The late rabbi Albert Friedlander once impressed upon me the importance of the biblical commandment, "Love your neighbor as yourself." I had always concentrated on the first part of that injunction, but Albert taught me that if you cannot love yourself, you cannot love other people either. He had grown up in Nazi Germany, and as a child was bewildered and distressed by the vicious anti-Semitic propaganda that assailed him on all sides. One night, when he was about eight years old, he deliberately lay awake and made a list of all his good qualities. He told himself firmly that he was not
what the Nazis said, that he had talents and special gifts of heart and mind, which he enumerated to himself one by one. Finally, he vowed that if he survived, he would use those qualities to build a better world. This was extraordinary insight for a child. Albert was one of the kindest people I have ever met; he was almost pathologically gentle and brought help and counsel to thousands. But he always said that he could have done no good at all unless he had learned, at that terrible moment of history, to love himself.
We have seen that compassion is essential to humanity. We have a biological need to be cared for and to care for others. Yet it is not easy to love ourselves. In our target-driven societies, we are more inclined to castigate ourselves for our shortcomings and become inordinately cast down by any failure to achieve our objectives and potential. But the Golden Rule requires self-knowledge; it asks that we use our own feelings as a guide to our behavior with others. Because if we treat ourselves harshly, this is the way we are likely to treat other people.
Step 1: Make Your List
We need to acquire a healthier and more balanced knowledge of our strengths as well as our weaknesses. As we work through this, we should make a list of our good qualities, talents, and achievements. We recognize flaws in some of our closest friends, but this does not diminish our affection for them. Nor should it affect the way we value ourselves. Before we can make friends with others, we have to make a friend of our own self. Without denying your faults, remember all the people you have helped, the kind things you have done that nobody noticed, and your successes at home and at work. A sense of humor is also important: we should be able to smile at our failings, in the same way as we tease a friend.
Next: How to find a calming "even mindedness"