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THE GREATEST LOVE OF ALL

George Benson made this song a hit in 1977, with Whitney Houston reviving it, and making it an even bigger chart topper in 1985. Anyone of my generation has sung along to the backing track at a bad kareoke night. My middle sister and I actually used to duet that particular song whenever we had the chance (invariably after a few too many woo-woo cocktails) with great gusto.

I’m curious, though, as to whether anyone knows the story behind the lyrics?

Written by Linda Creed, to depict something of her own struggle with cancer, and the lessons she learnt from her illness, the song relates how important it is to find love for ourselves. Clearly, she didn’t mean that in the narcissistic way. Nor was she suggesting that we should send ourselves cards and flowers on that hideous hallmark day next month.

She was simply highlighting the importance of self-care in life’s rich tapestry. I am in total agreement that ‘learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all.’ Why? It’s easy really: if you don’t love you, how can you expect anyone else to?

Why is it that we find it so difficult to show affection to ourselves anyway? Do we, in fact? Or am I making assumptions based on my own feelings? The average Valentine’s Day spends are round about £40; so does anyone quibble about the cost of treating their loved ones to something special? Some might, but I doubt very many people do, because it is an act of kindness. While it is true that warmth is not everybody’s default setting, thankfully there are an awful lot of people in the world who do take every opportunity to be kind to others.

Certainly for me, kindness is almost as instinctive as breathing. I don’t think about making kind gestures, I just tend to behave in a way that puts others’ needs above my own. I am not a saint, and I don’t pretend I am, but I am a fairly consistently selfless person. I care far more about the way my decisions impact others, than about how they affect me. I feel overcome with guilt when my Crohn’s is active, despite the fact that it certainly isn’t something I have chosen, or can control. I apologise profusely for the disruption I cause to the lives of those I love, and the resulting inconvenience, particularly when I am in hospital. All I can think, is how awful it must be for them to spend so much time visiting me, or how difficult it must make things for them having to battle with traffic and parking, or what strain it puts on them with so many added pressures.

I fail to see that it is at least every bit as horrible (if not more so) for me lying in the hospital bed, being poked, prodded and tubed up to the hilt, as it is for them to witness. Instead, my attitude towards myself tends to be entirely negative. I berate myself for being a burden and carrying so much heavy baggage on my shoulders, then depositing it at their feet. I am always the first to judge myself and call myself names when I don’t live up to my own expectations; something which really upsets Lovelyman. I label myself useless or defective or rubbish when I think I have dropped a ball momentarily, cutting myself no slack for anything that’s going on around me at the time.

It is not uncommon to be our own harshest critics; nine out of ten people will list their negative traits before their positive attributes when asked. Still, I marvel at the extremes I exhibit.

In my line of work, there is nothing virtuous about patience, it is simply a necessity. Fortunately, it is something I have in abundance. One of the most important lessons I teach my students, is that it is essential they believe in themselves if they want others to believe in them. In evaluations, I urge them to identify their strengths first, pointing out the things they have done well or progressed with. The next challenge is re-framing their so-called mistakes as areas for improvement, which is what they really are. 

Before every exam session, I remind students that we cannot control the way the examiner will allocate marks. What we can control, is the way we present ourselves. I urge them to bring their most confident, assured self on exam day, believing that they can do everything they need to do. If something goes wrong, and they come out apologising for ‘missing a line’ or ‘forgetting the answer to a question’ my response is always, ‘Did you enjoy yourself?’ Invariably they nod. ‘Did you do your best?’ That usually prompts another nod. ‘Well then it doesn’t matter about the mistakes.’ When I teach those lessons, I genuinely believe them. Yet for some reason, I struggle to live by those same messages.

I don’t reserve my patience for clients and student groups; I have just as much for my friends and family, if not more. When someone I love apologises for something they didn’t get round to, I immediately remind them of all the things they have going on in their own personal lives by way of excuse. I try to support those I love through their own rough patches, allowing them all the time they need to find their way out of the dark. When Lovelyman is struggling in the shadow of the Black Dog that lingers at his feet, criticising himself for missing an occasion or putting himself down for something he hasn’t done, I instinctively point out all that he has achieved. I draw attention to the successes he has had in spite of the hurdles he may have been facing, trying to help him see his own worth, and my reasons for loving him.

Forgiveness, compassion, understanding, kindness, tolerance, sensitivity…these concepts are not alien to me, not by any stretch of the imagination. That said, it has taken me until my mid-thirties to acknowledge that I really ought to be more gentle with myself once in a while. It is no secret that I am still learning to accept the parts of me I have always run from or rejected, and I think it is all part and parcel of the same pattern.

I don’t imagine I will start loving myself overnight, but if I could treat myself with half the warmth I show those around me, I might at least start to think of myself as a friend. Maybe then, I could ease up on how hard I drive myself, learning to enjoy the ride, rather than striving for the outcome. After all, as Creed said: ‘If I fail, if I succeed, at least I’ll live as I believe. No matter what life takes from me, they can’t take away my dignity…’

With that in mind, maybe it’s time for me to do as I say, not as I do and really change the habits of a lifetime.

 

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