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During a fit of road rage, it’s hard to think that the person who just pulled out in front of you is a whole human being, with a unique combination of good and bad things, just like the rest of us. But it’s easy to put people who do something annoying, inconvenient, or mean in a category of “People We Just Hate.”
In this special one-hundredth episode of Swedenborg and Life (broadcast with a live audience!), host Curtis Childs examines ways to correct the human habit of seeing other people as inconsequential, disposable, or adversarial. Throughout this live episode, the Swedenborg and Life team uses social psychology, celestial thought patterns, and the idea of the microcosm emulating the macrocosm to try and correct this habit. The episode ends by providing three simple ways to love everyone.
For Best Results
Before we can talk much about new ways to love people, we have to start with an example. Let’s start with the example of the smartphone: Curtis gives the example of Matt, who does all the graphics on the offTheLeftEye channel. If he uses his smartphone without being connected to the Internet, it pretty much just does normal phone things: cool games, calculator, calendar.
But with the Internet, one tiny smartphone is connected to nearly everything that is within human knowledge, to nearly everything going on for anyone else. The Internet puts us in constant contact with an entire social network. Curtis then asks us to imagine what it would be like if our minds were designed to upgrade to something better than their normal, disconnected state, to something more cleverly designed and planned. That’s the goal for this episode: to show the mental upgrade that will help our minds work in better, clearer, and happier ways.
In his writing, Swedenborg lays out a divine design that maximizes happiness, and here in True Christianity he specifically lays out the structure of this design in five points.
One: God is the divine design itself. Two: He created humankind on the basis of his design and in keeping with it, and built that design into us. Three: He created our rational minds in imitation of the divine design in the whole spiritual world, and our bodies in imitation of the divine design in the whole physical world. This is why the ancients called a person both a heaven in miniature and a world in miniature. Four: As a result, it is a law of the divine design that we are to rule our microcosm or physical-world-in-miniature from our microheaven or spiritual-world-in-miniature, just as God rules everything about the macrocosm or physical world from his macroheaven or spiritual world. Five: A law of the divine design following from this is that we are to bring ourselves into a state of faith by means of truths from the Word and bring ourselves into a state of goodwill by means of good actions; and this is how we reform and regenerate ourselves. (True Christianity §71)
Curtis sums this up by saying that “we can live in the divine design by making the psychological, emotional, and spiritual part of us an image of heaven, while the outer part of us is an image of the world.” The rest of this show will be spent trying to find ways to make our minds more like heaven.
To start off, we need to look at this heavenly mindset. Our default program when we think about others isn’t always the best—we have a tendency to see others as obstacles, rivals, decorations, or ways to release frustrations. There are always people competing for the same space. How do we remember that all of these obstacles or decorations are actually people too, with all their own struggles and battles and loves?
No, Go Ahead, You First
First Simple Way to Love Everyone: When we see people, we think, “I want this person to be happier than I am (in a good way).”
Imagine that you’re walking down the street. You see tons of people. Every time you notice a “random” person, you think about them as a person instead of a thing—you create a conscious experience.
This random person is a conscious person. He has things that make him happy; he has a trajectory and plan for his life. He’s not an object—he’s an individual. With these changes in our thought patterns, it helps us consider the happiness of others as an important thing. Curtis found that this mental shift made these changes in his own patterns of thought. It affected how he interacted with people, made him think more holistically about what makes people happy, and gave him a goal for his future interaction with people.
Now, if we think about this in terms of friends or strangers, it makes sense and seems like a nice thing. What about the heckler that bothers Curtis in the middle of his presentation? How do we imagine greater happiness for a person that is trying to hurt us and make us feel bad? That’s where the addendum “in a good way” comes in. To do something that’s love-based leads to actual happiness, so we don’t just want the heckler to be happy doing negative things—we want him to be happy because he is being his highest, best self.
Swedenborg talks about this, too:
Heaven is wishing better for others than for ourselves with all our heart and serving others for the sake of their own happiness, not for any selfish goal but for love. (Secrets of Heaven §452)
Those who lack all kindness . . . want to examine and in fact judge everyone and crave nothing more than to find evil, constantly bent as they are on condemning, punishing, and torturing others. Those who are guided by kindness, on the other hand, hardly even notice evil in another but pay attention instead to everything good and true in the person. When they do find anything bad or false, they put a good interpretation on it. This is a characteristic of all angels—one they acquire from the Lord, who bends everything bad toward good. (Secrets of Heaven§1079:2)
Now, Curtis points out that there is an asterisk to this point. There are things like boundaries and health and safety that we have to think and worry about in the world. We cannot just ignore common sense and let everyone get away with everything. Take this feeling and table it, because we will return to that idea later in the show.
Curtis rounded out the segment by asking viewers to pick a person (whether a friend or a stranger) and imagine wanting that person to be happier than you are.
The Subtle Captivity
Second Simple Way to Love Everyone: When we see people, we think, “This person is not [ATTRIBUTE].”
The attribute could be anger, laziness, or any negative trait.
Guest Dr. Erica Goldblatt Hyatt, assistant professor of psychology, sheds some light on a principle of social psychology known as the Fundamental Attribution Error. In this theory, social psychology shows that people are more likely to see a mistake made by someone else and attribute it to a negative character trait—we think it’s part of who they are. But when we make mistakes ourselves, we have a bunch of reasons to support the idea that we’re still good at heart, even if we make mistakes. We are less willing to extend that courtesy to others.
