Truth and Love.
These are the greatest virtues.
Every other virtue must filter through these to be pure.
What does it mean- to love?
Since my youth this concept resonated with me. Deep in my soul the understanding of honestly extending love to others felt right. Gandhi and Dr. King, cultural heroes affirmed this idea. The concepts of oppression and abuse they and those they supported endured, was painted as heroic, suffering was an extension of love to their enemies. They were fighting abuse, but it was termed “inequality”. I applied the concept of “always loving” to relationships, which meant always pleasing others, avoiding conflict, being an example of forgiveness, denying self and suffering by extension. I was young. Without clear definitions, accountability for or even an understanding of abuse and manipulation coupled with this understanding of love, myself and so many like me have been perfect targets for abuse .
How do we change this? It is at the root of most every issue, both secular and spiritual.
I believe complete clarification of the golden rule and definitions of abuse is at the heart of healing and the only way for change.
“One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
So, how do we love ourselves without being selfish?
Honoring, respecting, welcoming, providing for, protecting and loving ourselves-our minds, our thoughts, our bodies, our emotions, our experiences, our hearts, and our souls must be done, in order that we are capable of extending that same honor and love to others.
We can’t accomplish the latter without the former. What Jesus taught was the whole, literally all of the teaching summed up into this. Love yourself so you can love others. Love God.
Using our unique mental, emotional, physical and spiritual power to HELP ourselves and not HARM ourselves enables us to extend help and not harm to others. This is love.
This is The Golden Rule.
I believe it’s written on every newborn heart.
It has been my experience and my observation that as we live and grow, others break that golden rule, harming instead of helping, then not only don’t take responsibility for that harm, but shift the blame to the one they have harmed. When blame is shifted, so is shame and the understanding of how to love oneself is lost in the confusion. This beautiful command that Christ gave as the cornerstone to everything, is manipulated and perverted and taught in such a way that “loving others” and “selflessness” becomes the chains that abusers hold their victims captive with.
Some coping mechanisms falsely termed as “loving and selfless” that are learned, taught and expected from others that are not loving toward oneself are:
Accepting blame to keep the peace
Operating beyond your capacity
Disregarding your needs
Allowing people who haven’t changed back in your life
Doing for others what they could do for themselves (enabling)
Accommodating people beyond your comfort level
Remaining silent when you have an issue
Overlooking “an offense” so as not to “accuse” even when it’s criminal
Feeling obligated to be loyal to a person, group or institution, which is actually favoritism not loyalty. Loyalty by definition is to be true to one’s word.
Feeling guilty about having appropriate boundaries
Forgiving when abuse continues with no change
Accepting words with no follow up actions
Forgive and forget
Staying in abusive relationships for lack of understanding or support
Giving up one's voice, needs or identity in the name of kindness
Trusting others who are untrustworthy because of manipulation
Submitting to authority without question, even when it’s abusive because there are lessons to be learned
Seeing yourself, talents and time as worthless
Abusers expect these behaviors in others. Their abuse and manipulation goes unchecked and unaccounted for when these coping mechanisms are mistermed as virtuous. When groups, communities and institutions teach or agree with these, they are enabling abuse and contributing to victimization. Victims of abuse move from one relationship to another abusive relationship with individuals, groups and institutions in a perpetual cycle without guidance on how to love oneself and what clear definitions of abuse are. The issue is systemic and needs to be addressed at every level.
We can turns that list on its head to understand self love:
I can love myself and others by acknowledging peace comes from speaking the truth so that individuals, groups and institutions are held accountable for abuse.
Accepting responsibility when I have harmed someone is loving myself and others.
I can love myself and others by saying “No” to anything I am morally, ethically, emotionally, physically or spiritually uncomfortable with.
I can love myself by honoring my needs, I can honor others with that same measure
Placing boundaries against people who haven’t changed, not allowing them back in my life is loving toward myself and others
Letting others do what they can for themselves is extending love to them and myself.
I can love myself and others by considering my comfort level before agreeing to others' desires.
Honoring my desires, and not just going along with things I don't want to is loving myself and others
Speaking when I have an issue is loving myself and others.
Reporting criminal activity is loving myself and others.
Recognizing favoritism can be harmful to me and others is loving myself and others.
Being loyal, true to my word, weighing my word against truth and love, against help or harm before I give it is loving myself and others.
I can love myself and others by placing appropriate boundaries, knowing that’s ok, and they will be challenged.
I can love myself and others by releasing vengeance, standing for the truth, knowing that justice is loving for both the victim and the perpetrator.
Only accepting words which are followed by actions, and recognizing it takes years for change is loving and protecting myself and others.
I can love myself by honoring what has happened to me in my past, telling the truth about it so I can heal and then extending that love to others
Getting out of abusive relationships (I know it’s hard), looking for support until I find it is loving to myself and others.
It is kind and loving to honor my voice, needs and identity. I can extend this live to others when I extend it to myself.
Only trusting those who have proven they are trustworthy is loving toward myself and others.
Removing myself from abusive power structures is loving toward myself and others.
Recognizing I am unique and valuable, and my talents and time are precious is loving toward myself and others.
Selfishness is choosing between helping or harming another when it is within your power to choose.
Here’s a helpful graphic which clearly defines abusive behaviors.
Angelo’s and my hope and prayers has been that individuals, families, groups, churches, schools and communities can all begin speaking the same languages around this subject, that survivors and witnesses can be adequately supported to foster healing and that truth and love will be the lense we all look through. Examining ourselves, being accountable for when we've caused harm, challenging ourselves to grow in living out the golden rule and delighting in the gildedness of this miraculous life is quite simply everything.
The biblical definitions for the key words in this context are:
Love: gladly receive, welcome, desire, offer generosity, to be free from smallness of character or mind. To provide for. To think favorably of, to judge favorably and to love dearly; like, show affection to a friend or companion.
Heart: the center of physical and spiritual life; soul and mind; the fountainhead of thoughts, desires, purposes, endeavors, will and character.
Soul: Breath of life; seat of feelings; that which is not dissolved by physical death
Mind: understanding, feeling, desiring, way of thinking
I invite you to meditate and ruminate on those definitions and what they mean to you.
Do you love yourself that way?
Consider that God wants you to.
Breathe that truth in deeply until you understand .