In my recent encounter with Father Greg Boyle, the famed gang interventionist and founder of Homeboy Industries, he quoted Mother Teresa. "If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other." He said the measure of our ability to care about one another will be realized "when we love more than who loves us." He has spent most of his life loving gang members and helping them put their lives back together.
In contrast, many people overwhelmed by the world around them have decided that taking care of themselves and their own immediate families is all they can do. And they have convinced themselves that if everyone else just did the same then the world would be a better place. This way of thinking has led us to a number of socially transmitted diseases. (STDs)
NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard) is one of the long standing STDs.These infected people want everything just not in their neighborhood. Freeway off ramps, trash disposal, mass transit, homeless shelters, commercial development, schools, elder care etc. I remember well the families that appeared at a local City Council meeting to protest a Montessori pre-school operated out of a Victorian home for more than 100 years (Julia Child went there). The school served 76 kids! "The sound of children" was just too much for these sensitive and angry neighbors. Ultimately, the school had to build higher walls around it to better contain the laughter and pitter patter of little feet. These NIMBYists wanted better schools in the neighborhood but not next door, even when that school was there decades before their homes were built. I know it makes no sense, but that is how toxic the seemingly incurable NIMBYism disease can be.
I have discovered a vicious new strain of NIMBYism and the fastest growing STD–OMBYism–Only My Back Yard–this deadly disease triggers several brutal symptoms causing the sufferer to experience extreme self-centeredness, myopia, and ethnocentrism. These are followed by an uncontrollable penchant to live in gated communities, a significant decline in empathy for others, and an obsessive desire to maintain the status quo. OMBYists are devoted to only taking care of their back yard and their family. They have very stunted and homogenized networks. Their credo is: Love only who loves you, especially if they are like you.
The infuriating flaw with this selfish approach to life fails to recognize that a pampered family will have to live in a real world that looks nothing like that back yard. The OMBYists superiority complex and self righteous attitude are artificial prophylactics against reality. And that the children of these infected parents breed unnecessary prejudice between their kind and the rest of the world.
Only loving who loves you is the breathing standard of living a meaningful life. Of course we love our families! Yes we love people back. But our lives will be defined by how we pro-actively broaden that circle. How we embrace others outside of our families and our clone communities. Father Greg Boyle talks about how learning to love gang members has deepened his perspective to see the other side of the tracks literally. There is no purely good and purely bad when it comes to humans and the human struggle. The world is becoming more complex. The easy way out is to define the limits of our spheres of influence as our family, immediate circle of friends and the edge of our fence lines. To over simplify the world into the good and the evil by deluding ourselves that somehow we are better than the others.
I recently met a man who wanted to make a shift from working at an elitist and highly privileged institution to a community based organization. He said his life goal is to help the "under-served" and the "less fortunate" people in our society. It sounded a bit insincere, but I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. So I said, "That's a wonderful life mission. So how do you help the "under-served and less fortunate" now?" He looked at me like I called him a dirty name. He was flustered and said, "That's my goal, not what I do now!" He went on to explain how busy he is, how demanding his job is, that he has a couple of teenagers, and he likes playing golf occasionally……..His words faded as I saw the letters O–M–B–Y appear on his forehead. In other words, he has no time for others outside of his backyard. No time to do anything except take care of thyself and thy heirs. He only thinks about the "under-served and the less fortunate",when he is trying to impress others and feel less guilty.
Adopting the mentoring and networking lifestyle is an antidote to the onset of NIMBYism and OMBYism. While we should take care of and enjoy our verdant back yards, the world outside of those walls is so much more beautiful and filled with real people who are under-served and less fortunate. We have to break down those fences and walls. We have to create connections and relationships that add value and build broader communities that can confront and overcome the challenges we face, by loving many more than love us.
Thanks for reading. John