If we think about this in the light of Swedenborg’s ideas of the influence of heaven and hell on humanity, we can see that even the nasty qualities that people possess aren’t “them.” In a way, these people are victims of their own reactions in the same way that others are victims of their negativity.
Guest Dr. Soni Werner, associate professor of psychology, discusses her experience dealing with people who struggle with addictions. She discusses the way addiction changes the brain and makes it easier for addicts to fall back into old patterns. It’s very difficult to change course when even your memories have fallen victim to patterns of addiction.
In his book called Capture, Dr. David A. Kessler writes about the ways that the brain gets “captured” by some type of stimulus—a place, a thought, a memory, a person—that takes hold of our attention and influences our emotions, perception, and behavior. Ultimately, these reactions form neural patterns in the brain, and it’s more and more difficult to break free, leading to mental struggles or even illness.
Swedenborg writes frequently about patterns of behavior and the way heaven and hell interact with the behavior patterns we take on in the physical world.
About the origin in hell of the influence of evil: When we plunge into evil, first by consent, then with set purpose, and finally as our heart’s delight, the hell that revels in the same sort of evil opens up. When we come into evil this way, then if that hell also exerts an influence on us, the evil clings. The hell whose sphere of influence we are then in is at the peak of its pleasure, because it is indulging in its evil, so it does not let up but presses on relentlessly. It makes us think about the evil, intermittently at first but then whenever anything related comes up. In the end it comes to dominate our entire mind. (Secrets of Heaven §6203)
Curtis reminds us that negative things try to find us and attack us in many different ways. In this episode, the Swedenborg and Life team is trying to help us understand this and help us apply it to other people. How many times do we make mistakes because we’re trying to be better and struggling with different things?
When angels think and speak about the hells, then, they think and speak about falsity and evil in the abstract, separate from hell’s inhabitants. Angels always set aside any thought of the person, staying with the thought of the thing itself. (Secrets of Heaven §8343)
Angels never put themselves against the people. They set themselves against the evil. By thinking about the evil itself and avoiding putting that evil in the character traits of another person, we free ourselves up to continue to think good things about people, even if they make decisions that we don’t like.
Curtis brings all these points together in a second exercise: Think about a person that bothers you and imagine them as more than that troublesome characteristic, as a person with their own internal struggles.
A Spiritual Address
Third Simple Way to Love Everyone: When we see people, we think, “This person has a future.”
Everyone has a trajectory and a future. People have so much time to learn and grow—we can never keep someone stagnant in one position. Swedenborg talks about the future for each person in his book called Divine Providence.
We are by creation heavens in smallest form and therefore images of the Lord, and since heaven is made up of as many desires as there are angels, each of which is a person as to its form, it follows that the constant effort in divine providence is for each of us to become a heaven in form and therefore an image of the Lord. Further, since this is accomplished by means of the desire for what is good and true, it is for us to become that desire. This, then, is the constant effort in divine providence. The very heart of providence, though, is that we should be in some particular place in heaven or in some particular place in the divine heavenly person and therefore in the Lord. This is what happens for people whom the Lord can lead to heaven. Since the Lord foresees this, he also constantly provides for it, with the result that all of us who are allowing ourselves to be led to heaven are being prepared for our own places in heaven. (Divine Providence §67)
Each and every person has a unique and special place in heaven, according to Swedenborg. No matter where someone comes from or what someone looks like, they have a place in heaven according to the things they love. Everyone has a possibility for a bright future.
This transitions into the third exercise: Pick a person and imagine their future—the highest possible future in which they find their perfect, unique place in the divine design of the universe.
Now, Curtis brings us to the asterisk. In this case, it refers to questions that come up: “But what about this person? How do we do nice things for them if they’re being mean and treating people badly? How do I have boundaries and do nice things for myself when I should be doing things for other people?” Throughout Swedenborg’s work, this is where the idea of wisdom comes in.
Now I need to say what it is to love our neighbor. Loving our neighbor is intending and doing good not only to neighbors, friends, and good people but also to strangers, enemies, and evil people. But we exercise goodwill in our dealings with the latter in different ways than we do in our dealings with the former. We exercise goodwill in our dealings with our neighbors and friends by benefiting them directly. We exercise goodwill in our dealings with our enemies and evil people by benefiting them indirectly through our warnings, corrective action, punishments, and therefore efforts to improve them. (True Christianity §407)
What’s our ultimate goal in dealing with people? Can we cultivate an idea of supporting someone even if they’ve hurt us? As Curtis says, “the more love we cultivate, the more of a chance we have to do the right thing.” Wanting happiness for others is a solid first step toward our goal for this week—finding simple ways to love everyone.
In the last segment, Curtis answers these questions from our viewers:
- It is soo hard to love everyone because of the dark souls that do so much damage on the physical earth so how can we really truly love them?
- How can we tailor this teaching to more perfectly love ourselves, say if we have problems with perfectionism?
- We are to love the “neighbor,” but I remember Swedenborg defining the true neighbor as those of a godly nature, because to “help” an “evil” person in some ways is to allow them to enhance evil.
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About Swedenborg and Life
Host Curtis Childs from the Swedenborg Foundation and featured guests explore topics from Swedenborg’s eighteenth-century writings about his spiritual experiences and afterlife explorations and discuss how they relate to modern-day life and death in a lighthearted and interactive live webcast format.
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When we wake up in heaven, Swedenborg tells us, angels roll a covering from off of our left eye so that we can see everything in a spiritual light. The offTheLeftEye YouTube channel uses an array of educational and entertaining video formats to look at life and death through an uplifting spiritual lens.
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