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Proximity: Love without Reward is Valuable

Faith is not a question of the existence or non-existence of God. It is believing that love without reward is valuable.
Emmanuel Levinas

Proximity: Love without Reward is Valuable

Proximity: Love without Reward is Valuable

Understanding the principle of first ethics, that I, in the guise of the self, announce my presence to the world, place myself in a state of proximity as I await the call of the other, with the words, spoken or thought, “Here I Am” is, in fact, an act of love. It is an act done without reservation and without expectation of reciprocation. In point of fact, proximity, that state of waiting for the call of the other, may never find closure. The self may wait for the call that never arrives; wait it must because to do otherwise would be to act without cause only to fulfill an egoistic need to be rewarded by others.

Waiting in a proximate state does not require one to be a hermit, to hole up in a cave isolated from all human contact. Quite the contrary, waiting always already occurs in the vibrant acts of being in the world, of being present, of accomplishing, of doing good deeds, of anticipating. It is a region of existence where time and space are meaningless unless one comes face-to-face with the call of the other, in which case the obligation to answer the call comes before all other action; even in the answering, the self cannot act with the expectation of reward or reciprocation; responding to the call of the other is a selfless act that always already takes precedence over reservation and expectation of reward. It is much like a gift given anonymously.

The anonymous gift received by a recipient establishes no possibility for reciprocation. If one does not know from whom the gift arrived, it is impossible to be obligated to return the favor. If a gift is given to someone, say as a birthday present, encloses a card and signs that card, the recipient is informally obligated to present the giver with a gift on his or her birthday. By creating a give and take obligation the gift is not a gift at all, rather it is an requirement for reciprocation that, if broken, creates resentment and distance, the very opposite of proximate space.

The anonymous gift is one that honors the concept that love without reward is valuable; so valuable that one need receive no recognition for one’s action. Another way of thinking of proximity is in the notion of hospitality, of opening up one’s personal space to the other without reservation or expectation of reciprocation. A personal example: every year my wife and I invite guests to our home to help celebrate important holidays. We host a Passover Seder in the spring, a Thanksgiving dinner in the fall and an intimate New Year’s Eve dinner on December 31st. Our motivation is to celebrate holidays with friends and family, to create a ritual that infuses meaning in our home and brings happiness to our guests. We do this without reservation and without expectation. Our doors are open to guests brought by those we invite and it never fails that someone brings a stranger to our home (at least for the first two celebrations). Some of our guests have never reciprocated; the dinners, however, are not held because we expect people to invite us back, they are hosted to bring people together for important celebrations without reservation, without hidden agendas, without requirement. Love without reward is, in this sense, a measure of proximity; space without time or distance defined by its very essence of waiting.


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One thought on “Proximity: Love without Reward is Valuable

  1. I have given gifts anonymously and it just feels better.

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