A friend got my attention the other day when she wrote that few of her female friends had been able to find husbands willing to support them as strong women. When another friend wrote something similar the next day, I began thinking seriously. And when my daughter relayed an NPR report that today’s children are being taught to look out for themselves but not for others, I started thinking even harder.

Doom-mongering is not my style. Nor do I think things are worse than they used to be. Good old days are good only because they are no longer around to remind us of their messy complexity.

Nonetheless, I worry. Nothing is more fundamental in the life of faith–nay, in life itself–than the call to love others. Love you neighbor as you love yourself, said Jesus. If you do not tend one another, then who is there to tend you? ask the Buddhist scriptures.

This seems too obvious to merit discussion. But is it? And if it is, why do I have so much trouble practicing it?

Why, I have asked myself time and again this week, is it so easy to hate–and so hard to empathize? Why so easy for this morning’s Chicago Tribune to demand that we “sink on sight” every Somali boat that leaves shore, with barely a word about the conditions that turned those fishermen into pirates?

Why so much fun to hate Bernard Madoff, or the CEOs who kept accepting those bonuses, while ignoring my own greed?

Why such relish in jumping on Rod Blagojovich? Or Sarah Palin? Or Barak Obama? Or Lindsay Lohan?

Do Christ and Buddha call for uncritical sympathy for those with whom I disagree, or those who do what I consider wrong? Absolutely not. Neither do they ask me to stop looking out for myself. I am urged, after all, to love my neighbor as I love myself.

What they ask is that I take seriously something that Bob Thompson wrote recently: “One and all, we are Christs in the making.” All of us? Somali pirates? Rod Blagojevich? Sarah Palin? Bernard Madoff? Me? Yes, absolutely yes.

And what would it mean if I took that seriously?

It would mean being as concerned about the joy of my spouse, friend, or partner as I am about my own.

It would mean seeing the good in the Iranians, the grumpy neighbors, the pirates–and treating them with the respect I would like people to show me, or my own father or mother.

It would mean encountering a rude sales clerk, or taxi driver, or neighbor and asking how I could cheer her up rather than snapping back.

It would mean caring (and doing something) about the economic plight of people who hurt–before the stock market and home mortgage crisis made me feel the pinch myself.

And it would mean beginning to really live: beyond bitterness, beyond self-doubt, beyond fear (it is love, after all, not courage, that casts out fear), beyond my own self-absorbed world. “To live,” said Nitobe Inazō, the Japanese vice-president of the League of Nations in the 1920s, “is to work for others; to die is to do nothing.”

Last August, my family and I blew a tire on a deserted Wyoming road. The sun was blazing, the temperature in the 90s; there was no shade. I began to worry when the old tire would not come off and a Triple-A clerk told me the nearest help center was 60 miles away. My grandchildren looked so vulnerable under the sun.

Then Hub, a rough cowboy-turned-singer, drove up, got out his tools, and fixed the tire. It was a simple act, but the love overwhelmed me. I’d been the recipient of the sharing that lies at the heart of faith. He’d reminded me, not only how profoundly connected we are–but how cold (or scorching !) and desolate life is when I live unconnected.