The professor held up a dodecahedron the size of a fist and proudly proclaimed that he had built the masterpiece for his wife during their courtship. It was going to be a long semester. My first philosophy class and I had a prof whose idea of romance was to create geometric origami. Furthermore, I had no idea what a dodecahedron and was puzzled why a woman would be, uh, well, so charmed.
However, he quickly redeemed himself when he confessed opposition to the grading system in education. We all started the class with an “A” and had to prove we deserved less. I got an A. I took a lot of his classes.
I once heard that, “A philosopher is someone who tries to explain something they don’t understand, but makes you feel like it’s all your fault.” I am balding because I scratched my head so frequently while studying philosophers.
Yet all of us have a philosophy of some kind. Scroll through Facebook or Twitter and find out what people think about life. That’s what philosophy really is: Thoughts about life. They’re on bumper stickers, tattoos, and wristbands.
What is the most important thing in your life? How you answer determines your philosophy. We often try to find the answers to these basic four questions:
- Where did I come from?
- Why am I here?
- How do I live while I’m here?
- Where am I going?
Mark Twain said, “The happiest two days of your life are the day you’re born and the day you discover why.”
In Philosophy 101, you learn the Latin phrase, “Summum bonum,” which means, “What is the highest good?” That changes as we mature. A Princess dress matters a lot to my 3 year-old granddaughter. Not so much for me, unless she’s twirling and waiting for applause. Then it’s the most important thing in the world.
I’ve spent a fair share of my life quizzical about the nature of God. I grew up in the Christian faith, but spent a great deal of time carefully studying other religions and discovering their highest good. I didn’t want to believe something because my Dad told me to. I’ve even taught courses in college on the various religions of the world.
I’ve heard a lot of preachers, each with their own version of the highest good, and I confess I get confused. However, Jesus clears the confusion: Love one another. John records a scene where his disciples were arguing about what is important and He cuts to the chase and says, “Love one another. This is how people will know you follow Me.” (John 13:35) Can’t get much clearer than that.
When my children left to go to college, I told them they were going to hear ideas they’d never heard before and to use these four things as a filter:
- Does it help you love God? There’s a big difference between knowing we’re supposed to love God and actually loving God.
- Does it help you love your neighbor? The Good Samaritan is a great story of how practical love gets played out in the every day routine of life.
- Does it help you love yourself? Maybe if we loved ourselves more, we could love others better.
- Does it help you love your enemy? This is the most bizarre request any prophet, pundit, preacher, or messiah ever made in any religion in the world. Seriously, who asks for forgiveness for the same people that crucify them?
My summum bonum? To love well. That’s my goal in life. The highest good. Haven’t reached it yet, but I hope that it is someday said of me, “He loved well.” Love is considered the greatest of all virtues. Not just my family, but my enemies as well. It seems that life increasingly gives me opportunities to either fail or succeed at loving well.
What is the summum bonum for you? What’s your highest good? And can you give me any pointers for loving my enemies? I need LOTS of help with that one.