You may have heard it said many times during your life that self-respect and happiness go hand in hand. But what does the term self-respect really mean? Is it something tangible? It seems a little vague and elusive. Perhaps that is why people have difficulty holding onto it.
I would like to suggest in this article that many people's attempts to gain self-respect actually backfire and prevent them from re-gaining true self-respect.
As I have done a few times before on Happy Cow, I would like to get my trowel out and have a little dig in the word garden to take a look at the root of the word 'respect'. It turns out that this word derives from the Latin word 'respectum' which means 'to look back at'.
I will come back to that in a little while. But first let us look at perhaps a more common understanding of the words respect and self. Respect is often associated with things like pride, achievement, social standing, admiration, good reputation, honour etc. And self is very often associated with the person that you consider your 'self' to be. But as I pointed out in the article Personality and Individuality, this is not just one person, but many persons or personas which constantly change with time.
So, in an attempt to gain self-respect, what people with this common understanding of the words are likely to do is go about trying to achieve and gain pride, to improve their social standing, to fish for admiration from others, to gain a good reputation, to be honoured by society.
"Only those who lack self-respect require respect from others." Happy Cow
What is the matter with this approach? Why does it seem not to give one a lasting sense of self-respect? Why is it that it seems to be an endless treadmill? Why can't it just be done once and that is that?
The reason is because the 'person' is neither real nor fixed. The person is not who you really are. The person is just the mask that you wear to please society. It changes over time and from situation to situation. Because it is a temporary fabrication, it is always very shaky indeed. Some writers and psychologists refer to this person as 'the ego'. So many attempts to gain self-respect are really attempts to boost the ego, and the more the ego is boosted, the further away from your true Self you are taken.
Now back to the original meaning. Originally, self-respect meant 'to look back at your Self'.
Normally we are totally outward focused. Looking at the world 'out there'. Searching there for answers, for pleasures, for fulfilment, for love and for 'respect'.
While you are looking 'out there' in the world you can never gain true self-respect. Why not? Because your true Self is not out there in the world.
Who is it that is doing the looking? Who is it that is aware of everything that is going on 'out there' in the world? If just for a few moments each day you can stop looking 'out there' and re-spect (look back at) your Self, you will start to gain immense and unshakable self-respect. Because the one who is doing the watching, the one who is the witness to all the ups and downs that are happening in life 'out there' is totally immovable, constant, unshakable. In the world 'out there' there may be what Kipling referred to as 'triumph or disaster', but the Self that is witness to it remains always the same, unmoved, unshaken, beyond the waves of life in a place of totally Self-assured calm.
If you want to attain totally unshakable self-respect, try once in a while taking a look back at your totally indomitable Self. When you find your true Self again, you will also realise that your Self and others' Selves are one and the same and laugh heartily at all the silly reputation games.
"Who you are speaks so powerfully that it matters not what you do." Happy Cow
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