The One Where I Highlight Everything

Permit me to go off on a rant and crab about something that's only linked to food because I say it is:

If you lack responsibility, you lack love (real love, anyway)

I'm not just spouting philosophical hippy talk about everyone holding hands, doing the right thing and singing a great big song about love (that sounds awfully lazy and irresponsible to me). I'm expressing my own deep frustration with the way people throw around the word "love". If someone (like me) says they're doing something out of "love", that should mean something beyond just a warm and fuzzy feeling wrapped around a vague statement.

If I say I'm cooking with love or that food should be approached with love or that food is a way of showing love, what does any of that really mean? When I talk about love, love does not equal romance and love does not equal kindness - I can do romantic things for someone without showing love and I can do kind things for someone with unkind ulterior motives. So before I write even one more post about love or about food, let me give you the working definitions I have for love:
  • In the most basic sense, love is doing the right thing (and not just the right thing for you!) with the right motives (i.e. not motivated by selfishness or self-gratification)
  • As a direct result, love leads to responsibility (i.e. embracing and following-through on what you know you can and should do to fulfill a need or demand made known to you)
So if you're about to click away from my blog out of boredom, ponder this question as you leave: if I'm not responsible (with food, health, financials, relationships, etc), am I really a loving person?

I say no, you are not a loving person because your irresponsibility is hurting someone around you. Hurting someone through irresponsibility is not the same as unintentionally hurting someone despite doing the right things with the right motives. Irresponsibility means you knew what the right action was, you were capable of doing it, yet you neglected to do it - and if you neglected to do something you knew you should do, this shows you can't be bothered to care which means you're not showing love.

But this is a blog so you can disagree with me. You can write comments in all caps and extol the virtues of responsibility-free love. You can even tweet passionate rebuttals my way.

The below scenarios are heavy-handed, clearly biased to make you draw specific conclusions and likely to trigger intense negative reactions from a lot of people, so consider yourself warned. If you make it to the end, you'll no doubt be shaking your fist and sputtering the phrase "how dare you!" But I'm just questioning responsibility (in a very structured and biased way).

Just because I might know how I should behave (responsibly), it doesn't mean I always follow my own advice. A lot of the time, I'm the douche bag not behaving responsibly (not showing love). But I should recognize where I fall short and take responsibility for my shortfalls and do the right thing from here on out. You know - love more.

So here's my rather biased scenario(s) for your consideration:

Meet my fictitious cousin, Alex. He's 26 years old, he's in a long-term relationship with his girlfriend of 5 years and his job is a plant supervisor at a major tire company. He's about to be a new dad and he says his greatest priority is his family.
  1. My cousin knows alcohol and smoke is particularly bad during pregnancy, so he tries to limit his girlfriend's exposure to either. For example, he leaves his girlfriend to safely rest at home while he goes to the bar with his friends. He says he needs to get away from the hormones. (Responsible or irresponsible?)
  2. My cousin also knows transfats are likely to lead to obesity, heart disease and other health-related issues, so he makes sure his girlfriend has a transfat-free diet. He wants the baby to be healthy. But my cousin continues to eat McDonald's at lunch and twinkies for snacks. (Responsible or irresponsible?)
  3. My cousin feels he should provide for his girlfriend and baby, so he gets a second job so he can afford new furniture for the baby's room (instead of his parents' used stuff) and an SUV with more airbags. My cousin isn't worried about saving for the baby's college years or medical emergencies - his girlfriend has government-paid health care and he never needed a college education. (Responsible or irresponsible?)
  4. My cousin says he wants to lose weight (around 75 lbs) so he'll have the energy to play with the baby. He decides on a low carb, high protein diet to help him shed weight fast because he (and his whole family) has always had weight issues and he's never liked vegetables. He still drinks but only light beer (or diet soda mixers), he still eats McDonald's for lunch but discards the bun, and he still eats twinkies but just the cream filling. He says a complete dietary change (i.e. more fiber, more nutrient-rich foods, less processed food, less transfats) would never work for him because he wouldn't be able to stick with it for 50+ years. Besides, it's unnecessary because he's already lost about 15 lbs in one month - by the time the baby arrives, he'll be at his goal weight. (Responsible or irresponsible?)
Personally, I see lot of missed opportunities to show real love because my cousin isn't do the right thing with the right motives. He may be headed in the right direction (protecting the baby from smoke and alcohol, providing for his family's short-term needs, getting in shape for a more active role as a dad), but he completely dodges the bigger responsibilities (e.g. protecting himself from second-hand smoke and a pickled liver so his baby has a dad for years and years).

