Dear Ones –
I've been thinking about the word "mercy" a lot lately. It all connects with the larger conversation on forgiveness that we've been having on this page recently, but mercy is specifically on my mind right now.
I've been thinking about how the must judgmental and critical people I've ever met also seem to be the most self-hating. This is not a genius observation for me to have made (it's usually pretty obvious, right?) but it's profoundly true.
Haven't you seen that?
Haven't you noticed how people who are incapable of extending mercy to others also seem to be be incapable of extending mercy to themselves? They hold the world, and themselves, to a some sort of impossibly high standard of judgment, and the world (and themselves) always disappoint. You can see it in their faces, which are alway tight and hard and angry. It's a face that says: "Everything is wrong, everyone is terrible, the world is garbage…and I am the worst piece of shit at the center of that garbage world."
(It's the peculiar narcissism of self-loathing, by the way, that always puts you right at the center of a garbage world.)
I've stood in that place, too — when I was deeply miserable. Nobody was good enough for me, back in the days when I detested myself. And what I hated in other people was usually just an amplification of what I could not bear about ME — namely, their human vulnerability and their fallibility. Their fragility reminded me of my own, and I couldn't stand it.
Self-disgust turns people brittle and mean, and that meanness then radiates outward and contaminates everyone around them — and nobody is exempt.
As I slowly learned how to treat myself with care and tenderness and sympathy, I could become more caring and tender and sympathetic toward the other struggling souls around me…for we are all just struggling souls. Again, in their vulnerability, I could see my own — but now I could regard that vulnerability with empathy, rather than scorn.
At this point in my life, the evidence seems clear: If you cannot show even a modicum of mercy toward yourself, then you will never be able to be express full human mercy toward others, either.
This is perhaps the strongest argument I have for learning how to come to peace with yourself — for healing your wounds, and learning how to regard the softest and weakest and most shameful parts of yourself with gentleness and compassion. If you can practice mercy upon yourself, then gradually that mercy will radiate outward to the rest of us. And that will be the end of Judgment Day, every day.
All of which is to say: It is not selfish, to learn how to be loving toward yourself: IT IS ULTIMATELY A PUBLIC SERVICE.