Whether you are a Christian or not, if you’ve studied the Gospels of the New Testament in the Christian Bible, you must admit the teachings of Jesus are profound. Ideas like loving your enemy, turning the other cheek, loving your neighbor as yourself, endlessly forgiving others, and caring for people you don’t know are all extremely fresh and revolutionary notions, even 2,000 years later.
I would be the first to admit that most of us fail to live up to these aspirations, including me. The history of the human race is, in fact, filled with stories of prejudice, hate, murder and even genocide committed by Christians. Which does not in any way obscure the beauty and value of the message. If anything, it underscores the necessity of Christian principles. Until we learn to treat other human beings with the love and respect we desire from others, none of us will get the world we want.
Among the greatest human beings to ever walk the Earth we find Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, all men who in their courage, resilience and determination lived lives dedicated to love, peace, and non-violence. They are revered and celebrated precisely because they manifested universal values that transcend our religions and philosophies and yet were emblematic of the very best of these codes of behavior.
As a psychologist, I have a front row seat in the personal, hurtful dramas that arise from the tension and conflict we find in our marriages and families, when people fail to live up to their highest values and beliefs. Each of us struggles with what it means to be human. We must give what we hope to receive but that involves trust. Inexplicably, we hurt the very people we claim to love and invariably we find them hurting us back. The more we seek protection from such pain, the more we withdraw our love from one another. And the more we seek to win such relationship wars, the more we lose.
Our religions teach us to love, trust and forgive but our experience screams at us to prepare for betrayal, to get revenge and sometimes to fight to win, even if that means our loved ones lose. The less we love and give to others, the less we receive. The more we focus on blame and fault, the less we understand. The more we focus on our own pain, the less attention we pay to how others feel. And as someone we love, refuses to understand us, we begin to feel sad, lost and empty. We can feel our love begin to shrink and die.
How can we love our enemies when it is so hard to love our spouses, children, parents and siblings? And just as it is hard to love others, it is even harder to love ourselves. If there is one common thread I find in my work with my clients, it is self-hatred. All day long, the negative thoughts plague our minds. We could have done better. We should have done better. We are not good enough, attractive enough, smart enough or rich enough. We are too tall, too short, too skinny, too fat, too old or too young. We focus on our inadequacies as if they are what most define us. Our inner prosecutor is on duty 24/7 and the jury always convicts. Who is our real enemy? Look in the mirror. Chances are she or he is looking back at you, letting you down again.
As a therapist I know too well that cheerleading does not work. If I tell someone they are good, it only triggers opposing thoughts that like good lawyers have way too much evidence to prove their case. We can’t argue or box our way out of self-hatred. It is like fighting with a mirror. The more you hate the inner hater, the more you hate.
So what is the answer? In a word, surrender. Willingness. Acceptance. Be willing to be you. Be willing to have your thoughts and feelings. Refuse to resist, fight or avoid them. Love them. Acknowledge their right to be. Like unwanted passengers on your bus, you let them ride, but you don’t let them drive.
You declare an inner democracy where all are welcome. You become Jesus within. You turn the other cheek. You gratefully allow hating to be. And when you are willing to have it, you will discover it loses its power to control your mind.
Doug Craig graduated from college in Ohio with a journalism degree and got married during the Carter administration. He graduated from graduate school with a doctorate in Psychology, got divorced, moved to Redding, re-married and started his private practice during the Reagan administration. He had his kids during the first Bush administration. Since then he has done nothing noteworthy besides write a little poetry, survive a motorcycle crash, buy and sell an electric car, raise his kids, manage to stay married and maintain his practice for almost 25 years. He believes in magic and is a Sacramento Kings fan.