Love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31)
Most of us have grown up with some version of the Golden Rule that includes doing unto others as you would have them do to you and loving your neighbor as yourself. Most of us think of the rule as encouraging us to be kinder to others.
Such thinking is completely backward. We already do love our neighbors as ourselves. The problem is that most of us have never learned to love ourselves and to see ourselves as a source of love.
We can never really accept or love anyone else until we learn to accept and love ourselves. Even our soulmates, spouses and children – we are only able to love them and receive their love for us in the same measure as we love ourselves.
How do you love yourself? By letting go of self-judgment and criticism. By acknowledging feelings of failure and insufficiency, and then letting them go and replacing them with self-affirming thoughts like, I am doing the best that I can today, and that is enough for today.
After I understand that I love my neighbor by loving myself, I realize that I am not just a receiver of love. I am a creator. I have my own light and my own love inside me. I am the light of the world (Matthew 5:14). I don’t need to wait for someone else to light me or love me first. I can choose to love everyone and everything around me.
When I consciously choose to generate love, regardless of the circumstances around me, that love radiates, and I begin to see its reflection in others. My love grows exponentially as long as I continue loving myself and my surroundings, and I am always surrounded by love. When I surround myself with love in this manner, I am empowered to choose kindness and gratitude for myself and others.
We cannot control the world around us, but we can choose how we will respond to the events, circumstances and people we encounter. We can shine. Our default mode often seems to be to reflect – give back whatever we receive. Bless those who bless you, and curse those who curse you. The world should expect us to respond this way when it treats us this way. But the blessings and curses of others have very little to do with us. We do ourselves and others a disservice when we take their words and actions personally.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus implores us to turn the other cheek and love our enemies (Matthew 5:38-45). When we identify someone as an enemy, we create division and invite fear into the relationship. When we choose to love that person, fear loses its grip. We create unity and invite understanding into the relationship. Before long we discover that they are not the enemy, but human just like we are.
Jesus said, Do not judge, or you too will be judged (Matthew 7:1). Yet we feel compelled to judge everything others do and say and to criticize or punish everything we might disagree with lest they or someone else think we condone the conduct and think badly of us. This constant judgment undermines our ability to act with kindness and gratitude. In fact, those who act unkindly are those most in need of our kindness. Forget retribution and the old eye-for-an-eye-and-tooth-for-a-tooth approach. It just doubles the number of blind and toothless people and offers no hope of healing for anyone.
Be the light. Gratefully accept the lessons each day brings and be kind. Shine on all whose lives intersect with yours, even for a moment. In doing so, you will surround yourself with love.