crowd of 30 Looks On”; “Man Tells How Daughter Died as Drivers Kept Going”; “Cry Ignored So Woman Dies in Mud.” The accounts following the headlines often tell of persons’ explaining their failure to help with the statement, “I didn’t want to get involved.”
And yet it is not so much in such dramatic or sensational events that lack of neighbor love is being felt. It is in the ordinary, day-to-day lives of people. Smiles, friendly greetings, acts of courtesy, consideration and kindness seem to be high on the list of today’s scarcities. In their place, many say that they experience increasing coldness, indifference and rudeness. What is the reason?
Some persons place much of the blame on the modern industrial society. It stresses speed, mass production and often causes people to be looked on as ‘cogs in the wheels’ of giant factories rather than as individuals with individual needs, desires and personalities. Big cities are another feature of modern society. Those living in them often feel lonely even though surrounded by millions of fellow humans. Few persons seem to have or take time to show interest in others. Then, too, cities in the past often had fairly well-defined neighborhoods. Today there is so much shifting about that often the old neighborhoods have disappeared. A professor of human development at Temple University, Theron Alexander, says that ‘some of the root system of our social structure seems to be damaged. Increasingly the city resident finds that in reality he’s without a distinct community. Perhaps for the first time in the world’s history, millions of people lack a real place in the society of man.’
But whether in the city or in suburbs or in rural areas, one thing strongly affecting people’s attitude toward others is the materialism that modern society fosters. Dr. Jerry H. Siegel, director of a psychological center in New Jersey, says of conditions in the United States: “People are definitely living much more for the moment. The state of our society in general has changed tremendously. There is a real lack of values. People are becoming increasingly more self-interested, and the instability of money adds to this growing selfishness.”
Yes, interest is focused heavily on things—houses, cars, clothes, entertainment devices—rather than on people. But this does not really satisfy the human heart. It works against having a spirit of generosity or of being “outgoing.” It tends to make one callous, willing to try to satisfy one’s own desires at the expense of others.
Now, spreading economic problems and inflation are revealing how futile it is to look to material things for happiness or security. But, instead of awakening to reality, many only become more preoccupied with their economic problems and thus become more withdrawn, less inclined to take an interest in others, less concerned about contributing to the happiness of others.
Where does the remedy lie? To appreciate what it is, we first need to realize that the principal blame does not lie with big cities or big factories or similar circumstances. For even in identical circumstances, people do not react the same. They may live in the same city, the same neighborhood, even on the same street, or work in the same factory, and yet some may show neighborly concern while others do not. What makes the difference?
The answer is of more than just casual interest and importance. For it has to do with life itself—in fact, the hope of life everlasting. Back in the first century, when a certain man versed in the Mosaic law asked Jesus of Nazareth, “Teacher, by doing what shall I inherit everlasting life?” Jesus responded by getting the man to quote from that Law these words: “‘You must love Jehovah your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole strength and with your whole mind,’ and, ‘your neighbor as yourself.’” Jesus added: “Keep on doing this and you will get life.” He followed that up by giving the parable about a Samaritan man who showed genuine love of neighbor.—Luke 10:25-37.
Really, love of God and love of neighbor go together, inseparably so. As Jesus’ apostle John wrote: “if anyone makes the statement: ‘I love God,’ and yet is hating his brother, he is a liar. For he who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot be loving God, whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:20) This also helps us to understand why love of neighbor is becoming so scarce today. How so?
It is because love of God is becoming just as scarce. Christ Jesus foretold that in our time, prophetically described as the “last days” of the present unrighteous system, people would be affected by wars, food shortages and other serious problems, all hitting mankind at the same time. He also said that “because of the increasing of lawlessness the love of the greater number will cool off.” (Matt. 24:3-12; 2 Tim. 3:1-4) Love for God, interest in knowing about him, in reading his Word, the Bible, and learning what his standards and purposes are, have certainly ‘cooled off’ among the majority today. Love of neighbor has inescapably suffered.
Learning about God, learning about his purpose to restore this earth and human society on it to a clean, healthful, righteous state, can make a tremendous difference in our outlook and in our attitude toward others. It can change our set of values, give us a hope far grander and more satisfying than what the materialistic system that is now operating offers. Yes, it can cause us to ‘broaden out’ in our affections so that, like God, we are unselfishly interested in the whole world of mankind. Jehovah’s witnesses will be happy to show neighborly interest by aiding you to learn more about God’s purposes through a free home Bible study, if you so desire.