What does love entail? Well, love seems to be that which entails action, rather than merely being a feeling of an individual. Love as a feeling is subjective and may or may not necessitate action, but love as a virtue is different. When passing by someone in need on the streets, love would require that this person is not just considered, but acted upon out of love. Love as a virtue requires acts of love. This is what makes love so vastly demanding.
In order for love to function as a virtue, however, it must have limitations. Is it an act of love if I give 5 dollars to a beggar on the street, or is it better for me to donate that money to an organization that provides job opportunities for the homeless? There is some required discernment. Thus, it seems that love cannot be universally acted upon, but must be considered and given its due regarding individual constraints.
In an affluent society, as affluents individuals, the demands of love is greater than for those who have little disposable income. Because love and acts of love are considered practically but established theoretically, the closer to the theoretical that is possible is better and in fact obligatory. If one is able to give away a great amount of personal resources, this seems to be a requirement of love. Therefore, if one is able to take care of the needs of near neighbors, it is also required of that individual to take care of distant neighbors as well.
Even when dealing with limited resources, although priority should be given to those nearest to me, I still have an obligation of love towards those distant from me, even if this obligation is not as strong as my obligation towards those nearest to me. For example, if I must immediately choose to either save a drowning child in a pond I am passing by or instead make a phone call to donate money to save the life of a starving African child, it seems my obligation is to the drowning child. However, there is nothing preventing me, resource-wise or time-wise, from calling immediately after in order to donate money.
Perhaps there is a distinction with how we can give acts of love for near and distant neighbors. In deed, because we can more effectively recognize the needs of our near neighbors, perhaps it is our time and energy that ought to be given in acts of love to those nearest to us, whereas our money ought to be more equally distributed between those near us and distant from us.
What would this look like? I guess, this could be seen in how we give of ourselves. For example, when we give our time to those around us, we are acting out of love to those near us. Perhaps this, then, indicates the inherent preference for those near us. However, when dealing with money, we can use our resources to benefit near and distant neighbors equally, or near equally. Our resources could in fact be better used in a way that confronts the greatest current need. Instead of focusing on those near us, money could be lovingly given to distant neighbors who are facing impending situations that threaten their survival.
One example: A lawyer, who works 60-80 hours a week, ends up working anywhere from 3500-5000 hours a year. However, in order to fulfill obligations of love, the lawyer is able to donate 100 hours of her time to pro bono causes such as defending those who can’t afford a lawyer. This would be her fulfillment of love towards near neighbors. However, this lawyer could also donate several thousand dollars of her yearly income to charities that alleviate global hunger and extreme poverty for people abroad. In this way, she is able to meet needs of both near and distant neighbors, while still designating a specific preference for those near her by providing them with what could be considered a more significant contribution of services.
This is rough, but nonetheless a theory I am working out in my most recent ethics paper.