First, love thyself; this sounds very simple, if not a bit trite to the more cynical observer. Indeed it’s regularly utilized to fill out personal image, saving an other from having to put in the effort to really know you and saving yourself the effort of that adjacent adage ‘to know thyself.’ Even when plumbed a bit further it stops short of depth and ends in a social layer.
Compassion, lauded as the highest virtue conflates kindness with understanding and nice with good. That nice thing, which respects the other’s ego, agency, and apparent free will. Making every accommodation for the other, lest a paranoid imagination find itself offended. This “selflessness as speculation” misses the point entirely and values success in compassion according to social validation. Compassion entails seeing the ‘other’ with clarity, without subject-object relation and not only understanding the painful origination of their current state, but how to undo it. The undoing of illusion is rarely a direct matter and often requires ‘skillful means’ where a person is fooled into progress. This might involve quite directly inciting the other’s ego or bypassing their agency so that they find themselves in an impossible situation where they feel there is no choice, but to change.
Oddly enough, there is a method for loving yourself, but the dirty secret of all method is that there is nothing to be discovered within method; only in the negative space or process of the method. That one might accidentally stumble upon some insight during the practice by meta-logic. This is the uncommon belief that meta-logic is most central to psychological discovery and “healing” and was a strange inclusion by Wittgenstein. Jung describes the beginning of compassion here and what for many would be the beginning of wisdom:
People forget that even doctors have moral scruples and that certain patient’s confessions are hard even for a doctor to swallow. Yet the patient does not feel himself accepted unless the very worst of him is accepted too. No one can bring this about by mere words. It comes only through reflection and through the doctor’s attitude towards himself and his own dark side. If the doctor wants to guide his judgments into words or keeps them to himself, makes not the slightest difference. To take the opposite position and to agree with the patient offhand is also of no use, but estranges him as much as condemnation. Feeling comes only through unprejudiced objectivity.
This sounds almost like a scientific precept and it could be confused with a purely intellectual abstract attitude of mind. What I mean is something quite different. It is a human quality: a kind of deep respect for the facts—for the man who suffers from them and for the riddle of such a man’s life. The truly religious person has such an attitude. He knows that God has brought all sort of strange and inconceivable things to pass and seeks in the most curious ways to enter into a man’s heart. He therefore senses in everything the unseen presence of the Divine Will. This is what I mean by unprejudiced objectivity. It is a moral achievement on the part of the doctor who ought not to let himself be repelled by sickness and corruption. We cannot change anything unless we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate—it oppresses—and I am the oppressor of the person I condemn—not his friend and fellow sufferer.
I do not in the least mean to say that we must never pass judgment when we desire to help and improve. If the doctor wishes to help a human being, he must be able to accept him as he is. He can do this in reality only when he has already seen and accepted himself as he is. Perhaps this sounds very simple, but simple things are always the most difficult. In actual life, it requires the greatest art to be simple. And so, acceptance of oneself is the essence of the moral problem, and the acid test of one’s whole outlook on life. That I feed the beggar—that I forgive an insult—that I love my enemy in the name of Christ—all these are undoubtedly great virtues. What I do unto the least of my brethren that I do unto Christ. But what if I should discover that the least amongst them all—the poorest of all beggars—the most impudent of all offenders—yea the very fiend himself—that these are within me? And that I myself stand in need of the arms of my own kindness. That I myself am the enemy that must be loved. …What then?
Then, as a rule, the whole truth of Christianity is reversed. There is then no more talk of love and long suffering. We say to the brother within us: Roca, and condemn and rage against ourselves. We hide him from the world. We deny ever having met this least among the lowly in ourselves. And had it been God himself who drew near to us in this despicable form, we should have denied him a thousand times before a single cock had crowed.
Artwork: L’Homme-Dieu; Jean Delville