In his song Grenade, Bruno Mars laments the fact that he is willing to catch a grenade for his love, but she is unwilling to do the same for him. Is this a reasonable expectation in a loving relationship? Initially this struck me as more than a tad extreme, but then it occured to me that virtually every parent I know would throw themselves in front of moving traffic if they thought their actions would save the life of their child. Isn’t it reasonable to think that you’d do the same for your most significant other? I’d like to think that I’d let go of the proverbial rope if I had to in order to save my wife or family. Through the centuries men have gone to war and fought intruders to accomplish just this goal. It’s the “manly” thing to do, isn’t it? It could even be argued that this is a biological imperative… we are programmed to ensure the survival of our young by putting them ahead of ourselves.
And here’s the rub. If you’ve followed the site for a while, you know I am a seeker when it comes to the concept of “We can’t love others if we don’t love ourselves first.” In light of what I just said, how does this fit? On one hand, I get it. It is difficult to love if our tanks are empty. However, on the other hand, I have seen many, many people fill their tanks by performing acts of apparently selfless work for those less fortunate. Clearly, in the examples above, I’d be putting my interests after the interest of others if I laid my life down for them.
On the flip side, I have also seen this phrase used for everything from lying to a boss to skip work to abandoning children to fend for themselves. It is often found at the foundation of the walls built between people. When does self-love give way to narcissism? How does that make the world better? The contradictions have me really confused and as such I am very skeptical of this pop-culture axiom.
I think if I have to boil it down, I have a problem with the word “first.” I see self-love/love-others as coincidental sides of the same coin; the yin & yang of the same circle. In “love your neighbor as yourself” there is no implied beginning, rather a complimentary set of actions that happen in tandem rather like the proverbial chicken and the egg.
So here is the challenge, the scientist in me wants hard data. I want to hear from you, but rather than just your opinion on the matter, I’d love it if you could provide me with references/links to actual articles and papers on the subject. Do any of the research papers actually prove the concept of “first?”
Experts in the crowd. What does this oft repeated phrase actually mean? Speaking sincerely here, can you help unravel the psychobabble?