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On Love, Freedom, and Community

Why we can't forget to give back.

Key points

  • The principle of give and take can apply to both relationships and communities.
  • Compromising individual freedom may be necessary for living together peacefully.
  • Just like with relationships, people should remember to look out for each other—even if it means overcoming reservations at times.

Love, defined as the urge and continuous effort for the happiness and well-being of somebody, is selfless and does not ask for reciprocity.1 In contrast, we enter personal relationships with the understanding of “give and take.” If somebody constantly asks for attention, help, your time, etc., but never returns the favor, the relationship is unlikely to be sustained. A mutual benefit is assumed for personal relationships, including romantic liaisons.

To maintain personal relationships, we are willing to give up certain individual freedoms. In exclusive romantic relationships, for example, we agree not to date other people. In nonromantic relationships, we make ourselves available to others despite conflicting interests at times. Love enables us to overcome our selfish impulses and devote time and attention to a friend or partner.1

In close partnerships, we look out for each other and divide responsibilities. These dynamics are not all that different in communities and societies where we share both benefits and duties. The advantages of living in a community are numerous, including protection, security, help in emergencies, use of public roads and buildings, waste and water services, support with disability and poverty, education, medical services, and many more.

On the other side, we work in the community and thus contribute to the common economy. We help our neighbors and pay taxes to fund public services. By living in a society, we agree to follow rules and laws aimed at living a peaceful existence together.

We may disagree with new rules but we are largely bound to follow them as part of the contract of societal living. If we are dissatisfied with our representation, we can choose to vote to replace them or challenge laws in court, but our community cannot function if everybody individually picks and chooses which rules to follow.

Armin Zadeh
Source: Armin Zadeh

The situation becomes more challenging if the governing structure in a community gives recommendations that are not enforced by law. Conflicts may arise between individual health concerns vs. economic interests and a community/society must carefully weigh these as they determine the best course of action.

These dynamics are well displayed during the COVID-19 pandemic. The government is charged with preventing sickness of its population while keeping the society functioning. Based on its best judgment after consulting with experts and weighing all factors, the governing structure releases recommendations or even mandates for specific measures, such as vaccination.

Individuals may disagree with the government’s measures. Assuming the government indeed has the best interest of its population in mind, it deserves the benefit of doubt. After all, the community provides the government with its best assets to come to the best possible decisions.

Unfortunately, there is a long history of individuals making decisions against expert advice with catastrophic consequences. A prominent example is the resistance to smallpox vaccination at the end of the 19th century.2

Claiming individual rights, anti-vaccination leagues were formed in Britain and the U.S. refusing a well-tolerated vaccine that effectively reduced death and illness from smallpox.2 Many people died because of their refusal to get vaccinated and many others in the community died because outbreaks could not be controlled without a high level of vaccination rates. In Jacobson v. Massachusetts (1905), the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed that vaccination mandates were constitutional and that the interest of the society/community outweighs individual rights under the First Amendment.

There are certainly limits to civil obedience, as horrifically displayed in Nazi-Germany. Laws and rules issued by a corrupt government—even when democratically elected—should be met with resistance when there is evidence of discrimination against groups in our community based on sex, race, religion, disability, etc.

Armin Zadeh
Source: Armin Zadeh

A call for vaccination in the time of a pandemic is directed at the well-being of all of us. It is not discriminating against a specific group. On the contrary, it is geared towards all community members. While we still may have individual concerns, we may remind ourselves of our responsibilities to others. To love our neighbors means, at the very least, to not place them in harm’s way through our actions (or inactions).

Our goal is to live happily together. We enjoy many benefits living in a community. Just like with relationships, we must not forget to look out for each other—even if it means overcoming reservations at times.


1. Zadeh A. The Forgotten Art of Love. Novato, California: New World Library; 2017.

2. Henderson DA. The eradication of smallpox--an overview of the past, present, and future. Vaccine. 2011; 29 Suppl 4: 7.