Carry each other

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In each of the examples above, it has been taken for granted that to have to wash up after someone else is to some extent an indignity; a sign of subservience, or of unbalanced power relations. But what if we were to re-frame this act? What if, instead of being a subservient act, it was considered an affectionate one?

What if to wash up after someone else was seen as a privilege – a way of making manifest your affection for the other person?

In this instance, A, B and C are good friends. At its best friendship contains an implicit contract: we carry our friends when they are weak, just as they carry us when we are weak. For this contract to be effective, we must first recognize that we are all imperfect; because if nobody is perfect, then it follows that we all must be carried in some way, and at some time. Through carrying others, we also allow ourselves to be carried.

In practical terms, this carrying could range from arguing on behalf of a friend (the archetype of this form of carrying being the lawyer; that is, someone who argues professionally on your behalf) to providing council in a time of need (the psychotherapist) to literally carrying and taking care of someone because they are injured (the medic). We all carry each other daily, in moments and acts that may often go unseen.

The importance of this idea within society can be seen in its countless repetition within the various stories that have guided us over time; from ancient myth and religious parable, through to the plotlines of various popular films.

To carry those weaker than us is an act of affection that has its roots in love. Yet, whilst it may be easy to love our friends, the dictum to ‘love thy neighbour’ may be a little harder to follow. Psychologist Erich Fromm talks about this distinction;

“… [love] is inseparably connected with the social realm. If love means to have a loving attitude towards everybody, if love is a character trait, it must necessarily exist in one’s relationship not only with one’s family and friends, but towards those with whom one is in contact through one’s work, business, profession. There is no ‘division of labour’ between love for one’s own and love for strangers. On the contrary, the condition for the existence of the former is the existence of the latter.”7

Fromm sees love as an act of faith; in this sense, to love someone – to express faith in one human being - is to express faith in all human beings: to love everyone. It isn’t that you love this person; rather, you simply love. In this way love becomes a capacity, and to be able to love is to be able to love all, not only the beloved. He goes on to contrast this love with the idea of fairness;

“While a great deal of lip service is paid to the religious ideal of love of one’s neighbour, our relations are actually determined, at their best, by the principle of fairness. Fairness meaning not to use fraud and trickery in the exchange of commodities and services, and in the exchange of feelings. ‘I give you as much as you give me’, in material goods as well as in love, is the prevalent ethical maxim in capitalist society.” 8

Fromm suggests that in our relations we may often be guided by an ethics of fairness instead of an ethics based on love. Why is this distinction important? He goes on to say;

“Fairness ethics lend themselves to confusion with the ethics of the Golden Rule. The maxim ‘to do unto others as you would like them to do unto you’ can be interpreted as meaning ‘be fair in your exchange with others’. But actually, it was formulated originally as a more popular version of the Biblical ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself’. Indeed, the Jewish-Christian norm of brotherly love is entirely different from fairness ethics. It means to love your neighbour, that is, to feel responsible for and one with him, which fairness ethics means not to feel responsible, and one, but distant and separate; it means to respect the right of your neighbour, but not to love him.” 9

We see then, that to ‘love thy neighbour’ is also to feel responsible for them, not simply to respect their status in a bond based on "fairness". From the feeling of universal responsibility flowers the will to carry.

With this in mind, we’ll return to our story. In this instance, A, B and C are not strangers; they are friends. We’ve already reframed the act of washing a dish – it is no longer a subservient chore, rather it is a way of showing affection, a way of caressing; a concrete act of love that says (if only to go unheard): “I will carry you because I love you.”

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