Am I my brother’s keeper?

pueblaI recently heard an account of two brothers who lived together in a cabin on a ranch, miles from the nearest town, Laramie, Wyoming.  Now this was during the early 1900s, when Wyoming was barely a state and still very primitive and remote.  The two brothers lived a very  basic life, far from other people and had none of the available conveniences, such as electricity, running water, indoor plumbing, telephone, or a motor car.

The brothers did have books, and read profusely.  As a result, they could carry on an in-depth discussion on a wide variety of topics, despite their relative isolation from the outside world and current events.

Now I am a great supporter of minimalism – of living a simple life, free from the over-consumption of modern consumer goods.  In this regard, the two Wyoming brothers had it right.  They lived a very minimalistic lifestyle.  However, I am also concerned about taking minimalism too far – so far, that one eludes interactions with other people, for example, living in a remote cabin with rare human interactions and no opportunity to develop relationships.  Our relationships with others and the impact we have on society is extremely important, and I would argue as foundational for human existence.

How can a person interact and contribute to society if he is isolated from others?

Humans are social animals.  We need each other.  It is the way God made us, and He commands us to love our neighbors – which requires interaction to do so.

I am reminded of an Old Testament passage, found in the law as recorded by Moses.  In it lies a great principle for everyday life with respect to our brothers, neighbors, and even our enemies.

You shall not see your brother’s ox or sheep going astray and ignore them.  You shall take them back to your brother.  And if he does not live near you and you do not know who he is, you shall bring it home to your house and it shall stay with you until your brother seeks it.  Then you shall restore it to him.  Deuteronomy 22:1-2 (ESV)

This is a powerful illustration, and its message is repeated by Jesus when he gives us the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  In the parable, a non-Jew assists a Jew who was beaten and left for dead along a remote road.

We are to care for our brothers and their property.  In extension, we are to care for our neighbors, our community, and even our enemies.

How do we do so?

By caring.  By caring for the well-being of others.  By letting go of the concepts of competition and ego.  By realizing that our life has purpose in this world.  That we belong to a greater community.  By seeing the world from another’s perspective.

This can not be done by living in isolation.  Shall we quaintly order our private worlds so tightly that there is no room for other’s in our life?  The American concept of independence and self-sufficiency is counter-intuitive to a lifestyle of caring for the needs of those around us.

The early pioneer’s dream was to live a quiet, peaceful life on a ranch or farm that could provide for his and his family’s needs.  They would be free from the negative effects of an urban lifestyle and government oversight.

Minimalism is a process of freeing oneself from the material cares of the world, to make time for the more important matters - relationships and people and fulfillment.

I am my brother’s keeper!

What do you think?  Can we live a simple life of isolation and minding our own business and still contribute to society and the well-being of others?


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About John Forrest