So you know by now that, in my opinion, one of the great secrets of our natural, human universe is—and will always be—the powerful force we so inadequately label “love.” It is my absolute intent to explore definitions of love, and how this life force fits into, shapes, and is shaped by a skeptical or naturalist worldview; but today I want to dance more around the edges, by exploring the human need to share with people for whom we feel affection. Share what? Well, even … our pot.

VW Microbus

A religion professor of mine at Hope College, I believe his name was Boyd Wilson, once told a story of hitchhiking across the country. When a colorful VW Microbus snagged him and his buddy, an instant bond was formed between the travelers. It didn’t take long before the driver and his friends felt the desire to share something that was of value to them, and had—at least in their eyes—enhanced their experience of the world. It was their stash of pot.

The professor went on to say that he felt so connected with his fellow seekers that he too had to share what was so vitally instrumental to his ability to thrive: his experience of having been saved and redeemed through Jesus Christ, God’s only son.

We’ve probably all experienced friends coming to us to share when they are happy about something, though sometimes it can be difficult to join in if what is working for them is clearly not going to work for us. A friend lost a bunch of weight on a diet, then explains why you too must dramatically improve your life by eating only wheatgrass and shredded tires. Another stops drinking alcohol, and has never felt clearer, more lucid, or more grounded; now that person looks down on the “drunks” who don’t “get it,” and are still living their “unenlightened existence.” These friends want to share with you though, because these things work for them and they care about you.

Yes, it’s true that sometimes part of the need to share comes from the need to have others affirm our choices—by having you make them as well. But part of it is genuine. They want us to share their joy, and experience it as well. “Here, listen to this great new song.”

Recently I have been profoundly touched by a couple of new friendships; some very special people have entered my and Julie’s lives. Perhaps like the early phases of an adolescent romance, it even feels a bit like infatuation. Strange at the ages of forty-one and forty-five respectively (damn straight I married an older woman :-)).

But here is what I’ve noticed. When I see a quote, read a really funny e-mail, or hear something I know that these people would enjoy or find meaningful, I pass it along. Sometimes I just drop them a note to tell them how appreciative and honored I am to call them “friend.” I’m like the king of happy spam, it would appear, and all because I want to share my mojo with people to whom I feel connected.

It turns out that I’m not alone. We want to share things that we perceive bring us joy, epiphanies, or satisfaction, or wealth. We share songs that touch us; we share the Susan Boyle’s video clip from Britain’s Got Talent; we share jokes; we share a few beers; we share, by-and-large, because we care.

Challenges for the Skeptic

But from a skeptical worldview, the problems aren’t tough to spot. One has been mentioned; it can be very difficult to find that fine line between generously seeking to share one’s joy (heath, salvation, peace, or whatever), and merely trying to get people to affirm your choices. When is sharing authentic, and when is it more about the giver seeking validation? That’s tough in reality; for argument’s sake, however, let’s assume that people generally share because they care. (Welcome to my happy little world).

Secondly, what we think brought us joy—or healing, or salvation, or forgiveness, may not in truth be the thing that did bring us those payoffs. Provably, our experiences are fallible, subject to our needs for affirmation and love, they are linked to our likes and dislikes, and are often grounded in quite unreliable constructs. That’s why science developed the scientific method and double-blind studies, to filter out subtle influences that shape our thoughts and actions, and produce unreliable results.

Do we not propagate urban legends out of our need to share? Do we not play host to malicious and unenlightened viruses and memes accidentally? Perhaps I want to share how well homeopathy worked for me, but since science shows there is absolutely nothing in the “medicine” except H2O, is that sharing helpful to the world? Could it be harmful? I argue it can, but that’s for another post.

From the receiving end, as a skeptic I often find myself torn between not wanting to rudely reject gifts that are genuinely sent my way, and authentically sharing the worldview that works for me. If someone gave me a scratchy or ugly wool sweater for my birthday, I wouldn’t throw it back at them and tell them how stupid it is to buy a sweater made with scratchy fabric. That would be rude and hurtful.

Just yesterday a friend told me he was praying for me, and wished for me the joy and peace he has in his faith. How can I not at least appreciate that he finds such joy in his particular beliefs, and that he would find me worthy of his sharing (even though I became a non-theist after years of critical thought and examination)? Of course I authentically explained that while I’m “allergic to wool,” so to speak, I was touched and moved by his gesture. But it also made me think.

I wonder, what things do I share with others, with the best of intentions—without thinking clearly about whether or not they will provide the same value or joy to that person as they do to me? And if I don’t think about the utility of my sharing for the other person, is it really a gift? Isn’t that a bit like giving my wife a snowblower for Christmas? Isn’t it really for me?

Summary & conclusion

We like to share. We most often share because we care, though sometimes to be affirmed. I plan to assume the former, but be authentic in my polite responses to those who share with me even as the latter. Finally, in pondering all this it seems a reasonable goal is to be clear with ourselves about our own motives for sharing.

Don’t get me wrong; I won’t give a gift that is inconsistent with my beliefs and morals. But if I truly care about someone, the general idea of gift-giving—and sharing—is to give something that is translated into the “love language” of the other person, and that will be meaningful to them.

If I don’t, I am probably sharing for my benefit and affirmation, not theirs. That’s fine—in debates, or when educating, or raising consciousness, or to achieve mutual understanding; but still, it is useful information of which to be aware, if our quest is to live authentically.

(Stephen L. Gibson, freely circulate with citations, CC 2009, Attribution-No Derivatives; and

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