“Love your neighbor as yourself” does not amount to “be nice.” I can love my neighbor, or any individual with whom I share human existence, without particularly liking them, and casting toward them a false over-friendliness.
I love my child without limits, and yet I can not always like them. But what does it mean to like somebody, or to go around being nice to people all the time? Should I like all other people even at times when I don’t like myself? Can I not love God and all other people while allowing myself to be harsh and severe and serious? If I were always nice to myself, I would never move toward improving myself. Is God’s love, which teaches through suffering, about always being nice?
No, “love your neighbor as yourself” is not the same as saying to be nice to other people, it does not boil down to, in the end, that you should just try to be nice to other people.
No, “love your neighbor as yourself” is, ultimately, a metaphysical statement. Compassion is not only an ought, not only a cosmic imperative, but it is a law of nature in the sense of effective force. You will share in the suffering and the joy of your neighbor, of the other. That is an unerring fact. You share human existence with others, and so from an eternal point of view you are synonymous with them, while particular actions and intentions are judged in isolation.
To love is to accept and embrace life with the other, the other and all others, and not try to control it by projecting your self-image above all interactions, which is fear. The opposite of love is not hate, nor – as you were told instead – indifference. What is polar to love is fear. When you are in fear you cannot love. When you are attached to a social self-image, you cannot help but fear that you may lose the status and standing of that self-image.
And I do not mean fear in the sense of being chased by a gunman or something. Just as suffering in life is more than physical pain, so fear is constantly alive in our minds, affecting our thoughts. Its real power is not as an instinctual emotion, but as a logic. We fear what might happen next and how people perceive us. We fear the other. We fear disobeying arbitrary religious doctrines. But all this is just fear, masks of it, and all this will only amount to a waste of your time. If you do not see it before, then on your deathbed you will see that all these games and guises of fear were a waste of your time. The sooner you see it, the earlier you can stop fearing so much.
But if you lack the higher you cannot rise above fear, which is ego and pettiness. Any noble creed can raise you above fear, but only the Ancient Holy One abolishes fear by allowing you to love fully, in the cosmic sense of love as accepting and embracing co-determination with all of human existence which you encounter, all of existence even. Love your neighbor as yourself is not about smiling on the sidewalk, it is in your quietest moments to yourself, alone in a room praying, resigning yourself to the love and mercy of all others, believing in the possible love and mercy of all others – and God.
In this way you sacrifice ego to feed transcendent love – which is not basically the same as trying to be nicer to other people. No, and in one of those beautiful and unexplainable facts of religious striving, it is this which is really you being nice to yourself – because to discover and enclose yourself in that place of transcendent love is the best thing you can do for yourself. It is the rewarding but hard to get motivated for activity of the mind: a workout of the soul. It just feels good when it feels like God helps you love every person you interact with.
When I say that only the Holy One can rescue you from the slow death of fear and small-heartedness, I do not mean that I know more than you or know better than you, that I have solved the riddle of existence and that you should listen to me because I am so smart for having found this great profound answer, for having discovered that “God is real.” Aye, I too am tempted to roll my eyes at such statements, as most who are not avowed “believers” may do. I can make fun of avowed believers without compunction, because I am one of them.
When I say the Holy One saves you from fear and eternal disintegration, I do not speak down to you, my friend, but I gesticulate toward the sky, my hands upward in gratitude. Kierkegaard said “the good is a beginning and a completion,” and it is in that sense in which I thank God for having given me everything. God is not “the answer,” the end of your search. God is the beginning, God helps you get started, and God completes and seals all endeavors as only the giver of the good can do.