LOVE YOU: The Importance of Self Acceptance, Respect and Worth

Love You Monkey

Ah, February. The month of love. This is the time we profess our affection and devotion to a spouse, a partner, a boyfriend or girlfriend, or even just a friend. “Be My Valentine” expresses a range of emotions, from simple friendship to the deepest love. But love means different things to different people.

From ancient times, philosophers, poets, sages and others have suggested that we cannot love another if we do not love ourselves. In the Gospels, there are several instances of this, the most familiar being when Jesus is questioned about the greatest commandment. His response includes his observation: “The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself’” (Mt 22:39). One thing seems certain: Love, like charity, begins at home. It begins with each one of us.

Women may be the fairer sex but men clearly are the vainer. Think Warren Beatty or George Hamilton…

We all have that friend. You know. The one who cannot pass a mirror without stopping to admire himself. Heck, we might even be that friend! This person pauses to make sure that last hair is in place, all the while telling himself how handsome and good-looking he is. And yes, it is usually a man. Women may be the fairer sex but men clearly are the vainer. Think Warren Beatty or George Hamilton for the older generation, Justin Bieber for the younger, and Tom Cruise for those in between!

Such self-admiration, however, is fully superficial. Rather than an indication of self-love, it is merely a demonstration of self-absorption, insecurity or both. I have often wondered if people would spend as much time in front of a mirror if it reflected the inner-self. And yet that is where the seeds of love are to be found.

Although discovering who we are and learning to love ourselves is the first step toward loving another, it is also a difficult and complicated process, made even more so by society’s obsession with perfection. These days, February is also the month of the Super Bowl—another sport’s search for #1. While a healthy competition in sports is one thing, in American athletics, winning is all that matters.

“It’s not whether you win or lose…until you lose!”

When was the last time someone repeated the adage, “It’s not whether you win or lose that counts, it’s how you play the game.” One role of the cartoonist is to challenge our perceptions and values. Charles Schultz once wrote a cartoon sketch in which Snoopy walks off a tennis court after losing a match. He was visibly distraught. The caption read: “It’s not whether you win or lose…until you lose!”

I remember an interview with Chris Evert, one of the best women tennis players in history. She had a storied rivalry with Martina Navratilova, who won 10 of their 14 Grand Slam title matches. In the interview Evert said that people all over the world greeted her as a champion. Only in America did she hear people lament the fact that she did not win, instead saying that she was only second best. Perhaps that is not so important at the highest level of sports.

I also remember attending an eighth grade graduation. At the conclusion, one of the parents, instead of celebrating the accomplishments of all the children, turned to his son and asked, “Why didn’t you receive any of those awards?”

Exactly how is someone supposed to love him or herself if the only thing that matters is success and becoming number one? After all, there can be only one #1. Where does that leave everyone else?

Loving oneself does not equate with selfishness.

A genuine and healthy self-love includes accepting everything about oneself, the bad as well as the good. An obsession with perfection prevents us from acknowledging, accepting and then improving the imperfect. It does not allow us to fail and start over. It does not enable us to become a better person on the inside. It does not reward effort. More often than not, this drive to perfection becomes a source of shame in ourselves and judgment in others.

I am not suggesting that we should not feel remorse for mistakes we make or that we should not challenge others for theirs. I am not suggesting that we should not strive to reach perfection. What I am arguing is that the perfection we need to seek is interior.

Although much of the pop psychology that worms its way into the public consciousness is simplistic, there are some elements of truth. The other day a friend of mine told me that she tries to encourage her 10 year-old by saying, “I want you to be the best you that you can.” That’s a start, a good one, because it doesn’t fuel a competition that we cannot win.

No one can be simply the best. There will always be someone who excels beyond us whether in intellect, athletic prowess, monetary acquisition or other accomplishment. However, being the best at who we are is an achievable goal. It enables us to love ourselves for who we are and what we can become. Being better than anyone else, then is not what we strive for. 

If we cannot accept imperfection in ourselves, we will certainly not be able to accept it in others. Such an inability reduces loving another person to saccharine. It has no depth. At the same time, loving oneself does not equate with selfishness. Rather, it includes a healthy embrace of our weaknesses. Only then can we seek to turn weakness into strength and fulfill our own potential. Only then can we see the good in others and embrace them with their weaknesses and strengths without demanding that they be perfect.

This all begins with the self. Otherwise, our love ends up as superficial and tenuous as the man frozen before the mirror.

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