What is Self Respect? Where does it come from? How is it sustained? How is it weakened or damaged? How is it different from ego and pride?
When I worked in Toronto’s Regent Park at a little church that served people who’d become homeless, I was fascinated by these questions and still am.
I am sure that every person is born with a gift of dignity that comes from being a creature of GOD’s imagination. And I am sure that every person dies with that same dignity intact and untouched – perhaps only with a shine or patina added on that hard as brass dignity – after the mud or make-up is removed.
But Self Respect is something different from that sacred birthright. It is generated within the soul like a chemical reaction of elements combined. Certainly self-consciousness is the catalyst that sets the alchemy to work within the great mixing bowl of the soul.
The awakening of this inner mirror is the awakening from childhood – from the wild animal nature of Eden’s garden into the mix and maturity of love and sin and the pride or shame that is inescapable when we risk the expression of heart and body and self.
No animal’s dignity can ever suffer the doubts of the human soul. Even in the teeth of it’s natural enemy. Even when the hunter becomes prey. Even when it’s own mother or pack turns it away – an animal will simply continue on with it’s instinctual drive of self preservation – one foot in front of the other.
Only the human will self destruct. I’m not talking about losing the will to live as we might see of a wild animal in captivity. I’m talking about the systematic self annihilation that we human creatures love to participate in. It is the sweet Eden’s apple’s taste that we cannot refuse to nibble at or gobble – according to the degree of Self Respect versus Self Loathing at work within.
Over-eating, over-sleeping, over-working, over-indulging in lust, or the inhaling and imbibing of intoxicants (even medications) is a visible sign of this invisible dis-ease. Just as depriving ourselves of what nature offers up is another branch of the same root.
The only cure we’ve come up with for this self-destructive streak is the Lobotomy. But most of us would have to agree that we’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.
It seems our addictions to self harm become a cherished part of our identity. The ways that we deal with the pain of our inability to cope becomes an expression of Self. Whether I’m a Smoker, Drinker, Joker or whether I pour myself into charitable works – it can become our own personal recipe for an escape from that sting of judgment when I look in the mirror.
We love to hate those who judge us – and of course we can never find a judge so harsh as the judge within.
Blame the parents, blame the teachers, blame the culture, blame the angels for not enough - or too much love. I’ve seen people crawl out of a toilet where they’ve lived for years and still come to love them-selves. How is it done?
Just as the combination of ingredients in the chalice of soul can produce the nasty side effects of self destruction - there is also a recipe for mixing up a batch of Self Respect.
Much of it is up to the individual’s lonely work – what can only be done by a Self for the Self. And the rest is up to those who choose to love that Self – just as it is – no matter what.
Learning to deal with loss is what’s first. In AA they call it acknowledging a higher power. The LORD giveth and the LORD taketh away. Personally I don’t like to blame poor ol’ GOD for being the thief. LIFE is about the neverending flow of loss – and so also the endless stream of suffering. For me, GOD’s spirit is what gives me the courage to sit and open my broken heart to the pain of loss when LIFE does what it does.
Honesty is about coming to terms with my fundamental insecurity. That when I am able to stop running, stop medicating, stop pretending. When I can see how with all my skill I’m driven by fear to control and manipulate my circumstances with all the powers I can conjure – into that safe and secure illusion of a stable life. Then, I can take my self out of the stream of loss and pain and suffering and sit by the river’s edge – and just acknowledge how there’s really nothing to fear - if only for a moment.
To achieve this place means that when we are quickly and inevitably swept back into the stream – we have found the honey of Humility. To recognize how weak, scared, and insecure we really are is the fundamental difference in the batch of Self Respect we’re baking. To kid ourselves about this is why we end up with just another batch of Pride’s vinegar.
Pride takes a lot of work to sustain. Self Respect takes a lot of courage.
To come to this place of Humility means we’ve learned the first lesson of prayer. The practice of prayer is a moment to moment, hour to hour, day by day, one step at a time process. We fall into backwards spins of getting trapped in the past. And don’t we just love to leap ahead? But we learn oh so slowly how to maintain the moment.
All pretty tough and lonely sledding so far eh? Not many of us are called to be Hermits. And of course only the wisest of Hermits know that it is only in the generous offering of Self that we can enjoy the taste of a sweet batch of Self Respect cookies.
Because to risk this offering of our true hearts is the most scary thing of all. It invites jealousy and attack and opens a door to shame and betrayals and scorn. That’s what makes it the only way to see what’s in those blind spots. How else can we find a way to know and love ourselves even better?
The way we react to getting slapped in the face – whether we pout or attack or choose to offer up the other cheek is measure of how well we’ve learned the recipe and done the baking for today.
When friends take your cookies and eat them with you – that is when in the midst of so much loss – you are found.
And when you find you’re in possession of a nice batch of self respect - it is worthy of a great celebration. Music, dance, feasting, and the tasting of the drama and great humour in life. We celebrate to evoke our deepest tears and greatest belly laughs. To do this together is to create moments of true worship.
Each day is worth such celebration. It is simply what Jesus invites us to discover – the so-called Kingdom of Heaven in our midst.
If you haven’t celebrated lately then get cooking on that Self Respect. It’s all trial and error and experimentation. The only way to fail is to stop trying. And if you can’t find a friend to share it with – then make one – or make an enemy your friend - today.
NOTE: Thanks to the people who have been friends over this summer of loss. Those who have been close enough to hug and those who have sent hope on angel’s wings. You’ve watched me self-destruct and offered love. You gave me the courage to sit still.