Every religion, Buddhism (a path to Enlightenment), and secular humanism include some variant of “Love Your Neighbor as Yourself”.  This is the bedrock of our humanity, and it’s quite impossible to posit a moral code without basic respect and care for the other.

My goodness though, don’t we try to get around this!  Various iterations within all faiths attempt to exclude and marginalize certain others, whether it be differing gender, race, sexual orientation, or religion. While generally couched in sacred texts, rationalizations for exclusion and hierarchy are simply variants of “I’m okay, you’re not okay”. When it comes to the Bible or other sacred texts, those who call themselves Biblical literalists or fundamentalists are actually the ones most likely to cherry pick among those very texts. It’s been said, “If you find that your God hates the same people you hate, you can be sure that God is of your own making”.

Love Your Neighbor as Yourself can also be misinterpreted another way. While trying to do the right thing, we can end up being taken advantage of, or even abused. Other people, sometimes well-meaning, sometimes not, can encourage us to put up with the bad behavior of others well past when we should. We can end up feeling guilty if we try to stand up for ourselves in a non-reciprocal relationship. We can forget that setting reasonable, protective boundaries around ourselves is a healthy thing to do.

It is worthy of note that it is said “Love Your Neighbor as Yourself”.  It does not say “Love Your Neighbor Instead of Yourself”, or even “Love Your Neighbor Better Than Yourself”.  Self-love is not only implied, it can be said that it is commanded.

Self-love is not narcissism, the latter being convinced of superiority over others. To love and respect myself I must love and respect the other. But that doesn’t mean letting another disrespect or hurt me. If we posit a Being who loves us all the same, then allowing oneself to be diminished would be an equal affront to that Being as diminishing another.

I once heard a wise person talking about sacrifice. She said she has struggled with this and has come to see that she can justify sacrificing herself for another if her sacrifice is leading to the other person’s personal or spiritual growth. If it’s not, she has learned that it is best to put her energies elsewhere.

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