A few years ago I was part of a discussion brought on by Erich Fromm’s book The Art of Loving. In the book, Fromm forms what it means to love around three concepts: care, responsibility, and knowledge. Thus, truly loving someone involves all three working together. In addition, Fromm focuses on self-love (which differs from being egocentric), and believes that individuals need to care for themselves, respect themselves, and know themselves. As such, Fromm states:
“If I truly love one person I love all persons, I love the world, I love life. If I can say to somebody else, “I love you,” I must be able to say, “I love in you everybody, I love through you the world, I love in you also myself.”
The above passage raises the question of if can one love everyone without loving themselves, or phrased another way, must one love themselves before being able to truly love others?
I distinctly remember during the discussion I was on the side of ‘no, you don’t have to love yourself to love everyone,’ mainly because I felt like I could. I had never viewed myself as important, yet a strong desire to love everyone was instilled within me and drove my actions. (The keyword here of course is desire, as I recognized that I wasn’t at that point yet, regardless of how much I wanted to be.) The realization that in the whole realm of things I didn’t matter left me disregarding my life in order to do my best to love everyone and to be selfless– not in a noble ‘look at how good I can be’ way, but in a ‘my life doesn’t really matter’ way. I wanted loving others to be the only thing that mattered…and I worked really hard on it. Here’s a blog post from during that time, where it becomes evident how bothered I was when I had a selfish thought:
In the two years since, a lot has happened, most notably my “life fail”– an instance in which my failure can be attributed to selfishness…finally believing I mattered and thus, putting my health and happiness above that of others.
During the conclusion of my “life fail,” one individual point blank told me that “if you really wanted to be here, you would be.” I got defensive and tried to rationalize to the individual (and myself) that the real cost of staying would be too much, but before I was able to finish I realized two things 1) he was right and 2) I had become selfish.
And there’s no excuse for that, especially since only months before (1/15/11) I had written this on numerous public news sites:
When I ask myself ‘where is that person who wrote that/what changed inside?‘ the only answer I get is ‘buried under selfishness,’ because as mentioned earlier, at some point I began thinking that I mattered.
That’s what changed.
And I’m pretty sure that’s why I failed.
Anyway, a couple of days ago I was reminded of the discussion involving Erich Fromm, as someone had mentioned being able to love everyone and be selfless. It was then that I realized my stance on this had changed, a little, due to experiences.
As everyone else was discussing this, my mind was reeling, trying to process my thoughts. With regards to the questions that arose from Fromm’s passage, here is what I’ve arrived at, at least for now:
Can one love everyone without loving themselves? Must one love themselves before being able to truly love others?
I still think that one can love everyone without loving themselves (love everyone and be selfless), however what’s changed is that I believe that doing so would be at the cost of their self and self-love. And without that self-love (care, respect, knowledge) to keep their self in balance, it would be easy to cross boundaries which are necessary to living a healthy, productive (here, synonymous with ‘loving’) life. One could still love everyone and cross boundaries, however if crossing said boundaries are detrimental (and chances are they would be), their effectiveness of loving others would diminish…and in that sense, to continue to live in disregard to the boundaries would present a paradox (at least for individuals with this mindset), as one would need to love themselves (enough) in order to (continue to fully) love others.
All of that was the long way of saying, I still think it’s possible for someone to love everyone without loving themselves, but that individual would have to be pretty special. It seems like it would be easy to rule out this possibility, but to do so would be foolish given the wide range of diversity within humanity. And as for the rest, the overwhelming majority, I believe they must love themselves before loving others.
Relating this to my “life fail,” sure, I was selfish. In fact, it was the most selfish thing I’ve ever done, (and hopefully will ever do), but I’m just not one of those extraordinary individuals who is capable of loving everyone and being (completely) selfless. Nor am I sure if I want to be, as my “life fail” led me to a better understanding of the cost, for my self, which differs from individual to individual; everything is relative and what holds true for me doesn’t hold true for others.
It’s still not comforting to be in this majority, and I’m still not sure if I’m okay with it, but for now it is what it is.
And I’m that much closer to acceptance, and hopefully closure.