What does it ‘really’ mean to love your neighbor as yourself?
The imperative of ‘loving neighbors as oneself’ is an age old imperative. If everyone loves their neighbor as themselves, with love interpreted as non-inflicting of hurt on neighbors, society functions much like an Utopia. Though of Jewish and Christian origins, few if any other tenets of spirituality disagree with purity of moral imperative of loving neighbors as oneself.
The typical interpretation of loving of a neighbor as oneself is affinity for kindness, patience, gentleness etc. in relations with neighbors. This interpretation of course is right. The easiest way to avoid doing of wrong to others is focus on doing of what is right.
If you do not want to hurt your neighbor, the easiest way to arrive at this outcome is to ask yourself, what is right to do to your neighbor.
But then, how exactly to know what is right?
In context of knowing of what exactly is right to do to a neighbor, there exists a deeper meaning to the ‘love your neighbor’ imperative. If we are to arrive at this deeper meaning, we have to reword the moral imperative in the following manner.
Love your neighbor as your self.
With the moral imperative respecified as ‘love your neighbor as your self’, there is realization that the imperative does not commence with your neighbor. Rather, the imperative commences with the insight that it is important you recognize and love your self. The imperative declares, ‘if you do not recognize and love your ‘self’, you are unable to know how to love others’.
The problem we have in the world today is people no longer recognize their selves, as such are unable to love their selves, as such are unable to love others.
What then does it mean to recognize and love your self? Better yet, what is the ‘self’.
Your ‘self’ is the consciousness that lives in your body. Clearly, if you were your body, either you never die, or you do not have any consciousness. A house does not have it’s own consciousness, as such cannot die. Whenever a house, as can be the case in context of horror movies (which are not my personal taste by the way), seems to possess a consciousness, there always is some entity possessing of consciousness who takes over the house.
Given everyone dies eventually, clearly you have consciousness, as such are possessing of a self. If you are not your body, as such are possessing of a self, while you have need of nourishing of the body within which you live, if you do not alongside your body feed your consciousness, the needs of your body will dictate the state of your consciousness. The outcome? The state of your consciousness will revolve around eating, sex, and sleep. Work? it will be dissociated from your consciousness, validated only by desire for making of a living.
Whenever people get so obese to the point performance of daily functions of life becomes difficult — this because it takes so much energy just to get out of bed or move around — it is because the needs of the body began to dictate the state of the consciousness, took over the consciousness.
Whenever sex becomes totally casual, as opposed to opportunity for building intimacy in course of a first date or series of dates, it is because the needs of the body are all that count. If there is recognition of self, casual sex is a deliberate attempt at separation of the act of sex from the consciousness, from the self. But if the act of sex is not engaged in because it builds up the self, because it builds up the consciousness, what good exactly can be outcome of this dissociation of actions from consciousness?
Whenever waking up from sleep no longer is exciting, it is because the self did not have anything postponed from the previous day, nothing due for completion on waking from sleep. When there is consciousness of self, people sleep because absent sleep, effective and efficient continuation of work, recreation, socialization, or spirituality no longer is feasible.
If you are to recognize your consciousness, your consciousness first must be fed until it acquires an identity of it’s own. If you feed your consciousness, your consciousness will balance out the needs of your body.
Eating will facilitate energy for work that is chosen and directed by the consciousness. This is possible even when there is dichotomy between preferred and available jobs. When you run out of energy, your body will tell your consciousness there is need for consumption of more food for effective and efficient continuation of work.
Sex will help build intimacy that the consciousness a priori finds desirable. When the intimacy no longer is feasible because the two persons in a romantic relationship no longer see a future together, the consciousness shuts down desire for sex with the particular other.
Sleep provides time for regeneration of cells so you can feel just as young on the inside the following day, so you can continue with was not completed in course of the preceding day.
How then to feed your consciousness? Pick up good principles for life as you go along, hold yourself to living by chosen principles, be willing to update chosen principles in response to evidence that your principles can be improved, hold yourself to living by most current versions of updated principles.
Your consciousness becomes whatever principles you choose to love and practice.
Clearly, where you start off matters. It is important then to read widely, and be open to different ideas prior to arrival at determination of your foundational principles. If the principles you choose are moral, and do not generate ethical, moral, or spiritual conflicts in your mind, you are well on your way to forming of your self, to forming of your consciousness.
Note, however, that if you attempt to live by conflicting principles, you create a self and a mind that will experience buffeting in context of absence of consistency between different principles.
In the acquiring of principles for life, all chosen principles must be effective and consistent else feeding of the self becomes counter productive.
Personally, I have found the Greek Classics, Classic Novels, The Bible, good books on spirituality, crime novels within which justice always is done etc. to be good for forming of the self, for forming of the consciousness.
How do you maintain the self you form or develop? By feeding your self with actions and principles that reinforce, or build up the self. This implies absent contact with whatever you deem a superior principle, you never jettison a principle that already is part of your self. You either are reinforcing the self, or building up (updating) the self.
Emptying your self so there is a vacuum implies there is nothing whatsoever in your self possessing of any value. Can this ever be true?
If somehow you arrive at the conclusion that you as yet cannot point to any adopted principles for arrival at recognition of self, the goal is not to empty yourself, the goal is to begin to feed your self. The goal is to begin to adopt coordinated, non-contradictory principles for living of life.
How then to love your neighbor? By directing at your neighbor actions that reinforce and build up your neighbors’ self. This of course implies that outside of moral and ethical boundaries bound up in civil codes, you do not attempt to impose your self on your neighbor. Just as you love your self by feeding your self with what builds up your self, so also your love for your neighbor must serve for building up of their self.
Love for a neighbor that is of the same skin as love for the self is love that builds up, love that in it’s very essence is altruistic.
Suppose for instance that while you desire your wife to be a teacher, she seeks to be a nurse. Well, loving your wife as your self implies you seek to build her up, as such support her aspiration for becoming a nurse. Suppose your child seeks to become a financial economist, as opposed to your desire for him or her, which is, an accountant. Well then again, loving your child as your self means you support his or her aspiration for becoming a financial economist.
For clarity of rightness of espoused ideas, consider how the wife or son in the above illustration transition to becoming either of a nurse or financial economist.
The wife learns principles of nursing, becomes adept at thinking like and practicing principles of nursing, becomes a nurse.
The son learns principles of financial economics, becomes adept at thinking like and applying principles of financial economics, becomes a financial economist.
It is by adopting and practicing principles that we become, that we recognize, and develop capacity for loving of the self. If you do not know who your self is, how exactly are you able to love your self?
You love your neighbor the same way you love your self — within boundaries of morality and ethics — by doing to them only what serves for building up of their chosen self.
If you are a Christian, you probably are wondering the extent to which this discussion of ‘the self’ is compatible with Christian beliefs. How to know? How exactly does the Christian God describe Himself?
Well, all of Christian Scriptures declares concerning the Christian God as follows:
‘God is Love’, meaning “Love is Who God Has Chosen to Be.”
God then has bounded Himself by His commitment to the Principle of Love. Every demonstration of God’s power or essence is bounded by His Love.
God’s other important attributes — Justice and Righteousness — can be seen to be demonstrations of Love. Love for people wronged demands justice. Love is meaningless if it is not evident in right actions.