The experience of being human is a lot like the safety demonstration on a plane: brace yourself, buckle up, prepare for turbulence, know where to exit, and how to use the oxygen mask.
The oxygen mask is of particular reference. Passengers are instructed to fit their own masks first, before assisting others. As a newbie flyer years ago, I tended to judge this as fairly selfish. But, as with so many of my opinions, the older I get, the less I judge…Clearly the inference is that one should best be breathing to be able to help others breathe.
It’s the same with loving. Not the candyfloss, short-lived, romanticised notion of love, but the enduring kind. The kind where you know you’re awesome just because you are; where you value and accept yourself as an enigmatic puzzle of both weakness and greatness.
And the clincher – where you appreciate and embrace those around you with the same ardour.
Our oxygen mask analogy goes further: although oxygen flows to the mask, the bag may not inflate. Loving yourself does not necessarily lead to being puffed up, to use a thoroughly ecclesiastical expression. Loving yourself while acknowledging your rough edges does not lead to pride. It leads to freedom.
Freedom from trying to live up to others’ expectations, freedom from expecting others to live up to yours, and most of all, freedom from imitation.
Being an authentic lover of and giver to others is probably the pinnacle of being human; to genuinely care for others with no ulterior motive for selfish gain (e.g. to be liked, to be popular, to get a favour in return). But until we really love ourselves, the chances of us holding others in the same high regard are as good as airline food in economy class.
Valuing your uniqueness will cause you to value that of others. Having no need for external reinforcement of your value, means you can freely celebrate the value of others. If the ‘you’ is someone unworthy, or unloved by you, then giving – a key outflow of loving – becomes impossible.
The practice of loving oneself is enormous and complex, and cannot be ‘solved’ or instilled in a blog post. It involves our background, the labels we accepted growing up, our general worldview, who we surround ourselves with, and a number of other factors. But if you’re at a stage in your life where you are honest enough to realise you are lacking in the self-love department, or where you suspect that your intolerance of others reflects your feelings about yourself, then seek help. Whether professional or just getting a perspective from a trusted friend (who loves him or herself, of course), but don’t miss out on life because you’re missing out on love.
There is a delicious, incomprehensible pleasure in loving (caring for, being benevolent to, appreciating) people, whoever and wherever they are. Perhaps it’s time all of us start taking the safety demonstration seriously – imagine the ramifications!