I’m a quote person.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved stumbling upon lines in a book and underlining them, returning to them again and again. Other people’s words are sometimes just what I need to imbibe, an elixir of sorts, a way to learn, to realize, to wonder.
And what about this gem, from Tolstoy? I was thinking lots about this quote yesterday, about what it means to love a person unconditionally. He suggests that if we truly love someone we love them for who they are and not who we believe they should be or might be or who we want them to be. This is powerful stuff, but it’s also challenging. Because we are judgmental creatures, because we fashion expectations, because we conjure ideals.
It wasn’t until this morning that I thought of this quote in terms of self-love. Many years ago, the very notion of self-love would have made me roll my eyes, but not today. Today, it strikes me that self-love is absolutely central to happiness in life.
How can we love others or love the lives we are building if we don’t love ourselves first? I don’t believe we can.
For me, I think the whole drinking thing is tied up in questions of self-worth and self-love. When it comes down to it, I think I have a hard time loving myself – and believing in myself – when I’m drinking. On the flip side, I feel much closer to myself, more affection for myself, when I’ve stripped away the buffer of booze. Seen this way, it makes perfect sense that my life is better without alcohol because, yes, I believe it all begins with self-love. Without it, I think we are often miserable, if well-meaning, people.
But. Self-love does not, and should not, presuppose perfection. We need not have figured it all out (there is no such thing) to love ourselves. On the contrary, maybe the best we can do – and maybe this is really what “happy” people have in common – is to love ourselves now whatever our current self looks like, whatever flaws and foibles exist and persist.
There’s something important here and I will keep thinking about it. What does it mean to love ourselves? How can we teach our kids to love themselves, to enter a tough world with a deep-rooted affection for who they are?
And how do we learn to love others for who they are and not for who we think they should be?
None of this is easy. But oh is it important.