It’s Time to Spread a Little Love

Posted on August 1, 2014

In a world blighted by conflict and anger it’s easy to wonder where love is but, if you want it and you look for it, you will find it.

Just over a year ago, my wife and I listened in silence as a doctor told us that our four year old son, Edward, was going to die. A post-operative infection following routine cardiac surgery had turned into sepsis and destroyed his ability to generate blood pressure. He had fought with all his might for four weeks, coming back from death’s door twice, but his body just couldn’t take it any more. He could hear our words, feel our touch and communicate through nods of his head, but the level of drugs needed to keep him alive was unsustainable. Later that evening, following the most heart-breaking discussion any parents could surely ever have, and once all the family had been to give him one last hug, we turned off his life support machine.  The following morning, at 5.28am on July 28, as the birds sang and a new day dawned, Edward passed away peacefully in our arms as we whispered softly, again and again, how much we loved him.

The last 12 months have been hard but we are slowly coming to terms with it. Edward had a serious heart condition and was battling sepsis, an infection that is often fatal on its own. No matter how unfortunate the latter, we knew as parents even before he was born that he would face huge challenges and we accepted them. We gave him everything we had – mostly our love – and it felt like it would be enough. He breezed through far more difficult operations and made a mockery of his supposed limitations, living life to the full and with a smile on his face. But sepsis, a condition that routinely kills healthy adults, was too much, even for him, the strongest and bravest of children. It hurts. It always will. The pain of a child’s death is profound but I understand and accept that it happened, that it cannot be undone and that apportioning blame to his medical team, no matter how much I sometimes want to, serves no purpose.

The most influential factor in getting me to this point has been love. The love of my wife, my children and my family who shared the pain, but also my friends and the community we live in, who all came together to support us. It’s often said that grief is the price we pay for love, but it is also love that will get you through it. Edward taught me this and, though I wish with all my heart that I had never had to learn it, it’s clear that love was his gift to me. The greatest respect I can pay him now is to live with his love in my heart and to spread it far and wide for the rest of my life.

Today, as I look around at the world, it often feels that love is absent, even more so when the victims are children. 80 children died on the Malaysian Airlines that was senselessly blown out of the sky in July and thousands more will be killed around the world in the months to come, victims of adults who simply should know better. These aren’t aren’t deaths due to illness or tragic accidents – they are the senseless collateral damage of misplaced and loveless ideologies. I know how much it hurts to lose a child, but to lose one like this, so pointlessly, must make the pain unfathomable. These parents have no rational parameters to cushion the blow.

Last week I read a statement by Anthony Maslin and Marite Norris, who lost all three of their young children – Mo, Evie and Otis – and their grandfather, Nick, on that wretched flight. It is entitled simply ‘A message to the soldiers in the Ukraine, the politicians, the media, our friends and family.’

“Our pain is intense and relentless. We live in a hell beyond hell. Our babies are not here with us – we need to live with this act of horror, every day and every moment for the rest of our lives. No one deserves what we are going through. Not even the people who shot our whole family out of the sky.

No hate in the world is as strong as the love we have for our children, for Mo, for Evie, for Otis. No hate in the world is as strong as the love we have for Grandad Nick. No hate in the world is as strong as the love we have for each other.”

Read that final sentence again. No hate in the world is as strong as the love we have for each other.

I am an optimist, although some think I am a naive dreamer who doesn’t understand the real world. I beg to differ. The real world isn’t about political, commercial or religious ideology. We’ve made these up to help us deal with it. The real world took my son but it also taught me that humankind has a greater capacity for love than it has for hatred and that it is stamped out by others, often in authority, who have self-serving agendas. When my son died, love appeared from nowhere. I didn’t ask for it – it found me and has not left. Love has been my salvation as I come to terms with his death, and it is clear that Anthony’s and Marite’s family is blessed with it, even in their darkest hour. I hope that it will help them in the way it has helped me.

Their words are a terrible indictment of the world we live in. A world with two dichotomous spheres of existence – one with love at its core reserved for our families and friends and another, built around politics, religion and business, where love is hidden away behind anger, impatience and self-interest. It is time we seriously questioned the distinctly unnatural habit of leaving love behind when we close our door to go to work in the morning, whatever it is we do for a living.

How is it that we can treat other human beings, whose only crime is not to be a friend or a member of our family, with such indifference? If I am an accountant who works hard to protect my family and give them the best private medical care, but helps my clients avoid  tax that leads to an under funded National Health Service, what does that make me? If I am a sales rep, who teaches my children about truth and honesty but find them optional when selling my product, who am I? If I’m a politician who espouses family values but commits my country to acts of war to suit an economic agenda, what am I?