Ok, the horse is dead. Love is defined my way. Moving on. But do you think my cousin is doing the right things with the right motives? Do you think he's a responsible chap? Is he (truly) a loving chap?


  1. I think it's easy to see the ways in which your cousin is being irresponsible (and in some cases, down right stupid -- beyond losing weight, eating McDonald's will kill your ass; just because you didn't need to go to college, your kid will probably need to -- or (gasp!) want to). But I don't think it's so easy to say what drives him -- if it's love, his own sense of what his "duty" is, his own sense of what he's capable of, or something different.

    As an adult, he's certainly free to make choices that negatively impact his own health and wellbeing. By making sure that those negative impacts only apply to him and don't directly harm his family, I think he's demonstrating a certain amount of care and responsibility -- plenty of people smoke around their kids, get drunk around their kids, feed their kids shit from McDonald's, and compared to those folks, your cousin is doing the right thing.

    Now, will his self-inflicted negative impacts INDIRECTLY harm his family someday? Maybe, or even probably. And that's irresponsible, sure. But none of us are perfect, and I think it's hard to discredit the idea that he's thought about what he's capable of, and it's not doing everything good, but he's made the decision to do the good things he's capable of, because he loves his family.

    I suspect that what you take objection to is the essentially unconsidered nature of the cousin's actions: rather than using the BEST way to reach his goals, he's using the QUICKEST or the EASIEST (which won't work in the long-run anyway, but that's a different point). And rather than saying to himself, "OK, there's some stuff I'm not capable of doing right now: I'm just not capable of giving up ALL booze, and ALL fast food right away, so I'm going to give up some stuff now and work towards getting better and eventually I won't go to bars and won't eat fast food at all," (though you'll never catch me getting down on bar), your cousin put the period after "now." There's no sense of him knowing his limitations but then also deciding to make the effort to push his limitations back. And that can seem vapid and lazy. (And taking a second job, and losing time and energy, rather than taking a used car or used furniture is stupid. Don't forget stupid.)

    But despite the aspects of your cousin's actions that are vapid and lazy and stupid, there are aspects that are considerate and caring and hard-working. And in general, you're better off to encourage the positive steps people make in their lives than to get down on them about stupid shit they leave undone.

    It's like Jonathan Safran Foer's advice about converting vegans: JSF's a vegan, and he thinks everyone else should be, too. But when he meets someone who's an ovo-lacto vegetarian, or a pescetarian, or just someone who says something like, "I try to not eat meat three days a week," he says, "That's great! You're really helping your health, and the planet, and the cause of animal welfare by cutting back on animal products!" Because that's the best way to encourage people: make them feel good about moving in the right direction, so they keep moving in that direction until they reach the best place to be.

  2. my favorite part of your comment and the part i'm really taking away is that people respond better to encouragement and praise than to criticism and harping.

    i'm not always good about find the ways to encourage other people along the right direction - i'm a lot better at seeing all the places where they're missing the mark. and i'm a lot better at harping than praising (just as my bf). part of it is because i believe we're all prone to complacency - "i'm doing good enough". so instead of praising someone for "baby steps", i jump right to "you could do more".

    so i'm taking your comment to heart and applying the concept of encouraging the right direction going forward...


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