The Beatles in 1967
PHOTO: PA IMAGES / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO
The Beatles sang and I laughed at All You Need Is Love. I remember ridiculing the four rich boys who had risen out of the struggle for money and could pontificate about ‘if only we learned to love each other then all would be fine’.
“Love, Love, Love” was an insult to me and I took it personally. I could never imagine loving the occupants of the local police station, or my landlord. This was the reason why I thought we should never allow ourselves to be swept along by the thinking of performers. They were not reformers.
Come forward 55 years and I am asked what am I trying to show the world by my work. And I find myself saying “to think lovingly”. Wow! It just crept out of my mouth and there it was, seemingly a reliving of the utterances of John, Paul, George and Ringo many decades later.
So The Beatles were right and I was wrong, back when I was a class warrior trying to show the hypocrisy of wealth? Alright, the four lads didn’t start with silver spoons in their mouths, but they soon, by becoming cash cows, slipped easily from need to over-plenty. So what’s so different now, with my recalibration of their 1960s dirge-like plea for kindness?
‘Lovingly’ is not simply for me a hollow word that I took The Beatles to be uttering. Rather it is a whole new realignment of thinking (I would say that, wouldn’t I?); a whole new way of relating to the world around us. Seeing the value in everyone and not simply our own tribe, or profession, or country. If you saw the humanity in a person who was unlike yourself it would be increasingly difficult to exploit them, or fight with them.
Take prosperity: prosperity is largely based on being able to relieve yourself of burdens. On getting others to do things that formerly – in your unprosperous times – you may have had to do yourself. It is passing the burden on to others. The accumulation of a fridge – yes I remember my first one – was a wonderful feeling. Fresh milk forever. Fresh fish and meat, not dried out and smelling.
But by getting a fridge you pass the burden on to others. The makers of the fridge, with the burdensome rubbish that is thrown up – the pollution – as industrial waste increases.
So if you taught people to think lovingly you would kindle in people the love of the person and the environment that produced the fridge for you to have fresh milk from.
If you taught children to think lovingly, because they themselves were lovingly thought about and brought up lovingly, then you wouldn’t produce the people who later take the gun and the knife and the bomb to people and destroy their lives. It is the presence of a lack of feeling of lovingly-ness that causes this behaviour. An emptiness of love for the world around you.
So to think lovingly is to completely rethink what we are in the world.
I am fully aware that the Russian invasion of Ukraine and its killing of citizens and soldiers of another country shows a complete lack of concern for fellow human beings. And that is why, when invasions take place, it’s necessary for the invaders not to see the people they invade as human like themselves.
It’s astonishing how successful the Nazis were in freely murdering Jews and others in death camps and on the side of the road. To do that and still feel good about themselves, and still love their own wives and children, they needed to make sure their victims were robbed of their humanity. Reduced to broken and cowering former humans.
To behave bestially you must first be made bestial. And that means killing without thought. Because who you kill is less than you.
Factory owners in the days of the industrial revolution did not see the children and women and men of their workforce as human. They saw them as wage slaves, reduced by God’s ordination to provide profit for the owners.
Ripping someone out of their home life in Africa and transporting them thousands of miles and having them sold at the auction block to do back-breaking labour can only be done if you have made them unloved and unworthy, unlike your own worthy and loved self.
Today sex traders and rapists, murderers and sweatshop owners do not extend their love towards the people they exploit or use because you could not do both. Emptying people of their humanity is the only way you can proceed.
Much of the world’s thinking is unsustainable because of this lack of behaving lovingly towards the planet and each other. Towards people who inherit the burden of other people’s desires and ambitions. Putin is not making Russia more sustainable, or less likely to be destroyed by internal contradictions. Or less likely to be taken advantage of as a broken economy, as the West did when Russia, under the guise of the USSR, was picked over after a disastrous war had destroyed much of its economy.
But it is simply not enough to declare that we need to think lovingly. This cannot simply be a pop mantra that still echoes down from the time of The Beatles’ supremacy. Didn’t The Beatles themselves end up with a loss of love for each other, or at least John and Paul? Didn’t they break up over control and money?
To think lovingly, we need a deepening of our understanding of the world around us. New forms of education. There are always signs of our humanity to each other; but there is also much grasping and burden-passing.
John Bird is the founder and Editor in Chief of The Big Issue. Read more of his words here.
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