I’ll tell you what I am. A hypocrite. A liar. A bigot. A person with subjective, cosmetic and pointless morals. It might not be on the same scale as shooting down passenger jets and killing children, but it’s the first step on that ladder. A journey that starts with the seemingly harmless substitution of love in favour of commercial, political or religious expediency can lead to a very dangerous place. We need to ask ourselves why it has become acceptable to leave behind everything our parents and teachers told us about love when we close our front door on the way to work every morning.

If you believe that work requires a different moral code to your personal life or that somehow your professional decisions have no human impact, then you are contributing to an immoral duplicity, a dangerous self-deceit that gives licence to our indifference at the suffering of others. We tell ourselves that it’s part of free market capitalism, that great gift of the twentieth century, that provides equal opportunity to all. Well, as long as you live in the right country and don’t care that when you fill one of your many pairs of boots, somebody else on the other side of the world loses their only pair of sandals. It might start with the mundane purchase of a cheap pair of jeans from Primark in Guildford, but it leads to thousands of Bangladeshi’s working in horrific conditions and dying when their factory collapses on top of them. It is simple cause and effect obfuscated by the of status, desire and liberty sold to us by governments and brands.

If you believe that it is somebody’s ‘choice’ to work in these factories under such conditions, please tell me what kind of choice you think they have. You know full well that they don’t have one but you choose ignore it. During his fight against slavery William Wilberforce said “You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.” Today, we all know what impact our work and consumption have on other people. We have no excuse to expose them to levels of inequality we would not tolerate for our own kind. Once you see something, you cannot unsee it. Once you know something you cannot unknow it. You make an active choice to ignore it.

I’m not asking for capitalism to be smashed or for wealth to be forcefully redistributed. I’m simply asking for more love and compassion. Capitalism has brought progress and development all over the world and lifted millions out of poverty but it needs a system of checks and balances that prevents the abuse of power and the tyranny of vested interests. Capitalism works best when it has equal and opposite forces, essential institutions that can stand up to the abuse of human labour. Like unions. Yes, unions, the scourge of free market capitalism. They make mistakes and can abuse their own power, but the world is a safer and better place with them than without them.

It is perfectly possible to combine capitalism with compassion and to be profitable whilst contributing towards the greater good. Profit is good, but it must not be at any cost and nor should it be for its own sake. You can make billions, I don’t care, but you should do it without hurting others. All it requires is a change of attitude about what’s important. It shouldn’t have to take the deaths of innocent and vulnerable children to make the point.

So what can we do?  Actually quite a lot. You don’t have to suddenly be a saint but we can all start to be more mindful of the effect our professional actions have on others. It doesn’t mean you have to turn up to work tomorrow and rip up the corporate rule book or disrespect your employers. If you did you’d lose your job. No, it means challenging their actions with facts and rational observations a little bit more every day. We can’t change things overnight. It means making your employers, colleagues and friends aware of their impact on the wider world rather than just their immediate family. It means stop leaving your brain and ability to make independent decisions at home. As consumers, it means demanding more of the brands we interact with – more sustainable packaging, better environmental policies and more concern for suppliers. As electors, it means demanding more from our politicians. More humanity; more love. In the end, consumers get what consumers demand. If we demand change by voting with our feet we will get it. It is one of the golden rules of capitalism. But we need to actually do it. Apathy endorses the status quo.

We don’t need to have all the answers now but we can make a start. We don’t have to be perfect either. I set up my business to work with brands to help make the world a better place but I still have to do the odd project for less ethical companies to support my family. That’s life, but I try to convince them to change too. As I continue to learn about sustainability and ethics, I hope to be able to dedicate more and more time to it and will strive to apply the same set of values to my own little world as I do to everyone else’s. Little by little, step by step.

I simply want the world to be a better place and I suspect that you do too. Together we can achieve it. If we all do our little bit, and chip away at this loveless corporate, political and religious edifice, we will make a difference. Start today by bringing some of the love and mindfulness that you have at home into the office, and between us we can help spread it far and wide across the world.

(Note: You can read my full blog about Edward’s journey here)

(The image in this post is by Camdiluv and is gratefully used under a Creative Commons licence.)

What Others Are Saying

  1. Nick Marsh December 31, 2014 at 10:50 am

    Thanks for writing clearly about a difficult and important topic. I’ll try to remember this when I’m back in China next week.

  2. Sheri S Bessi January 9, 2015 at 7:50 pm

    Thank you dear Wheatley family. Is there more to say? Nothing as important as thank you. Love, Sheri

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *