Wednesday, January 04, 2017

1-4-17-- Love and Self-Love

A statement that I have always been frustrated with:

"We are taught to love others as ourselves.  This means we must develop love for ourselves enough in order to truly love others."

I don't think so.  The passage assumes that we already love ourselves, to a degree. We eat.  We sleep.  When we feel bad, we pursue activities that help us feel better.  Even if we commit suicide, it is because we can no longer live with the world or ourselves and suicide is an escape, an act of self love even though it may look like self loathing.

The moral principle is a generic foundation of ethics, repeated by every ethical teacher.  The presentation by Rabbi Hillel might be clearer: "Do not do to others what you would not want done to yourself."  In other words, if something harms you, then you might guess that it harms others as well.  If you are angry at disrespect or being judged without evidence, then perhaps these are activities we shouldn't do to others.

What Jesus is not saying, when he says, "Do unto others as you would have done unto you," is to feed every sauerkraut because you like sauerkraut.  It doesn't mean that you try to convince everyone to quit their addictions the same way you did, or that everyone must follow the same religious practices that work for you.  It means that we should reflect what makes us, as a human, tick, and to help provide that for others.  Feed people who are hungry.  Get children out of war. Give everyone respect.  Listen to others' opinion. Stuff like that.

What frustrates me about the opinion above is that the person stating such is using their lack of self-love as an excuse to not help others, which not only is a piss-poor excuse, but is exactly the opposite of what we should do.

When a person says that they don't "love themselves enough", they are really saying that they don't have enough of a happiness quotient in order to help others.  In reality, those who study happiness says that two of the main habits people should have in order to develop personal happiness are gratitude and compassion.

Gratitude as a habit doesn't mean saying, "thank you" occasionally, but going out of your way and expressing your appreciation for another, or even expressing appreciation for something in the world we live in.  Compassion doesn't just mean feeling pity for someone, but acting for the direct benefit of another person in need.  Doing these two things on a regular basis are two of the steps we must do in order to achieve personal happiness.   So loving others actually develops one's self-love.

However, it is possible to go too far in this.  Unfortunately, I know.

When one is beginning a path of a lifestyle of compassion, there are some things we must do to prevent self harm.  Make sure that the person you help won't harm you, for instance.  When I started inviting people into my home to eat, I left my checkbook out and someone stole it and cashed a thousand dollars of checks.  I took that as my bad, I was foolish to leave it out.  Sure, they were at fault for taking it, but why did I offer that temptation out there?

There are things we have to do when we participate in any work.  Make sure we eat enough, sleep enough, spend time with out family, don't neglect those closest to us, take breaks, take time to enjoy oneself.  I did all these.

But it wasn't enough.  I was working with an oppressed group and everyday I was hearing stories of suffering and oppression.  I was fighting for their rights and their daily survival.  I was seeing more and more of my friends die, and I was leading their memorial services.  I heard about the burnout that people who help the homeless and needy suffer, and I knew it, I experienced it.  But I was determined to continue. I took retreats, I reduced my load.  But I still dove into darkness and brought my family with me.

I could control myself when serving others, but once I was spent I had little control over myself and I would occasionally snap, causing those around me (especially my wife) to suffer.

This is the principle I've learned: I must give myself enough self-care so that I am able to love others.

This doesn't mean pursuing happiness.  Right now, I'm on a diet regime to force myself to get better nutrition.  I meditate in order to help overcome stress.  My spiritual life is shallow, weak.  I need to start my life over again.  This is discipline, not happiness.  It is positive discipline.  It is important.  But I gain little pleasure from it all.

We need to pursue disciplines that build ourselves enough so we can love others.  We must establish boundaries so we don't get overwhelmed to the degree that we harm others in our pursuit of compassion.  This is what I am doing.

Because the most important thing we do is love.  Love is the only work that lasts.  But if I am too worn by acts of mercy to do real mercy, then I am not really pursuing love.  I am a human being (or so my wife tells me). And this means that my compassion must have limits so that I can do acts of love, not just acts that look like love.

No comments: