Jesus said, “You must love your neighbor as yourself.” Only when we accept ourselves as fundamentally good, and begin to love ourselves, will we be able to start loving other people as the Lord commanded.
Those who are filled with self-loathing and self-hatred are not going to be able to love others. They will project these feelings onto others. They will blame and castigate others for what they do not like in themselves.
An old man was sitting on a bench at the edge of town when a stranger approached. “What are the people in this town like?” the stranger asked. “What were they like in your last town?” replied the old man.
“They were kind, generous, and would do anything for you if you were in trouble.” “Well, I think you will find them much the same in this town.”
Some time later a second stranger approached the old man and asked the same question: “What are the people in this town like?”
And the old man replied: “What were they like in the town you have come from?”
“It was a terrible place,” came the answer. “To tell you the truth, I was glad to get out of it. The people there were mean, unkind, and nobody would lift a finger to help you if you were in trouble.”
“I’m afraid,” said the old man, “you’ll find them much the same in this town.” The main point of this story is: We see other people not as they are but as we are. If we see people in a bad light, it is a sign that we are ill at ease with ourselves. A man who is not at peace with himself spreads a contagion of conflict around him.
Unless we love ourselves we cannot love others properly. So to begin with we must love ourselves. But if we love ourselves in the wrong way, then we become incapable of loving anyone else. Few love themselves in such a way as to be able to love others properly.
There is an idea that love of self is wrong, even sinful. There is, of course, a form of self-love which is wrong. We call it selfishness or egoism. But there is a form of self-love which is healthy and good, and without which we cannot really love others.
You can’t fly without wings. You can’t grow without roots. We can’t offer warmth to others if our own fireplace is cold and empty. We can only love with the amount of love that is in us. Whether we are conscious of it or not, we do love others precisely as we love ourselves.
It’s very important, then, to have a healthy love and respect for ourselves. This is where love starts, but of course it is not meant to end there. All true love of self overflows in the form of love of others and of God.
It’s easy to love certain people because they are lovable. But not so easy to love others, who are clearly and obviously flawed. But that is the real test of love. Where there is no love, sow love, and you will reap love. Where there is no love, put love, and you will find love.