Dean Blehert, a Washington-area poet, wrote about people who “love others as themselves, but hate themselves.” This is an insightful observation. What is the correct way to love yourself, and what is the correct way to love others? Certainly if you hate yourself and love others as yourself, you will not necessarily be doing the right thing. But neither would you be doing the right thing if the way that you want to be loved is to be mollicoddled, and that you would be protecting others from understanding the consequences of their actions. Steven Covey wrote that love is a harsher thing than mere kindness. Sometimes the genuinely loving thing to do is to challenge people or rebuke them. Certainly if I was doing something wrong, I would like to be stopped. If you are supporting others in things that are wrong, you become complicit in these things. If you feel compassion and loyalty for the mafia enough to start killing or robbing people for them, then you will not be doing the right thing. Love without righteousness enables various forms of sin, and it takes even the better people down wrongful roads. So what then is the correct way to love yourself, and what is the correct way to love others? On this matter it appears that people in India have a rightful arrangement. They are strict with their children, but they are also loving with their children. They both nurture and challenge. This comes across to me as the best combination among the quadrant of: Loving and strict; Loving and not strict; Not loving and strict; Not loving and not strict. Loving and not strict would create a good childhood, but not necessarily prepare the person for life. Not loving and strict would be an absolute nightmare. And not loving and not strict will create criminals, where children are running wild while having it been reinforced in their heads that they are dirt. So there are many people who take this saying to mean that they should be indulgent toward others. That, I have found, is wrong. This approach not only allows others to get away with wrongdoing but makes one an enabler of the wrongdoing. It corrupts good intentions and kind natures and uses them for wrong. Once again, compassion for others does not mean sympathizing with and supporting the mafia. You need to see what the other side is actually doing and then decide whether to support them or to rebuke them. The description of the codependent character is basically someone who treats an adult as if he was a child. The result of this is that the other person becomes too comfortable and turns into mush. Sometimes he also becomes abusive. I have known a situation in which a woman did everything that she could for the man only to have the man keep grinding her down with verbal and physical violence. The adult love is not only about kindness, it also is about getting the other person to be their best. That is how God loves us. He does not only show us kindness. He also challenges us to be our best and rebukes us when we are wrong. And in some situations such as the one above, someone very much needs rebuking. When faced with this state of affairs, some people decided such things as that before one can love another one must love himself. In the words of Ayn Rand, “Before one can say I love you one first has to say the I.” That is also wrong. The Russian culture does not encourage people to love themselves, but it has a strong romantic influence. I did not love myself when I was 19, but that did not keep me from passionately loving Michelle Renfield. The claims such as that romantic love is search for external validation are totally wrong. What I felt for Michelle had nothing to do with what I felt about myself. It had to do with what I felt about Michelle. She was much more lovable than I was at that time, being kind, compassionate and beautiful. My feelings for her had nothing to do with anything to do with myself. It had to do with passionately valuing the lovable qualities that she had and that I did not. She was lovable in my eyes because she possessed these fine qualities. I did not possess them, and I was not as lovable in my eyes. I have also heard that loving oneself is the start. No, it is not. In many cases one's self is not lovable until it improves. In many cases loving God is the start. As Solomon said, the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. And in many cases the love of God is the beginning of love for oneself as well as for others. Even more importantly, it can be the beginning of being a good person. I used to be denounced by many people as a bad person. But my walk with Christ has been changing me. So now most people I know see me as a good person. This transformation did not come from me loving myself. It came from me being exposed to the wisdom and goodness of someone much greater than myself. The better I get, the more there is a reason to love myself. So many people who believe such a thing are putting the cart before the horse. Loving oneself does not precede improving oneself. It is the other way around. The more you improve, the more there is a reason to love yourself. And it is this direction that I would recommend for others. Once again, in many cases the self is hard to love. It becomes easier to love the more it improves. And teaching self-love instead of self-improvement is in many cases completely unproductive. Love follows improvement, not the other way around. And it is this direction that I will recommend for others, as it has certainly been working for me. We see the exact thing with self-esteem. Good self-esteem does not make good people. In many cases it works the other way around. If you have higher standards for yourself, then you will find it harder to feel good about yourself than if you have low standards for yourself. Rewarding self-esteem does not reward personal good; it rewards low standards. In many cases people in either category need to be brought to reality - either that their self-esteem is too high or that it is too low. In either case, working on self-esteem does not improve people. Improving one's character creates more valid reasons for positive self-esteem. The correct question to ask is therefore, How do you want to be loved, and why? And is loving yourself – and others – the same way going to make the world better or worse? Do not start by loving yourself. Start by improving yourself, and then there will be more to love.