In 1965, Jackie DeShannon first sang “What the World Needs Now is Love”. More than half a century later—chronologically and culturally long past the hippie era of free love—this world now seems all the more wanting of love, sweet love. But what kind of sweet love does the world need, exactly?
What kind of love can overcome increasing political and societal polarity? What kind of love can heal the global environment? What kind of love can prevent war? What kind of love can surmount intolerance and hate, and foster respect of cultural, religious, economic, political, social, gender and biological differences? What kind of love can enable collaboration and cooperation between members of the human species to address our myriad of problems?
I argue there is only one kind of love that can achieve all this; it is self-love.
Before you dismiss my argument with a roll of your eyes and sad shake of your head, kindly hear me out as to what I mean by “self-love”. It may not be at all what you’re assuming.
You may be thinking the last thing the world needs right now is the self-centred, self-indulgent, self-serving, self-love of individualism. Maybe you think the only kind of love the world needs is love of God and love of neighbour. Or, perhaps you think the cure-all is love of nature, peace and harmony.
What if I told you, self-love—pure, uncorrupted self-love—is the catalyst for selflessness and unconditional love of the other? What if I told you real self-love embodies love of God (or if “God” is unrelatable for you, substitute whatever term you choose to refer to that which encompasses “the all”), love of neighbour, love of nature, peace and harmony?
The love of self I’m referring to is the only means we have of unencumbering ourselves of our debilitating egoism and not-enoughness, so that we can bring an empowered version of ourselves to the task of making the world a better, happier, more love-filled place—and as a valuable fringe benefit, create meaning and purpose for ourselves.
Real self-love is not the stuff of individualism that favours freedom of action for individuals to the detriment of the collective good of the whole. It is, rather, the stuff of individualism that emphasizes and actualizes the intrinsic worth of the individual as a valuable contributor to the collective good of the whole.
Self-love is the panacea for hatred, anger, violence, jealousy, intolerance, greed, prejudice, and every other injury we inflict upon ourselves, others, or the environment.
How, with a straight face, can I make such an all-encompassing claim?
It’s a matter of reductionism. Our global human society is comprised of nations, cultures, organizations, groups, and families, all of which are comprised of individuals. A collective of two or more is only as strong, healthy and happy as are the individuals in the collective. Rudyard Kipling says it well in The Law for the Wolves: “For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.
Wolf or human, our best chance to overcome our challenges and thrive is a “strong pack”—which necessarily is comprised of strong, empowered, healthy, happy individuals.
And where does strength—well-being—of the individual come from? For humans, it comes from self-confidence, self-esteem, self-compassion, self-forgiveness, self-awareness, self-acceptance, self-discipline, self-composure, self-improvement, self-mastery, self-determination, self-direction, self-approval, self-motivation, self-respect… In other words, it comes from these “selfies” together with many other selfies that comprise self-love.
Cultivating self-love is a life-long project, meaning we are always a work in progress. It entails, firstly, self-awareness: becoming increasingly conscious of what beliefs, thoughts and behaviours are serving us well, and which are impeding us. As Carl Jung said: “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” Self-awareness empowers us to positively influence our outcomes; it helps us make better decisions, communicate more clearly and with the benefit of multiple perspectives; it reduces stress, frees us from assumptions and bias, and increases our ability to regulate our emotions.
Secondly, self-love entails acceptance of ourselves exactly as we presently are, with our perceived faults, shortcomings, imperfections and mistakes. This acceptance is not a decision to remain where we’re currently at, but a starting point to begin our journey to where we were born to go. It’s nonjudgmental acknowledgement that right now we are who we are because of the complex, unique intertwining of our DNA, everything that has happened to and around us up to this very moment, and our decisions in response to those happenings.
Self awareness and self-acceptance enable us to let go of debilitating shame, guilt, blame, regret, not-enoughness, and oh so many other saboteurs, bit by bit by bit. This letting go frees up mental and emotional space enabling us to evolve into a fuller, increasingly less inhibited version of ourselves; a less emotionally and materialistically needy, less drama-attracting, less conflicted, less victimized, less anxious, less fearful, less unfulfilled self.
Less of all that means more courage, more clarity of purpose, more goal achievement, more rewarding business and personal relationships, more effectiveness and fulfillment in our work and home roles. It means more success at cultivating and tapping into an internal, sustainable source of peace, joy and happiness. It means actualizing our potential and living fully.
A self-loving person no longer has an insatiable ego that vainly seeks more at the expense of others and the environment, whether it’s more material goods, power or status. A self-loving person doesn’t feel threatened by differences, thus has no feelings of hatred, prejudice, discrimination, otherness, superiority or inferiority. Self-love abrogates comparison of self to other, which invokes either vanity or bitterness, as said Max Ehrmann in his 1927 poem, “Desiderata”.
In God-speak, self-love enables us to better live up to our Creator’s expectations of us and to truly love our neighbours–and all of creation–as ourselves. We can’t, after all, share what we don’t have.
Is self-love, then, not what the world needs now? Does the world not need unfettered, empowered individuals to collaborate and cooperate, selflessly for the good of “the pack”. Is self-love not intrinsic to the well-being of families, groups, communities, organizations, cultures, and nations? And to this planet we all call home?