If we were to search for the "highest," most consistent cross-cultural ethical, philosophical and spiritual guideline for living, it would probably be "to love one another."Even aliens are telling us to do it or else.
It's easy to say, and it feels right, but how do we love one another in a world of lies, deceit, murder, abuse, torture, ignorance, and people who are simply exasperatingly irritating? How do we get from the words to the act without being false to our real feelings and just acting a part?
Actually, pretending to love each other is a lot better than killing each other, but we don't have to let that be our limit. We can learn to love each other to a far greater degree than we do. There is a way that works, that is simple, and that doesn't take a lot of effort. The trouble is, it usually isn't easy.
It's easy to love people who make us feel good. It's easy to love a smiling baby, children playing happily, or helpful adults. It can be very hard to love a screaming baby, destructive children, or arrogant adults. It might be nice to be able to step instantly into unconditional love, but it is more practical to think in terms of expanding our love from where it is now, maybe even by just a little bit at a time. Like the idea that a long journey begins with the first step, the road to loving one another can start with one instance of more tolerance, or one unrewarded act of kindness.
The experience of loving one another may be active or passive. Active loving is doing something for the benefit of someone else. There can be personal benefit in it, too, but for it to be called active loving the intent to benefit another must be the main reason for doing it. Many things we do out of habit or obligation could become acts of love if we would only think of who we are benefitting by doing them. Even paying bills or paying taxes could become acts if love (although that might require some effort). Inhaling could be an act of love if you do it with the thought of giving oxygen to your cells, and exhaling could be an act of love if you do it with the thought of feeding the plants of the world.
Passive loving starts with tolerance and slowly moves its way up to appreciation. The way to increase tolerance is to start eliminating some of your rules. Everyone has rules about right and wrong, good and bad, possible and impossible, etcetera and etcetera. When someone breaks one of our rules we tend to get upset and either nurse our anger, criticize the rule-breaker or commit violence against them as punishment. Sometimes all three. The rules that have this effect most often contain the words "should" or "shouldn't." I remember once getting all upset because someone in front of me drove right past a stop sign. My rule was that "you shouldn't drive past stop signs without stopping." It also happened to be a State law, but the evidence that my personal rule had been broken was that I got upset about it, even though there was no traffic and no danger. So I changed my rule to "If someone wants to take the consequences of breaking the law and they aren't endangering anyone else, that's their business." My new rule not only increased my tolerance for others, it helped reduce my stress, too. If I had wanted to leap from tolerance to appreciation, I could have admired the stop sign runner's daring (maybe the guy didn't even see the sign, but since I don't know that I can choose to think it was daring). Appreciation really takes off when we get into the habit of noticing more of the good things in people than the bad. This is without a doubt the most effective way to start, maintain, and repair a relationship.
There's a very funny thing about loving one another. It gets easier to do the more you love yourself, both actively and passively. In the commandment to "Love thy neighbor as thyself," it is assumed that you love yourself because otherwise it doesn't work. So perhaps the best way to practice loving one another is to start doing things with the thought of how they are benefitting you, to start changing your rules about your own behavior, and to start appreciating everything good about yourself. Then you'll know how to do it for others.