Q: How do you balance “self-respect” with compassion? Don’t we sometimes have to “give” selflessly out of love?
A: Great questions, let’s explore them.
First, know that to love ourselves and have self-respect does not necessary entail being stereotypically ‘selfish’ or otherwise non-compassionate. The point is to simply only extend compassion if it is genuine. If it genuinely brings us joy and is what we want in the moment, then being compassionate, kind, and considerate of others is completely in alignment with loving ourself, because after all it is in fact what we want. We should always only do what we really want, otherwise our gifts are not genuine and have no real value.
The problem we run into is when we go about it the other way around and we really do not want to be compassionate in the moment, perhaps we’re just not in the right state of mind, we’re exhausted/drained, or really want nothing to do with service or selflessness and yet force ourselves out of ‘principle’. The trick at this point is to immediately pay attention to how we really feel and honor it, because if we force ourselves to ‘love’ others or be compassionate it is not really love or compassion at all, it’s false, it’s acting, it’s only appearing as such but its not genuine and therefore it’s hollow. Without proper intention and energy behind our actions they’re worthless and only detrimental to us and the other(s) involved. Again, doing anything without our whole heart is only hurting ourselves and others because of the false energy behind it.
If we find ourselves in situations where we really don’t want to be there then at that point the task would be to switch our perspective to find anything and everything to become positive and optimistic about regarding the situation in order to stop struggling to swim upstream. We always have control over our perspective. No matter what is going on in our lives we always have the choice of how to perceive it, and this is our true infinite power. So if we want to change our state of mind we can, yet if we want to feel frustrated or angry then so be it. Just don’t try and be something else if it’s not really how you’re feeling. Just be honest and honor that you’re frustrated or sad, there is no benefit in repressing our true expressions, it only perpetuates our issues. It is only through admitting how we feel that we can process our emotions in a healthy way and grow from the experience and then return to our natural state of peace again.
Nevertheless, getting back to the point, simply be genuine, if we are not a compassionate person we shouldn’t pretend to be for the sake of appearances. It is better to be our rude, selfish self if that is how we really are than to try and seem otherwise to please others or portray a false ego imagine. The point is being honest and authentic and letting that authenticity naturally evolve of its own. Accept where you are and find peace with your present situation. Find peace with your emotions, see that you are perfect as is, angry, depressed, impatient, happy, or otherwise. You are perfectly justified just as you are. This is important to realize first so that we can love ourselves and not fall into the mind’s obsession with judgments. We can’t ever improve until we accept where we are now and work from the present.
If someone, perhaps ourself, is generally a rude person then we just simply accept that is how they are and thus we respect them for being genuine/authentic and now we can respond to them accordingly. Know that when interacting with another person nothing coming from them is actually personal, and everything is simply a projection coming from within them – whether they love you or hate you has nothing actually to do with you, it only defines them. So being authentic is really all that’s important. I’d much rather have someone be real with me then put up a false image because then at least we know where each other stand and don’t spend our sacred time together pretending to be someone we’re not. I’d like to see the projections clearly in a sense so that I can tell who a person really is and also offer up who I really am so that we can get the most out of our precious shared experience. Jesus mentioned this concept through saying not to be lukewarm, or otherwise ‘sitting on the fence’ as an actor or hypocrite of sorts – be yourself.
Second question. We cannot ‘give’ someone anything subjective such as love, happiness, peace, joy, etc. We can only embody and share ‘what we are’ by virtue of being it. For example, if we are truly centered, honest, and love ourselves we then naturally exude those qualities/energies into everything we do. This then reminds others that they can do the same. Thus we influence others but it doesn’t mean that we ‘did’ anything for/to them in the traditional sense. So it is not that ‘my love’ made you feel love, rather it is only yourself that realized you can feel love too if you choose to.
You see, what the world perceives as ‘giving’ is actually just a symbolic event that allows the recipient to remember and decide that it’s okay to love themselves. So for example, I tell you how amazing I think you are, beautiful, smart, talented, etc. or I perform some type of service for you because I want to demonstrate my love and appreciation for you and then you internally decide how you feel about it. You always still have the choice to accept any of it as well as deciding that it means absolutely nothing to you because you don’t believe it’s true of yourself or that you deserve it. I’m sure we can recall plenty of experiences where someone was unresponsive to our expressions of love and appreciation for them, this is not personal, only a reflection of themselves. The reason why this is the case is that no one can ‘make’ us feel love or happiness, no one can ‘give’ us love or happiness. These things are purely subjective and are entirely an internal decision.
We could have the most ideal circumstances and still be unhappy because we are lost within ourselves and have forgotten how to love life and ourselves. Selflessness is purely for the benefit of the one being selfless not the other way around. Hence Jesus’ teaching of let the greatest amongst you be your servant. The point of this teaching was that the greatest ‘master’ would naturally be loving because they’re demonstrating that they are love. The benefit of all service is the one performing the service, not the recipient.
The most illumined person is happy and full of love regardless of circumstances, this is because they have truly understood that everything is purely an internal decision. Remember, nothing external is personal and everything is purely up to us and how we perceive our experiences. With that being said, there are no obligations in life or expectations, everything should be completely focused on how we feel and only as such. We should always only follow our own bliss, because to try and please others will inevitably be realized to be an impossible task and will leave us feeling cheated or otherwise taken advantage of. It seems that the wisest approach then would be to stay completely centered in self-honesty and then become an expert at respectfully and sincerely communicating how we feel. This is actually the highest form of selflessness because we’re giving others permission to do the same and feel love and happiness through our example of how we love ourselves, which is the only place it’ll ever come from to begin with!
So as ironic as it seems it’s actually quite genius. To love ourselves is the highest form of love, the greatest selflessness, yet we’ve been taught the reverse ideology. So to be selfless is to love oneself, for in so doing we love all others by subconsciously giving them permission to do the same. What we do for self we do for others and as we genuinely do for others we do for self, it’s all connected. The important key here is honesty, genuineness, and thus being truly authentic which is quite an amazing feeling and all of life turns into an amazing gift and exploration of joy and love.
May you find what it is you are seeking.
Hope this helps, let me know if you have any other thoughts on the matter.
Wishing us peace and love always
For more on this see Being Honest with Ourselves