Even though this injunction, love your neighbor as yourself, has been proclaimed and listened to over the centuries, it continues to be an emergent source of practical wisdom. It is not only true as a spiritual saying; it also has power beyond measure in such interrelated realms as psychology, leadership, and business, to name a few.
Allow me to address distinct, but not separate parts of this injunction and then through different lenses, facilitate how it applies to our being and doing in a wonderfully integral way. And finally, let us appreciate the challenge and opportunity of being called to bring the best of ourselves in service to each other through the mystery and reality we call – love.
Love your neighbor as yourself is a comparative injunction. It essentially asks us to love our neighbor similar to how we love ourselves. So, the standard of how we love our neighbor is how we love ourselves. This basic understanding invites us to then look at how we love our own selves. For, if we are unable to love ourselves, it does not bode well for our neighbor. Essentially, if I have not found myself first to be infinitely loveable, then I will not be successful at finding it in you. (Read more)
There is a deep wisdom to the order of this injunction. I have seen folks focus on the first three words; love your neighbor, to the exclusion of really loving themselves. People in traditional care giver roles and professions are very susceptible to this. In some ways, I think it is easier to focus our time and energy on others. The danger is when it becomes a distraction to our own self-care. We can become great lovers of others and lose sight of integrating all of our relationships, especially the one to our self. You are the standard.
On the other hand, this is not a strict linear process. There are distinct but not separate relationships here. There is for me, the trinity of relationships at play: God or Spirit, self, and others (neighbor). We can talk about them, develop them, focus on them distinctly, and they are always connected and therefore influence one another. For instance, when I become more aware of my own imperfections with love and compassion, I am able to do the same more easily with my neighbor. Actually, until I do so for myself, it will be more challenging to do with my neighbor. The opportunity is to play and practice in the privacy of your self before taking your loving on the road.
Another way of talking about this is to say that navel-gazing does have value if it is in service to how we relate with others. I am committed to learn more about me so I have more to offer you. This is a win/win for you and me. As I reflect on myself, I become more aware of my being and doing, and that I am not alone. I am here with my neighbors. How I am and what I do is lived in relationship with my neighbors. This is our shared playground for learning to love our neighbors as ourselves.
My own self-awareness allows me to be more conscious of the interior landscape of my being, and better understand how I might change how I interact with others through my doing. Actually, I might think my way into a new way of being, and/or I may act my way into a new way of thinking. Both can work.
Insight can lead to change and change can lead to insight. For example, a high school girlfriend once shared with me that even though I had the habit of teasing my sisters it was not working for her. She clarified it further by informing me that my sisters did not have an option of being in a relationship with me, but she did! That insight helped to change my behavior. And on the other side of acting your way into a new way of thinking is the classic example of twelve step programs that even allow you to “fake it till you make it”. Keep acting your way into a new way of thinking.
From a leadership perspective, we often hear the phrase, “You can’t take others where you have not been yourself”. If I have not been successful with relationships and results in my work, I may be more of a hindrance than a help to you in learning to do so. I think the advent of coaching in business was an innovative and evolutionary way to facilitate greater awareness of individuals and groups and how we might collaborate to work better together. If I can learn to amplify my strengths and shift my dominant narrative about me, then it is possible to do the same with my co-workers. There is hope for all of us!
A colleague in London shared this book with me – Employees First, Customers Second: Turning Conventional Management Upside Down by Vineet Nayar. I found this fascinating and congruent with loving your neighbor as yourself. “Customers first” has been a dominant mantra in the business world for quite a long time. It sounds great as a customer service slogan, and it misses the mark. The folks who service the customer are employees. It is not sustainable to ask them to give to others if you have not taken good care of them. Giving/spending without receiving/income in an equal or greater amount is a sure path to deficit living.
Actually, your care of employees is a fractal image of how you are modeling that they service customers. And if we have learned anything in organizational life, we know that what we say must be congruent with what we do. Values on the wall and website are only an indictment of hypocrisy if they are not lived congruently in the way we love each other at work.
Yes, the way we love each other at work. The integration that we seek is to bring the best of us to each and every moment, no matter the setting. You are called to love our neighbor as yourself amongst: family and friends, co-workers and customers, your local community and the global community. Just don’t forget that often the neglected stranger that is sometimes you, is the standard.