From Jim O'Brien
May 11, 2018

Hi Friend,

The Second Commandment

As a faithful member of the "seniors"-meaning over sixty-exercise class I have been compelled to join the stalwart chasers of the fountain of youth that meet for coffee on Thursday mornings. One member is married to a woman who was born and raised in the Bordeaux region of France. Her English is spoken with the structure and rhythm of someone who speaks "English in French".

Intrigued by her view of the world I asked, "What is the biggest difference in the culture of France versus the United States?" She was hesitant to make a comparison for fear of causing offense, but a little persuasion oiled the lines of communication.

She used the simile of family to best describe the rural community where she grew up. It was best exemplified by her memory of frequent conversations with friends at an outdoor café where they enjoyed a glass of wine with cheese. "Like we are doing here," she said, with coffee as a substitute for wine.

She described the family farm that her father and grandfathers before him had worked since the 1600s. She described with reverence the archways of the old stone buildings built by her ancestors.

"You haven't gone to France if you go to Paris and stand under the Eiffel Tower," she said. "You may as well go to Six Flags in Cincinnati. You have to get out of the city to see France."

Her words resonated with our group. "There was a time when America was like that," I said. "I grew up in a neighborhood where we all knew one another and there were lots of kids to form a baseball team on any summer day."

Two things brought an end to that way of life. I remember the first time we lacked sufficient numbers to make a team because one of the members was watching television. The days of friends being with friends faded quickly after that. Now we sit down to dinner at a restaurant and a significant number of people ignore the friend across the table while hunched over a cell phone. Why would anyone choose a relationship with a picture on a screen over a real person?

The second thing that changed our culture was air conditioning. Down came the windows and up went the shield that kept out not only the hot air but also the neighbors. Gone is the once familiar front porch where people sat in the evening and spoke to neighbors walking home from the grocery.

We retreated into a darkened living room mesmerized by fictional characters on the silver screen that substituted for real flesh and blood friends. Eventually these shallow images influenced our morals and replaced friends, neighbors, family and even the Church.

It started by ignoring the two greatest commandments, first to love God and second to love our neighbor. Speaking of the greatest commandment Jesus did say, "the second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Matt. 22:39). Neighbor isn't someone I've never met who lives 2,000 miles away and makes his living "acting" like someone else.

The Apostle John says it another way, but just as probing. "He who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?" (1 John 4:20)

It's time to turn off the TV, put down the cell phone and talk to the person in front of you.

The same principle holds true in the business world. The consulting firm IDEO uses human-centered ideas to improve products and designs for major firms around the world. Founder David Kelly said that a major mistake that businesses make is failing to recognize the benefit of conversation between employees. He says that office designers err when designing narrow hallways that prevent employees from lingering to talk with one another. The manager may chastise employees for talking too much around the water fountain.

Kelly says the reality is that water fountain and hallway conversations may be the most productive communication employee's experience. The ideas generated by such exchanges are the heart of innovation.

The Christian classroom that teaches man to love his neighbor is still the best school the world has seen.

Until next time,

Jim O'Brien