Good Men Serve Others: Loving Yourself.
Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping.
— Jordan Peterson
I have often found that men who are not very good at being kind to others, have a very broken relationship with themselves. Bitter people (and believe me, I do not judge, but rather, speak from the experience of having lived with my own bitterness for a long time) are often angry, deep down, with their own selves, their own broken hopes and unmet longings.
We all know such people — we have often been told not to be like them.
As if this can indeed be possible; as if one can simply decide to change and turn from being bitter and selfish, to someone who puts others above himself...
I wish it were true. I wish it were that easy.
Change is possible, however; if we are not 'naturally' selfless, sacrificial and caring, there probably is a good reason for that. That reason, nonetheless, is not be used as an excuse, but is to be discovered, dealt with, and — gradually, in time — eliminated.
Yes — as everything else, being able to love and serve others, starts with being able to love and serve one's own self.
This principle is indeed ancient: it has been known and applied by the wisest among us for millennia, the chief reason behind this goes all the way back to the Biblical commandment to 'love thy neighbour as thyself'...
In other words, according to it, one cannot really love others if he doesn't love himself, at least as much as he would want to love those others.
* * *
Once, I was a young man who, apart from a number of other problems, was addicted to the gym; in those days I did not like the sight of people who looked unhealthy or out of shape to me — I 'loved' them in the way I loved myself. I judged them in the way I judged myself...
I remember, back in primary school, getting a strange sense of contempt toward another boy, who happened not to be too good at the academic disciplines. I remember, with almost frightening clarity, thinking about him and the way in which he was often embarrassed as he mumbled, searching in vain for some answer to give the teacher — finding nothing.
It was not until decades later, that I could see that my own drive to develop the only thing I then though i was good at — my academic side — stemmed from the contempt toward the little boy within me, whom I saw as weak, stupid, and slow. The almost triumphant feeling of disdain toward that boy was actually a feeling i had toward my own young self, whose slowness of mind and body I sought to cover-up with the few things I knew how to do.
In other words, loved my classmate with the love I had for my own young self.
And, looking back as far as I can remember, this has ever been the case with me...
Whenever I met someone I detested, I saw in them a part of me that I hated.
* * *
What then, is the way forward? How can someone so wretched learns to serve others — and even love them?
I think the answer to this is found on the road toward the love of self...
The love of self — which, at least in people as broken as myself — only comes through a journey of healing, rediscovery and reclamation of one's true self. Once that self begins to be seen as what it truly is, or was meant to be, and so, can still become, it will be embraced.
And so, when one finds compassion for his most bitter enemy — one's own self, in cases like mine — one is then free of hatred, and things he sees in others no longer trigger anything inside him...because there is no longer anything to trigger...
But, make no mistake: unless a miracle occurs, these results, no matter how committed one is, do not come quickly or easily...
But, eventually, they can come, and do come.
* * *
So, what does it look like to love others as yourself?
In the words of a monk from long ago, an abbot called 'Bernard of Clairvaux', true love toward others comes from the overflow of the love one has for himself.
This is what he wrote, centuries ago:
The man who is wise, therefore, will see his life as more like a reservoir than a canal. The canal simultaneously pours out what it receives; the reservoir retains the water till it is filled, then discharges the overflow without loss to itself. He knows that a curse is on the man who allows his own property to degenerate. Today there are many in the Church who act like canals, the reservoirs are far too rare ... You too must learn to await this fullness before pouring out your gifts, do not try to be more generous than God.
(Commentary of the Song of Songs)
Yes. The man who hates and neglects his own soul, allowing his 'property to degenerate', is indeed a poor servant...
But a man who loves himself and takes good care of himself, is a gift, not only to himself, but to those around him as well.
Charity does indeed starts at home, and compassion does start with the self.
It is from that self, that service to others comes from — let us take it seriously.
With much respect,