Someone said something like, ‘Love your neighbour as you love yourself.’
It’s easy to think that being loving is just about having loving thoughts or feelings toward someone else – even if we’re in conflict, if we try we might be able to conjure up positive feelings toward each other. I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to do that. I’ve sometimes found it helpful to be able to do that.
However, I think there are problems when we just think of love just about how you feel toward someone or how you think about them. This idea of love has often allowed people to say that they love their neighbour while at the same time trying to restrict their freedom. This idea of love has meant that people have not listened to their neighbours feedback about the harm caused by their behaviour, because they believe that they’re still loving their neighbour from the depths of their emotions. I’m thinking specifically here about how people from my religious tradition, the tradition that believes in ‘loving your neighbour’ have treated members of the queer communities in particular, but also other groups.
A lot of people think that because they’re directing nice feelings toward a person they’re not acting hatefully. If our neighbour feeds back to us that our behaviour or beliefs are harming them, we need to reassess how we behave and what we believe. Otherwise we are are turning our back on our neighbour, treating our neighbour hatefully.
I’ve been making a whole lot of origami hearts for the contemplative space at Surrender’s Melbourne conference next weekend. The theme this year is about love, which is why I’ve been making the hearts. Each heart can be a prayer of love.
It is pretty easy to make a shitload of hearts without a loving thought passing through your mind. While I was folding I could hear someone in one of the neighbouring flats talking loudly and angrily on the phone, and I noticed myself getting pretty irritated. Don’t they know all the neighbours can hear?
It’s easy to talk about love. It’s easy to sing songs about love. It’s easy to make paper hearts. We can do all of those things without loving our neighbours.
As I was making the hearts and reflecting on the difficulty of loving my noisy and angry neighbour, I reflected on the suggestion to, ‘Love your neighbour as you love yourself.’ The instruction isn’t to love your neighbour instead of loving yourself. It isn’t to love your neighbour as punishment for loving yourself. It might be clearer to say, ‘Love your neighbour while also loving yourself.’
I recognised that I’d had a busy day of cleaning, cooking, washing laundry and making beds. (I’d also not slept much for a little while because of the hot weather.) Now I was trying to fold about a hundred hearts, when I probably should have been giving myself a rest.
I took some time to walk around the neighbourhood in the light rain, and came home feeling less irritable. I’ve often feel like it is wrong for me to treat myself with love. The thing is, if I don’t treat myself well, it’s difficult to love the people around me. The worst this got to was a few years ago when I drove myself to work so hard to help others that I ended up sick and in hospital for a month.
Perhaps we shouldn’t see a tension between loving ourselves and loving others? Perhaps the two go together?