When it comes to love it seems that we all fall on one side or the other of a specific spectrum. Some land in the middle. How we get to be where we are on the spectrum, I really don’t know. It could be dependent upon how we deal with our abandonment issues as a child. It could be how we were raised. I really don’t know and I will leave it up to the experts to decide. What’s important here is to acknowledge that we fall on the spectrum some where. Imagine a line with arrows going in opposite directions. On the right side of the spectrum you have Self-love. On the left side you have love of others or what I will call, Other-love.
Self-love and other-love are the glue of the world. We all need both in our lives. However, what I have been observing and the reason I started writing about love is that there is in the lives of many an unbalance between the two. Problems arise when there is no balance and we have too much of one or the other. I am sure we have all met people that only care about themselves or we have met people that neglect themselves to care for others. If we are honest with ourselves we can identify where we personally fit on this spectrum. Sometimes we can go from one side to the other and back again. I hardly observe a balance of the two. Balance between self-love and other-love is a crucial goal of these teachings.
So why is balance so important? Because without balance fear can easily pervert these two kinds of love into apathy and sympathy. If we think about this spectrum again, then we can see what happens when we have too much of one or the other in our lives.
If we move too far to the right on the side of self-love, it creates a wedge of being selfish and self-centered.
I call this state apathy. Apathy is when I care about nothing outside of me. If we introduce fear into the equation through self preservation we get acts of outward violence ranging from neglect all the way to murder.
On the flip side of the spectrum if we move too far to the left on the side of other-love we create a wedge of becoming a martyr or a self-loather. I call this state sympathy. Sympathy is when I, in an unhealthy and unhelpful way, care about everything outside of me. If we introduce fear into the equation we get acts of inward violence ranging from neglect all the way to suicide. What is worse is that both types of violence, inward and outward, can easily lead to and feed off of each other.
I fall on the side of other-love with some trips to the self-love side. Ask your self where do you fall and how far do you allow yourself to go? Most people land on one side or the other with trips to the opposite side, but few land right in the middle. What is the middle? Balance.
Balance is what I would like to see us all strive for. Not because balance will make our lives free of pain and suffering, but because balance is worth striving for despite the pain and suffering. Once we start to have it we will begin to see the benefits. What does balance look like in contrast to the love spectrum? Well, if we use the Taoist symbol of Yin and Yang or the infinity symbol, we have self-love and other-love melting together into an infinite cycle of balance.
One does not over take the other. They are balanced. To achieve and keep this balance it takes work. Anything worth doing takes work. I will talk about the work involved later on.
The state of this balance I call empathy. Empathy is when I care to understand what is going on both inside of me and inside others. This can be emotional, spiritual, physical, and psychological. And when we introduce fear into this balance, fear transforms into love. If a person is empathetic and meets someone that is fearful, the empathetic person transforms that fear into love because that person understands at a deep level that fear is the response to an unmet need. In the story of the Good Samaritan, the Samaritan empathized with the beaten Jewish man. The Samaritan put himself in the Jewish man’s shoes and transformed his fear of the Jewish culture and religion into love for him. He put aside his preconceived ideas and prejudices and helped.
This kind of love is not easy. It involves work and being unselfish, yet there is something wonderful about it. Love is all we need to make this world bearable. There will always be suffering and hardships, but if we put a new perspective on our thinking, we can live a more fulfilling life.