We don’t choose our neighbours, nor our bosses and work-mates, not even our relatives. Sometimes these people are uncomfortable to live with, difficult to talk to, or they oppose our hopes and aspirations. How do you look after your own needs whilst dealing fairly with these people? How do you deal with the unwelcome challenge of having to respond to what others want that conflicts with your own interests?
Ideal answers don’t always work.
Some people might say that to be a loving spirit one must always prioritise the other person’s needs. In an ideal world this may be the best answer. It assumes that others will look after you first and everyone will be happy. Sounds like heaven.
But we live on earth where people are not always caring. You have needs too. And if these are neglected too much, then you will suffer the consequences; hunger, loneliness, frustration, fatigue, failure, unfair blame etc. I rather like the biblical idea of loving one’s neighbour as oneself – in other words caring about the other’s needs as much as caring about one’s own.
Look after yourself too
And so I would suggest you cannot look after others if you don’t also look after yourself. I was on a plane about to fly on a trip across the Atlantic. As the engines were warming up, the flight attendant showed the passengers how to put on the oxygen mask in case of an emergency. “Pull it down from above and pull it over your face – but make sure you do your own before helping with your child’s mask.” I would have been no use to the child if I couldn’t breathe.
Usefulness to oneself is also usefulness to others, for to be of use to oneself is to be in a state to be of use to others. (Swedenborg DLW 318)
Look after yourself and others by sharing and taking turns
Isn’t it the same in most other situations? We may be in a hurry at the supermarket but so might be other customers. Forming a queue at the checkout is what we do to fairly meet everyone’s needs. Members of the queue look after themselves as they look after each other by taking turns. We also do this with our friends to pay for a round of drinks in the pub. Restaurant staff often share out tips customers have left. Likewise, they look after themselves as they look after each other. We share the responsibility for paying for public services. When you come to think of it there are innumerable examples of how people practise taking turns and sharing. It is all part of the spirit of ‘give and take’ that helps oil the way we rub shoulders with others.
How each partnership negotiate their relationship will differ but the spiritual principle is that each puts something in and each takes something out. Loving one’s partner as oneself means working on the relationship; striving for fairness; and considering the wide range of duties and responsibilities that go to make up a modern marriage.
And to discover how this works means asking questions. How money for the family is earned. Who does the DIY? The social organizing? The gardening? How are social arrangements made? Who looks after the children and spends time with them? Does each have time to do their own thing? And so on.
Taking turns or sharing aren’t always possible
Taking turns and sharing is all very well but when you want one thing and your work colleague or next-door neighbour wants something completely different, how do you go forward fairly? How do you look after your own needs and look after the the needs of others when these seem so incompatible? Collaboration may be a non-starter – after all it takes two to tango and however willing you are to work on the issue the other person may not be. It is perhaps easier to suggest what not to do in this kind of situation. Not jumping to conclusions about the character of the person. Only judging the behaviour rather than the perpetrator.
Sometimes the most that can be hoped for is a compromise that is second best for each after both sides have negotiated to find a middle ground. But this surely is better than walking away from the person and thus making future communication even more difficult. And certainly better than verbal aggression.
Recognising unfair demands
Sometimes you might get involved with someone who turns out to be quite needy. It seems that you are doing all the giving and the other person doing all the taking. How can one love this kind of neighbour without becoming burnt out? One answer is to act on the suggestion that acquiescing to selfish demands of others does not help them in the long run.
To sum up what I am trying to say. You need to turn to the best part of yourself — the spiritual dimension within you – so you can maintain what is fair and good in your dealings with other people for the benefit of both yourself and them.
Copyright 2012 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems