After my last blog post about self-love, a person whose intelligence, beliefs, opinions, and taste-in-baked-goods I admire immensely, asked me openly, on facebook, to define what kind of “love” I was referring to. This person explained that so many of us (bloggers, facebook peeps, etc…) are always talking about self-love but she didn’t understand why it had to be “love.” Why not self-respect? Why not generosity of spirit? Why not kindness? Why “love”? She actually finished her question with this: “What’s love got to do with it?” And because I know a little bit about her sense of humor, I knew she was both serious AND quoting Tina Turner. And this filled me with an urge to answer her sincerely – AND to listen to Tina Turner.
So, I scoured the interwebs’ mighty canon of wisdom for all I could find in the way of definitions of love and self-love. In this process, I discovered many interesting bible passages, humanist manifestos, Buddhist prayers, feminist explanations and yes, even economy-based critiques regarding the concepts of love and self-love. I entertained the idea of putting these all together into some kind of deeply intellectual understanding of the pursuit of self-love.
Then I got extremely bored with myself, yawned and took my dogs for a walk.
I have worked in what we people in higher ed like to call “academia” for 15 years. Though I use the word “academia” on occasion to refer to the larger world of higher education (as that is its correct usage), hearing it drip out of my mouth, or anyone else’s makes me roll my eyes and gives me a bad stomachache. It’s so pompous. It’s so “we-are-the-ivory-tower-elite-and-you’re-not” and I can’t stand that. I say all of that, to say this: “Academia” likes to complicate simple things. What I have learned about “academia” in 15 years is that it, ultimately, defines critical thinking (whether it wants to admit it or not) as taking fairly simple ideas and complicating them until they make no earthly sense to so-called “non-academic” people. Isn’t that convenient? The surest way to make people feel like they don’t belong is to speak in a language that they don’t understand. Oh, Ivory Tower, why you gotta be like that? But, here’s what I think (and keep in mind, I’m not saying what I think necessarily bears any consideration by any of you – it’s just the opinion of one person who has been teaching English in community colleges and yes, some Universities,--ooooooh-- for 15 years): the job of critical thinking should actually be to simplify complicated things. As anyone who has been paying any attention to their life should be able to tell you, life is complicated, folks. We don’t need to complicate it further. Often, we need to pull back the layers of complication and get to the simple muscle and bone holding everything together and making it all work.
[p.s., as you can imagine, I have so much more to say on this topic. This “complicating simple things” issue is actually very dangerous, in my mind. It is the main reason, in my opinion, people like Trump – and other insane idiots-- even have a chance of being taken seriously by seemingly sane, non-idiots. Insane idiots use this backwards “critical thinking” against people. It’s a rhetorical move. It’s a fake out. It’s smoke and mirrors. “Complicating simple things” is, in part – and, at least, rhetorically speaking-- what makes Hitlers. But I am digressing. There’s much more to say about this notion of what "critical thinking" truly is and how it is misused – that’s my point.]
So, instead of all of my interwebs research on self-love, I am making the conscious choice to simply go deeper into my own understanding. Remember, that’s my shtick anyway. It’s what I do.
So, here goes, friend. I hope I answer your question, because it’s a fair one:
Imagine that Dickens’ Ghost of Christmas Past (or some other being endowed with the magical ability to take you back in time) arrived on your doorstep just now. Then, she flew you back to the moment you made the great transition from your mother’s womb into this world. Then, she gave you the chance to hold that baby. THAT baby. You. Hold onto that thought-image for just a moment.
I don’t love children, truthfully. They are really obnoxious and loud and require a great deal of energy and time and patience – and it’s hard to just be lazy and stupid around them (unless you don’t care about them falling into a toaster or electrocuting themselves in the bathtub—but somehow I don’t see my audience as being a bunch of neglectful child abusers) – and, for the most part, it’s fun to be lazy and stupid. I hated babysitting as a young teenager and didn’t do it for very long – thank goodness too because I sucked at it. Just keeping it real, here.
But, that said, I – even I -- LOVE and REQUIRE the hope, the energy, the joy, the constant questioning that children bring to this world. I LOVE the wide eyes of babies, the way they are pure human essence – with no filter of culture, language, or experience. Total innocence and potential.
And I am thinking of an incredibly dear friend when I say this: I have seen the most cynical, sarcastic, non-baby-friendly adults in this world turn to goo and happiness, despite themselves, around babies.
We LOVE babies. And here, friend, I’m getting to my answer. Why “love”? Why don’t we “respect” babies? Or, “feel charitable” toward babies? Or, “feel kindness” towards babies? Because we don’t. We LOVE them.
In some ways, the “love” we feel for babies is just a shorthand for ALL of the emotions we feel towards babies. This definition of “love” includes, but is not limited to: wanting to protect them; hoping for only good things for them; worry for what might befall them as they grow; confidence in their ability to get through whatever comes their way; awe over their beauty (they’re biologically designed to induce THAT response, you know); innate attraction to their smell (thanks again, biology); a weird desire to make sure they are eating well (you feel this, particularly, if you are or have been a parent); another weird desire to keep them clean (again, thanks parenthood); and an intense self-expectation that you will do all in your power to make sure no harm comes to them while they are in your hands (yes, this is the same as protection but it’s also deeper/ stranger than this). I know this definition doesn’t cover it all. I know there’s other stuff too. And, what’s best about this “love” is what is so impossible to name. It’s just “that” feeling. It’s “that” feeling that makes people (yes, all genders) go “aaaaaaaw,” in that where-did-that-come-from breathless way, when they see a baby.
Now, take yourself back to the thought-image of holding little newborn YOU.
Do you see it? Do you feel that? THAT’S why it has to be Self-LOVE and no other word. That’s why “kindness toward oneself” or “generosity of spirit toward oneself” does not cut it. Not even remotely.
Because, here’s the reality, THAT baby is going to grow up and go through some real shit. Some really horrible things are going to happen to that baby – EVEN if everyone she ever meets tries to protect her, feels THAT love for her, bad things are going to happen… eventually, sooner-or-later. And when bad things happen to her, especially the sooner they happen, she’ll start to lose THAT love for herself. If she’s lucky, her parents and/or her world will help her feel THAT love so strongly and for long enough that when those shit things happen, she’s able to continue to feel it with no need for reminders. If she’s not lucky or if those shit things are super super super super shit, I know for a fact, she will forget… she will stop loving herself, if she ever started in the first place. She will need to be reminded… she will need to be taught. She will need to learn to hold her little newborn baby-self in her arms and let herself feel THAT love.
Self-love may be complicated. The experiences life & culture throw our way that make discussion and emphasis on self-love necessary are complicated. But, the feeling that floods your brain, your body and your heart when you are in the presence of a baby (especially a happy, non-screaming, baby – again, just being real) or a child is not complicated. It’s pure human. It’s simple.
That’s MY answer. The vast google-centric internets have many others to offer. “Academia” would (and I’m sure, has, many many times) woven this simple concept into a complicated tapestry of dissertations. I am interested in, even fascinated by, all of these additional answers. But, for me, in my day-to-day, to get through that “shit” I referred to two short paragraphs ago, this simple definition is what I need to make my life work. It’s the bone and the muscle.
Keep Questioning with Love, Teamies!
And, while you’re at it, listen to some Tina: