This is Valentine’s Day weekend, and my blog is called Love is Stronger. I named my blog this because I think love is one of the most important topics in the world. Gaining a better understanding of it has made a profound difference in my life. So, for these reasons, it seems like a good thing to write a post about love on Valentine’s Day.
First, you should know that this post is not primarily about romantic love. I do think romantic love is grand. I have been married to my husband, John, for over twenty years, and I think he is pretty much the greatest ever.
Nevertheless, when it comes to Valentine’s Day, I like to think about love in general–love both for ourselves and also other people–friends, family, neighbors, and significant others.
So this post is about love in general, and it pertains to love in the context of all of those relationships I mentioned above. To that end, here are seven really important things I have learned about love in the last decade.
One: Learning to love yourself is one of the best things you can do for the world.
I used to think that loving myself (self-love) was selfish, arrogant, and even potentially dangerous. Because of this, I was extremely hard on myself almost all the time for quite a bit of my younger life. I proudly thought of myself as a perfectionist, and I expected top-notch behavior and performance from myself constantly. When I failed or I noticed imperfection in myself, I criticized and shamed myself.
I was also often very hard on other people as well–I had a very limited ability to be compassionate with anyone at this time in my life.
The bad news is that all of this caused me a lot of anxiety, suffering, and occasional self-loathing and eventually caused me to have a significant emotional crisis. The good news is that because of that crisis, I learned to be much more compassionate and kind to myself; I became happier and more confident; and I learned how to be more kind and compassionate to others.
I am a much better person today–both to myself and others–because I have learned to love myself. And that’s my point: When we learned to show kindness, compassion, and respect to ourselves, this is the practical expression of love. It makes us a healthier, happier person, and it helps us to treat others with greater kindness, compassion, and respect. This makes the world a better place.
Two: One of the greatest things you can do to love yourself is to honor your intrinsic worth.
Most of the cultural messages we receive about worthiness communicate to us that we are only worthy if we meet some kind of outside standard. For instance, these messages often tell us that we are only worthy if we look the right way, weigh the right amount, have perfect skin or teeth or hair, are extremely talented, have a lot of money, or drive a certain kind of car.
Messages that communicate these kinds of ideas to us communicate an extrinsic view of worth: We are only worthy if we meet an external standard of worth someone else sets for us.
The extrinsic view of worth is a false one. The opposite of an extrinsic view of worth is an intrinsic view of worth: Human beings possess intrinsic worth in themselves, unconnected to any specific external standard of accomplishment.
You already know this to some degree, although you may not realize it. When we look at the diversity of plants and animals in nature, we recognize that each of them have intrinsic worth–a unique goodness they possess. Their goal is not to be anything other than themselves. So for example, the goal of a lion is to be a lion, not a giraffe. The goal of an oak tree is to be an oak tree, not a weeping willow tree. The goal of a sunflower is to be a sunflower, not a lilac.
You also have intrinsic worth and unique goodness, and you don’t have to work on anything other than being who you are and developing your intrinsic worth and unique goodness, which is something that takes a whole life to do.
Recognizing and honoring your intrinsic worth is one of the most loving things you can do for yourself and the world. (We all benefit when people share their unique goodness.)
Three: Your body has intrinsic worth and is worthy of love right now.
One of the most painful things about extrinsic views of worth is that they often communicate that our body is not worthy of respect or love unless it meets very narrow standards of supposed body beauty. (Usually this means being very thin for women and extremely muscular for men.)
These messages about our body are false and extremely harmful. Just like you, as a person, have intrinsic worth (see #2), your body has intrinsic worth. You are not meant to look one certain way–like really thin or really muscular. You are supposed to look like you, and you and your body are meant to be a team to help you live a more confident and adventurous life.
Whether your are small, large, fat, thin, very skinny, muscular, unmuscular, voluptuous, curvy, medium, able-bodied, or disabled, your body is intrinsically valuable and deserves kindness, compassion, and respect.
Four: The foundation of any loving relationship is respect for each other’s intrinsic worth.
If you want to have a more loving relationship with yourself, your friends, your family, your significant other, or your neighbor, the most important thing you can do is respect their intrinsic worth, while also respecting your own.
When we respect each other’s intrinsic worth, we recognize that the goal of other people is not primarily to do what we want or to be who we want them to be. Their primary goal is to develop and express their unique goodness for their good and the good of the whole earth.
We also realize that our primary goal is not to do or to be who people want us to be. Our primary goal is to develop and express our unique goodness for our good and the good of the whole earth.
Our goal in any relationship should be to respect and encourage the development of our own and each other’s intrinsic worth.
Five: Sometimes love requires us (or others) to say “no” and set boundaries.
Sometimes other people try to use or dominate us in order to get us to do or be what they want. Or sometimes they engage in behaviors that crush their own or other people’s sense of their own worth. This is immoral, and saying “no” and setting boundaries is a loving thing to do in this situation–both for ourselves and others. When we allow people to use and dominate us or crush our own sense of worth, it prevents us from developing and expressing our unique goodness fully, and the world suffers because of it.
Sometimes, on the other hand, we try to use or dominate others in order to get them to do or be what we want. Or sometimes we engage in behaviors that crush our own or other people’s sense of their own worth. This is immoral, and saying “no” to us and setting boundaries is a loving thing for others to do in this situation. When other people allow us to use or dominate them or crush their own sense of worth, it prevents them from developing and expressing their unique goodness fully, and the world suffers because of it.
Sometimes the most loving thing to do is to say “no” and set boundaries. Sometimes the most loving thing to do is to walk away.
Six: Love requires us to examine our dark side.
All of us have a dark side. It is the side that develops when we forget or get cut off from our intrinsic worth. We start acting out of sadness, fear, rage, hopelessness, and despair both towards ourselves and others. This causes many of the problems we see in the world.
If we want to live in love, we need to face our dark side and reconnect with our intrinsic worth while also honoring the intrinsic worth of other people.
Seven: Love is reaching out to you and will light the way.
There is something Larger, Wiser, More Loving, and More Creative than all of us. You can think of it as God, the Universe, the Tao, Love, Magic, or the Higher Self.
However you think of it, please know it exists; it is not offended if you aren’t sure if you believe in it; it is reaching out to you and to everyone; it will show you the way.
All you have to do is be willing and ask it for guidance (even if you aren’t sure what it is).
Happy Valentine’s Day, Friends.
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