Do I just say that I love people?

How to Love- Part 6

Do I Just Say That I Love People?

by Ernest O'Neill

"How Do You Love?" That's what we're talking about on these mornings together Monday through Friday on this station at this time.

How do you love other people? How do you love your wife? How do you love your colleagues at work, or how do you love your fellow students? We're talking about this subject because what everybody with virtually no exception agrees is that what this world needs on a personal level, on a domestic level, on a national level, on an international level, is more love.

We repeatedly attribute the rise in juvenile delinquency to lack of love for children by their parents. We so often attribute failures of our educational system to a lack of real love for students by the teachers. We indeed attribute many of the perversions that occur in the whole realm of our sexual relationships to a lack of love among members of society for one another.

Definition of Love

So that's why we're trying to discuss the whole question of how you love other people. You remember last week we mentioned the fact that the real meaning of love is given in that definition that we so often use in connection with the sacrifices that people make for their country. We quote the words of the Nazarene, you remember, who said, "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." We said that that is over all the world admitted as the best definition of love. "Greater love has no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends."

You remember, we mentioned it is obvious from that definition that love means giving yourself, laying down your life, giving your very self for other people and to other people. It isn't so much a matter of giving things, but it's giving yourself, really giving a part of your own life. Then, you remember, we mentioned it is laying down your life for your friends. We normally interpret that as giving your life so they won't have to give theirs. In other words, real love has what we call a vicarious factor in it, and that means it has an element of giving something so that the other person won't have to give it. You give yourself instead of them. You give yourself in their place, in their stead.

Of course, that's very obvious to us in every heroic story of a person sacrificing themselves for another. We see so clearly that they sacrificed themselves and gave up their own lives, so that the other person will not have to give up their own life. That makes sense of the quotation that is often used along with this one to define love. There are again, the words from that man of Nazareth who said, "Love God, and your neighbor as yourself."

Misinterpretation of what it means to love

Obviously the meaning of loving your neighbor as yourself is not that rather shallow and narrow interpretation that is so popular in our day: "Oh, well, to love your neighbor as yourself, you obviously have to love yourself; otherwise you won't know how to love your neighbor. So let's concentrate on giving ourselves a good deal of loving. Learn how to love yourself and take care of yourself. Then when you've done that you can take care of your neighbor in the same way."

Of course, what happens is we never complete the loving of ourselves so that we can take care of our neighbors. We're always so busy loving ourselves in the right way that we never get around to how to love our neighbors the same way. In fact the classical and traditional interpretation of that quotation is, "Love your neighbor as yourself." That is, love your neighbor instead of yourself. Many people say, of course, "Oh, well, it doesn't say that." No, but the definition is clarified in the quotation that we used in the beginning, "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." And that obviously means instead of your friends.

When your friend is drowning and you dive into the water to save them -- and you end up losing your own life, giving your own life for theirs -- it means you actually love yourself less than them. You love them more than yourself. You treat them the way you yourself would want to be treated. So that's what the phrase "Love your neighbor as yourself" means. It means the way you used to love yourself, the way you used to lay at your own disposal all your time and your effort and your thoughtfulness -- lay those things at the feet of your neighbor now instead.

What we finished the week with was, "Now, wait a minute. If I lay all my life and my abilities, if I lay my time and my talents, if I give my comfort and my hopes of happiness up and forget them completely so that my neighbor can be happy, so that he can have comfort, so that he can have all the things I used to want for myself -- well, wait a minute -- who then will look after me? Who will take care of me?”

Who will take care of you?

“It's all very well to say there is a free and liberated life where you can be forgetful of yourself and utterly taken up with your neighbor. It's alright saying that some of the happiest moments in our early days have been when we have lived the day absolutely forgetful of ourselves, utterly taken up with giving someone else a good time. It's alright saying that for a day. It's alright saying you can live like that every day of your life, but ...say you do. Then who takes care of you?"

That brings us to the most basic question in our minds about this issue of real love. If real love is giving yourself freely and self-forgetfully for another, if real love is forgetting yourself utterly, and losing yourself in taking care of other people the way you used to want yourself taken care of -- if real love is doing unto others things that you would want them to do to you, then who takes care of you?

That is one of the great questions that bothers most of us on this issue of love. This is really what forces so many of us to limit our love for other people. It's what forces so many of us to limit our love for other people. It's what forces so many of us to try a partial giving of our lives for others. We try to give to other people without giving everything and somehow, of course, the other person senses that. In fact, we have a crisis of love in our society today because we have all kinds of people, from husbands and wives, to friends, to sons and daughters, to brothers and sisters, to colleagues and associates, using the word "love" and saying, "I love you".

Actually, we're all sensing they don't really love us, because if the chips were down they would not really give their lives up for us and so many of us sense that. So many of us young people sense it. So many of us older people sense it. So many of us that deal with social workers sense it. With doctors, nurses -- we sense that they don't really love us. They just say they love us.

Of course, the reason we feel that, is that so few of us do really love other people in the real meaning of the word -- of giving up ourselves utterly for their benefit. The reason we don't is that the question occurs to our minds, "But if we do, who will take care of us?" That's the question I'd like us to talk a little about tomorrow.

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