How to Love- Part 4
Love Your Neighbor Instead of Yourself
by Ernest O'Neill
"How to Love". That's the question we're discussing together these mornings at this time, Monday through Friday, "How to Love". What we've been discussing is the reason for some of the watery, diluted, wishy-washy ideas of love that go through our society. We're talking about some of the reasons why what many of us call love and what many of us give to each other as love does not come home to the recipient as love at all.
One of the reasons for this, we've been talking about, is the interpretation of one of the best-known commandments or directives in the English language about loving. You remember, it's, "Love God and love your neighbor as yourself." What we've been sharing is that there is going around during this present decade an absolute misinterpretation of this commandment, "Love your neighbor as yourself," and it runs like this: You can only love your neighbor as yourself if you truly love yourself. That's what the commandment means...love your neighbor as you love yourself.
So first of all, you must love yourself. So often we don't mean just self-respect there or the concern for self-preservation that we normally and naturally have, but so often we mean giving attention to ourselves first above everybody else. So we say, "First of all, you must love yourself. Take good care of yourself and look after yourself, and be concerned for your own well-being first and foremost, and your own self-esteem and self-worth; then when you've learned how to love yourself, you can love your neighbor as yourself."
Are You Loving Your Neighbor OR Loving Yourself?
The problem with this absolute misinterpretation is that none of us ever find we have loved ourselves enough to be able to get on to the business of loving our neighbors. So often when we have to love our neighbors we're still busy learning to love ourselves, or we still think we haven't loved ourselves enough, or we haven't enough self-esteem or self-worth. So we track the problem back to not loving ourselves enough -- and while we're busy trying to love ourselves a bit more our poor neighbors are going without any love at all. So it really doesn't work in practical expression. It normally means that self is competing with our neighbors constantly for our love. In that situation usually self wins out.
What we've been sharing is that this commandment, "Love your neighbor as yourself," has never down through the centuries been interpreted in this utterly self-centered way. It's always been interpreted in the light of the equally well-known definition of love that we've also been discussing, "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." In fact, that definition clarifies what the other commandment means, because "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" obviously means a man who lays down his life in order to save his friend's life is showing them the greatest love of all. That's what love is about -- it's laying down your life for your friend in place of your friend's. It doesn't mean laying down your life alongside the life of your friends. It means laying down your life for your friend's instead of your friend's life.
That's what we mean when we quote that statement on Memorial Day in connection with the sacrifices we remember people to have made in connection with the wars that have been fought to preserve our freedom in this nation. Normally, when we use that definition, we mean those people laying down their lives so that we wouldn't have to lay down our lives. They gave their lives so that our lives would be saved or preserved. That is in fact what the commandment means, "Love your neighbor as yourself." It means love your neighbor in place of yourself, instead of yourself.
The attention you used to give to yourself before you knew any better or before you have the power to do anything different, now give that love and give that attention to your neighbor. Treat your neighbor as if your neighbor was yourself. Treat your neighbor in place of yourself, as if you have no self to attend to. Attend to your neighbor in place of yourself. That's what real love means. It means giving yourself for the sake of another. In other words, you can't lay down your life for your friends unless you are actually giving your life up so that their life can be preserved.
That's what most human beings know in their heart of hearts is love. If you've been in the position where either your wife or your husband or your children or your friend hears you saying you love them, or your mother or your father or your son or your daughter hears you saying you love them, and yet says to you, "I don't think you really love me. I don't think you know what love means", then it's probably because you are trying on that rather shallow, superficial basis that we talked about. You're trying to love from the point of view of giving yourself your primary attention and then giving them some attention along with yourself.
We All Can Recognize Real Love
In actual fact, they know fine well in their heart, whether they have any philosophy in them or any religion or any thought at all. They know in their heart that loving means being prepared to give your life up for them, being prepared to put them before yourself, to put them in place of yourself.
All real love has that element in it. It means going to some inconvenience, putting yourself at some disadvantages, causing yourself some inconvenience or some trouble that you wouldn't otherwise have to face, in order that the other person will be able to avoid that trouble or avoid that inconvenience. That's what real love means. And that's what comes home to other people as real love: "Are you, when you say you love me, are you really ready to put yourself out for me? Are you actually putting yourself out for me?"
Many of us think to ourselves, "Well I AM loving. I am loving. Why don't they understand that I'm loving them?" Well, because you're not. They know you're not putting yourself out for them. You know you're not prepared to put yourself out in the least for them. They know you're not prepared to lose any money so that they can be benefitted. You're not prepared to lose any time so that they can be benefitted. They know that you are so self-centered that you would not for a moment cause yourself any trouble in order to do them some good. They believe that you will do them some good as long as it doesn't cause you any inconvenience, as long as it doesn't make you late for some appointment you have or make you lose some money or make you lose some comfort. As long as it doesn't spoil your vacation or cause you any loss of time, they believe that you'll do them some good, but all that comes home to them as kindness, as concern, as philanthropic interest, as kind of a hollow feeling. It doesn't come home as love because they are utterly convinced, when the chips are down, at the point where "the rubber meets the road", you will not for a moment put yourself out in the least for them. You will not go anywhere near laying down your life for them, because you are utterly convinced that loving is something that can be done without any detriment to yourself, without any inconvenience to yourself, without it causing yourself any trouble.
They know, of course, that that isn't real love, that real love is giving yourself, giving your time, giving your very life, giving your abilities, giving your talents. It's giving them in place of the talents and the abilities that they would have to put forth. It's giving yourself in place of them. It's laying down yourself for their benefit instead of for your own benefit. It's putting yourself in their place and laying yourself out instead of them laying themselves out. That's what comes home to a person as love. That's how even the littlest child knows when you're really loving them.