To Love

(Material for this essay comes from the following books: “Love” and “Personhood” both by Dr. Leo. F. Buscaglia and “When All You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough” by Rabbi Harold Kushner.)

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“To Love.”

It implies action and not an act of passivity, while sitting on the sidelines of life. Sadly, it is a commodity so rare and so desperately needed.

So what do we mean “to love.”

Our first responsibility “to love” is to love ourselves. To discover who we are, our talents, our weaknesses. Our true being. It is a journey that never ends and is always under construction. What we are today, we necessarily may not be tomorrow. We are being molded through our pains, trials and crosses to bear.

But to love oneself can be misleading. It’s more like accepting oneself. Something that many people have trouble doing.

Much if it is due to our upbringing (i.e. family, friends, etc.,), our environment. We become by what we live by and learn from. If one is constantly living in an environment where belittling is the norm, it’s hard maintaining confidence and self worth, let alone establishing them.

And we are not alone.

According to psychologist Dr. Pauline Clance in her book “The Imposter Phenomenon, When Success Makes You Feel Like A Fake,” suggests that 70 percent of successful people suffer from the Imposter Phenomenon – a constant worry that, although admired and respected, they will, some day, be “found out.” They feel that they are failures masquerading as successes.

Dr. Clance believes that more than half the population suffers from it – at least, from time to time. Boiled down in its simplest form, it says “I don’t like myself. I’m not what I should be – and I doubt if I ever will be.”

And according to her mail, the late columnist Ann Landers stated there were millions of affluent “failures” and an equal number of “successes” who have nothing in the bank.

Then, how do we learn to accept ourselves?

We must realize that most people do not have it together. Canadian religion author Tom Harpur claims that we are all weak and the fact by being human we are all vulnerable. And he suggests that the way in which we conquer our weaknesses is to confront them directly. This is the first step in spiritual and moral growth.

We sometimes feel that we don’t measure up to God’s standards. But religion should liberate us. It’s man’s distortion of faith that has hurt us.

In Judaism, a person is created in the image of God. Therefore, man is not sinful in nature but good. And religion does not demand of us to be perfect. It allows us to be human. In the Old Testament, Ecclesiastes 7:15 – 17, we read that we should be neither too good nor wicked.

And according to the Talmud, a book of wisdom which is part of the Jewish faith states: “At judgment day, every man will have to give account for everything which he might have enjoyed and did not.” The problem arises when these good things are taken to extreme, becoming addictive. But that is our fault, not God’s.

Even in the Christian faith, we are accepted. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. (Romans 8: 38 – 39)

Our second responsibility “to love” is to love all men. Dr. Leo Buscaglia in his book “Love” writes:”man shall love others to the extent he loves himself.

And we cannot love others unless we have faith. Writes Erich Fromm:  “Love is an act of faith and whoever is of little faith, is also of little love.”

Dr. Buscaglia adds: “there are those who believe anything less than love of all men is not love at all. They argue that who does not love all men sincerely can not love even a single person deeply, since all men are one.”

To love someone, we must have the ultimate concern for that person addressing his needs, his hurts. It goes beyond just mere “lip” service of speaking words of encouragement. To love someone means to get actively involved in the person’s welfare. We help him become the person that he was meant to be by humbling ourselves and being of service. Taoism interpretation of the Golden Rule sums it up best: “Treat your neighbor’s loss as your loss and your neighbor’s gain as your gain.”

Sadly, to love is rarely practiced and so desperately needed.

We can start by trying to have a better understanding of one’s suffering, empathizing with his pain, walking in his shoes. Just by listening with a sympathetic ear and a compassionate heart can have a great healing effect.

If we have ministered to his needs and are the only ones benefitting, we have failed. We probably have done more harm than help him.

And “to love” is difficult. At the heart of loving is vulnerability. We have to risk. We have to take a chance. It means showing our vulnerable side. It also opens us to criticism. And that can be scary. People may take advantage of us. It means stepping out of our “comfort zone.” But this can be done without people walking all over us – by not giving up one’s self respect.

And what we call loving by some is often more about control. It is often based on fear such as the religious zealots who want to control us with their value systems. Or those who want to push their views down our throats by playing “rescuer.” They give us what they think we need, because it has worked for them, not what we actually need. One man’s medicine is another man’s poison.

As Thomas Merton wrote: “the beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves and not twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.”

We have a duty to love. Dr. Leo Buscaglia writes: “man has no choice but to love. For when he does not, he finds his alternatives lie in loneliness, destruction and despair.”

So many tragedies are caused by peoples’ insecurities, fears, low self esteem, loneliness, etc. I’m amazed how many of these tragedies that could have been avoided if someone had reached out and practiced genuine love.

A church marquee sums it up: Love fails only when we fail to love.