Updated: Nov 6
To counter the negative words of the Nazis during World War II, an eight-year-old Jewish boy sat up late one night listing what he believed were his good qualities. As the boy matured, he vowed to do all he could to create a kinder world. In time, that child became the late Rabbi Albert Friedlander.
As a rabbi, Friedlander reminded all of us of the commandment to love others as much, and as well as we love ourselves. Usually, we emphasize the first part of the commandment without remembering that without self-love, there is limited ability to care about others. Thus, genuine acceptance and love of self form the bedrock of healing our world.
According to Karen Armstrong, author of Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, we live in irony when millions of hungry, even starving, individuals exist at a time when our nation overflows with individuals who harm themselves with eating disorders and obesity. Inflicting self-harm through over-eating or by eating unhealthy food, probably originates from a lack of self-respect and self-love.
This morning, as I considered Armstrong’s words, the old teacher in me slipped into imagining that, in small ways, we can contribute to world healing by starting with our youngest citizens — our babies, young children, and teens. Perhaps a verbal diet focused on promoting self-love in children would begin to promote kindness toward others.
Rather than praising external qualities, such as good looks, high intelligence, athletic abilities, or expressions of talent, parents and grandparents could focus on more important internal traits. Perhaps statements, such as the ones below, would have a capacity to heal our painfully broken world.
· “Sharing your toys helps everyone have more fun.”
· “Your kindness helps others feel happy.”
· “Your friendly smile welcomes others.”
· “Thank you for being a helper.”
· “What courage you have when you do something for the first time.”
· “I notice that you work hard when learning a new skill.”
Armstrong reminds us that when we treat ourselves harshly, we tend to treat others with the same measuring rod. The greatest commandment admonishes us to love others — just as we love ourselves. Starting with children seems like the wisest way to begin. Oh yes! That includes our own self-love, too.
Armstrong, Karen. Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life. Anchor Books. New York. 2011.