Loving oneself properly is the beginning of all genuine love. This may seem a trite thing to say. But it’s both a profound and powerful truth.
As I’ve written about recently, love is not a sentiment. Rather, it’s a behavior. Some believe it’s a behavior we’re commanded to exhibit at all times. But just what this behavior is exactly, and what it demands of us eludes many. That’s partly because aspects of culture prompt many to gravitate toward things that seem like love but aren’t. But it’s also because the essentials of good character – once more widely understood and valued – are so lacking in many. Ultimately, understanding what love genuinely is, and harboring the willingness to show it, even when difficult, is what sound character is all about. (See: Chapter 10, Essentials for the Journey.)
While loving oneself is the all-important first step toward mature character, knowing how to do it is definitely a learning process. And it’s a particularly difficult process in an age of such widespread and deeply-entrenched narcissism. (See also: An Entitlement Culture Fosters Narcissism.) Self-admiration is not self-love. Nor is self-esteem, although a well-balanced opinion of one’s worth is essential for loving properly.
For the evolved character, love simply cannot be egoic. Accordingly, loving oneself properly is not about self-centeredness or pure self-interest. A genuine lover is mindful of a “bigger picture.” It’s about human welfare, beginning with one’s own.
Common Traps and Misconceptions
There are many misconceptions about love. And some of these can be catastrophic when it comes to our overall welfare. Cultural norms have a lot to do with how we commonly misperceive love. And in an age of unprecedented entitlement and indulgence, it’s not unusual for some to equate indulgence itself with love. Some misguided folks regard catering to the whims of their children or their lovers a sure sign of love. Others equate indulging their own whims with self-love. But many times, doing the truly loving thing means solidly enforcing a “no,” whether it be with oneself or another.
In our times, learning to love is more challenging than ever because so many folks haven’t been taught what real love is by example. This is truly tragic. In medicine, surgeons are trained to “see one, do one, teach one,” when it comes to specific procedures. There’s powerful learning in attentive witness, practice, and mindful passing on of acquired skill. But if you’ve never actually witnessed real love in action, it’s almost impossible to know how to display it yourself or inspire it in others.
In the coming weeks, I’ll have much more to say about this topic. I also discuss the topic on the latest editon of Character Matters.