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In proper English, we place the other person first: “She and I were going.” That rule reflects our societal courtesy. We don’t actually do that except when we’re feigning good manners, however. Competition gives us permission to push to the front. We bestow awards to those who finish first. Many secretly admire a bully. A little pushing and shoving and even punching makes the match more interesting.
In life we’re raised comparing ourselves with others. We spend billions fixing our appearance, trying for a better salary, showing off the toys we’ve accumulated. Secretly, we worry we aren’t enough. To feel better, we may criticize those who don’t seem to be on the same plane as we are—those who have less, are less, are different. We create groups—religious, political, economic, social—designed to isolate us from the “contaminating” ones and to affirm by group opinion we’re the ones who are correct. As we link arms to stand close to our worthy comrades, we feel a teeny bit better.
I’ve long believed that piety is poisonous; it stains the soul because it sets us up as judges after we were warned quite specifically not to go there. The essential question is how did we come to be critical of people who are not so very unlike us? I’m wondering if our disdain arises from insecurity and self-hate.
If you feel good about yourself, you aren’t afraid to be with someone who’s different. Homosexuality, while it may be confusing for straight people, is not contagious. The only people who might be influenced by proximity already possess traits in common that they may not have expressed. Those are also the people who are the most violent and venomously homophobic.
If you understand that the essence of who you are isn’t dependent on your appearance or your traditions, you can be with people of different colors or cultures without feeling threatened. You don’t assume children are dangerous and expendable if they aren’t white or that even loving parents are sick if they aren’t straight. Those who are secure in their self-image are free to be patient, tolerant, and kind. They’re open to stepping back and learning from others.
People talk about self-love, but I suspect we need to begin with self-acceptance. Once you accept that you have the exact raw materials you need to tackle your life—regardless of what you weigh or what your hair looks like or who your family is—once you accept that inside you are what you were meant to be, the pressure is off. One of the great gifts of aging lies in the fact that you lose your physical identity to a large extent and are left to realize you are not your body. Money and power can’t protect you from death. Only love mitigates the fear.
I feel sorry for the cold rich—the ones whose excesses insulate them from normal life. They may never develop a sense of themselves as members of the human race. It’s not a coincidence that our president is selfish and vain. Wealthy communities are based on networking and not love. Colleagues can easily turn on one another. There is no emotional safety. Because they’re empty, they can hurt others without feeling pain.
Advice that we need to go deep within ourselves to find love to sustain us is not frivolous. Once we accept ourselves with all our imperfections, knowing we must grow but the seed is good, we have the power to embrace the human community. We have the courage to be open to love.