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The Sheltering of Love

The consequences for Anton Schmid because he ‘could not think and had to help’ save 250 Jews from the Holocaust was that he was shot. He attributed his lack of thought to the ‘softness of his heart’ and claimed in letters to his wife that he ‘merely behaved as a human being’. Fortunately for us, behaving as a human being, does not usually involve this highest sacrifice, one that others, the majority in this case avoided, in approval, complicity, turning away and ignorance, but it does involve a choice and poses a challenge to us all. One that is I think hidden if we think in terms of human beings with rights and pursuing them for ourselves and others. Which is not to say that they are unimportant, just that being human is something other than being a human being.

Being human is a call to love, not just of ourselves, in all our most secret parts, the parts, we are ashamed of, the parts we feel guilty about, who all must be welcomed into our ‘community of selves,’ in Miller Mair’s wonderful phrase; it is a call to love others where we can, when we can, in their uniqueness. It is a call every parent faces with their newborn child, teachers face with their pupils, and of course therapists face with their clients.

Love, compassion, acceptance, call it what you will, but spare me the ugliness of unconditional positive regard, it is something deeper, than putting the other’s welfare first. It is seeing their ‘preciousness beyond reason’, as philosopher Raimond Gaita puts it, even when the grounds of self-respect and a good life seem denied to people. His witnessing of this love by a nun when he was seventeen forms the background to his work thinking about love, truth and justice and what comes first.

As Anton Schmid reminds us, it is not ‘thinking’ that makes the call here in ourselves but the softness of heart which engages us in practical action to help. So in our schools, it is putting the preciousness beyond reason of each child first, before and after any concern for their school work; this more than anything will prepare them for the vicissitudes of life that face them in their current and future lives. Fortunately, there are teachers who do this and schools such as St Mary’s primary school Edinburgh where the Acting Head Mary Bainbridge aims to put this into practice.

I was fortunate enough to hear her talking about this last Friday and her pupils are more fortunate in that they have experience of caring relationships to stand them in good stead. It is something to be celebrated here and where ever people put the preciousness beyond reason of the other first. It is the ground on which we can grow and flourish, where our joy, pain and grief in loving exists and which all technical language hides preventing us from exploring the true capacity which makes us human, which is not our reason, but our capacity to love and love unconditionally in our own unique and limited ways.