There was once a time, in fables, that we asked questions of mirrors and waited fearfully for the answers. But this is not a questioning age, instead it is a time when we are encouraged to shout at the mirror of our illusions. “I am beautiful “the most ordinary of us scream. “I am uniquely beautiful and I inspire eternal love in the object of my desire” The plaintive cry of a desperate lover scorned.
“I am uniquely and exceptionally persuasive and the sales targets set before me are easily within my grasp.” The rasping and hopeful voice of an underachieving and lazy sales executive begs acquiescence from a delusional refection. These are mantras set forth to build self-esteem. Make no mistake the self-esteem business is growing. It is selling a tantalizing and inviting package. The weak and ineffectual manager who is in denial tells his image that he is distinctively masterful and that he commands universal obedience. All around this executive lies chaos and decay, but he knows in his heart of hearts that it is not his fault. It cannot be.
The book shelves are full of self-help manuals and the hottest topic is building self-esteem. Power-esteem, Ten Days and Ten Easy Ways to the New You and The Self-esteem Bible.
The real problem is that self-esteem has neither values nor principals nor does it even require any effort. Self-esteem makes no real demands on the self, only on others. It is the whiney, needy and bankrupt cousin of self-respect. Self-esteem is narcissistic; demanding that the world reflect back whatever image is presented. Little wonder it is so temporary.
Self-respect on the other hand requires effort; it takes hard work and implies achievement worthy of respect. The philosopher Spinoza understood this – “Self-respect does not extend to anything outside of us and is attributed only to one who knows the real worth of his perfection, dispassionately and without seeking esteem for himself”
With high self-esteem comes a low sense of self-awareness. Modesty and a focus on personal shortcomings are brashly replaced with the veneer of worldly success cheaply mortgaged at prime-plus-one. And here is the profound irony of it all – boosting self-esteem should boost a sense of well-being and discourage aggression. But because of its hollow and shallow promise, it rather is the cause of depression and anger. It is cheaply bought in a bottle of shampoo “because you are worth it”
Would it be that self-worth came so easily but truthfully it does not – nor does lasting happiness. With perseverance all things are possible. Just have a look in the mirror and tell yourself it is so.