Kindness, merely as such, cares not whether its object becomes good or bad, provided only that it escapes suffering….It is for people for whom we care nothing about that we demand happiness on any terms: with our friends, our lovers, our children, we are exacting and would rather see them suffer much than be happy in contemptible and estranging modes.…I conclude that my conception of love needs correction….Love is something more stern and splendid than mere kindness…1
In 2005, a group of undergraduate students at Princeton University started a new campus organization called the Anscombe Society. As at other campuses, these students felt isolated and demonized for their beliefs that sexual integrity means abstinence before marriage and that marriage means a life-long union between a man and a woman, and so they united for both support and strength. They wanted balance the conversation on campus, using the currency of academia—reason and scholarship. Two years later, the Love and Fidelity Network was created by Cassandra DeBenedetto (now Hough) in response to a desire from other students to imitate the Anscombe Society. Now, the Network has grown to include contacts on over 40 campuses, with similar campus organizations on 18 universities, including Ivy League and top-tier institutions. Contrary to the distasteful labels clumsily applied, these students constitute some the brightest and most compassionate people you may ever have the privilege of meeting.
Jousting with Windmills
Students who uphold sexual integrity and marriage are often viewed quizzically by the media, professors, and peers. Indeed, their message is counter-cultural. They tell college students that sexual abstinence before marriage is not only possible but also is desirable. They say that marital fidelity is both good sociologically and good biologically. They define marriage as the life-long union between a man and a woman and purport to have science and philosophy on their side. Are they manic? Have they lost their ability to rational thought? Don’t they know that they stand on the wrong side of history?
These students must have driven themselves mad with family studies articles just as Alonso Quijana’s voracious reading about knighthood preceded his donning of the name Don Quixote and his clumsy Quest. Princeton’s abstinent character in the new-student orientation play, University of Pittsburgh’s pledge to remain chaste for one weekend, Stanford’s debate, Harvard’s lecture series, and the intercollegiate Valentine’s Day poster campaign all seem like Don Quixote’s Quest during which he attacks a windmill, crowns himself with a shaving basin, is dubbed Knight of the Woeful Countenance by an innkeeper, and calls a whore a lady. In the words of the whore, Aldonza, to Don Quixote, “why do you do these things?”
“My Name is Dulcinea”
My favorite Broadway musical is Man of La Mancha2. The title and story line suggest that the main character is Don Quixote, but I believe that the play is really about Aldonza. A woman who had been dealt too much of this world’s harshness, Aldonza instantly dislikes Don Quixote just as she detests the men who have paid for her (and just as she hates herself)3. But, Don Quixote sees a lady instead of a harlot and renames her “Dulcinea.” This new name along with his outdated chivalry and his seemingly condescending gentility make Aldonza abhor him even more. She asks: “Why [do you] live in a world that can’t be?…No one can be what [you want] me to be…where [do you] see all the good [you] see?4”
The musical then chronicles Don Quixote’s confrontation with reality and his subsequent death. Alongside his deathbed, his faithful squire, Sancho, reacts with anguish, “He is dead. My master is dead.” However, Aldonza remains strangely unruffled: “A man died. He seemed a good man, but I did not know him.” And then she turns to Sancho, “Don Quixote is not dead. Believe, Sancho, believe.” As Aldonza calmly turns to leave the room, Sancho calls to her, “Aldonza…”
“My name is Dulcinea.”
“I Wish I Could Be Like That”
A friend once recounted to me a conversation she had had with another following an opinion piece she published in their campus paper (if memory serves). Her peer asked her clarifying questions about her positions on sexual integrity and why she held those convictions. She answered his questions as well as she could and then heard him say something that took her aback. He said, “I wish I could be like that.”
From my friend’s account, he gave that remark in a way that suggested to her that he caught a vision of the kind of life he now wants for himself. She assured him that he could attain that future despite the difficulties of his past. That hopeful message from one member to a peer dissatisfied by the life the campus culture had delivered is an example of the kind of real contribution the Love and Fidelity Network’s members make every day.
I think the real story in Man of La Mancha is Aldonza’s discovery of who she really is. Don Quixote’s Quest is not about marching around in tin, it is about showing others what happiness is. The Love and Fidelity Network and their members plan and publish, study and speak to show others how happiness and a healthy lifestyle can truly be lived. Rather than finding satisfaction by saying “no”, Love and Fidelity Network students find joy in certain things that deliver it. They share truths that they have discovered by reason, science, and their own experiences. They are willing to take the heat that comes from rubbing against the cultural grain because they hope the truths they affirm will benefit this and future generations. Implicit in their speech and action is their assertion that you matter. Just as Don Quixote rode off on his Quest in the hope that Aldonza would see that she really is Dulcinea, “[They] hope to add some measure of grace to the world5.”
Special Thanks to Casey Gleave. Casey is a former Student Fellow, now alumni from Brigham Young University. He lives and works in Meza, AZ and enjoys consulting with students about launching Love and Fidelity Network groups.
1 Lewis, C.S., The Problem of Pain. HarperCollins: New York, 2001. 32-33. Originally published in 1940.
2 Something about a tall, lanky, eccentric idealist really resonates with me.
3 See the song “It’s All the Same” Darion, Joe, “It’s All the Same,” <http://www.allmusicals.com/m/manoflamancha.htm> accessed: 7 Feb 2012.
4 “What Do You Want of Me?”
5 “Impossible Dream”