Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Approval of Others

"Embraced by the Light"
- Dawn at the Desert Retreat House -

We are only in the initial phases of this season for electing a new President of the United States. Americans still have nine more months before we vote and I am already unbearably tired of all the politics - I wish it would all be over.

The problem with most political contests of any kind is that you are rarely sure about who it is that you are really voting for because candidates consistently tailor, mend and morph their images in order to win the vote. Candidates for office will often change their minds, sometimes take positions that contradict one another, change the way they speak and dress, all on the basis of what they imagine an intended audience wants to hear so as to win their approval.

This morning as I heard the radio droning on with endless reports about yesterday’s “primary results” and poll predictions, it struck me that plenty of people (not just politicians) actually live their everyday lives as if they were in a political contest - constantly mending and changing their projected images in order to achieve the highly-prized approval of others.

There is a lot of talk nowadays about building self-esteem. From very early on, parents and teachers make concerted efforts at constantly praising their children in order to help their kids value and respect themselves. While I suppose there is nothing wrong with doing this, the problem is that what we call “self esteem” might more accurately be called “the approval of others.” If other people praise and approve you and this makes you feel good, we call that good feeling “self esteem.” If others do not approve you and you feel bad, we say you lack in self esteem.

I recently came upon this very insightful observation made by the Jesuit priest and author, Anthony DeMello:

We write books about how necessary it is that people tell you you’re O.K.
Let me tell you something:
If you ever let yourself feel good when people praise you and give you their approval,
you are preparing yourself to feel bad when they tell you you’re no good.
As long as you live your life to fulfill other people’s expectations,
you will always be watching what you wear, how you comb your hair,
and whether or not your shoes are polished.

I find great wisdom in this teaching.

As I see it, each and every one of us is indeed “OK,” we are good and valuable and we all have  an innate dignity- not because people approve of us or tell us we are good but because this is what it means to be a human being. In fact, when our own worth depends upon the approval of others, we will never be able to realize our own intrinsic human dignity.

The other day I came across this wonderful little piece of homespun wisdom written by author, Anne Lamont:

O my God, what if you wake up some day and you are 65 or 75,
and you never got your memoir or novel written;
or you didn’t go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years
because your thighs were too jiggly
 and you had a nice big comfortable tummy;
or you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing
that you forgot to have a big, juicy creative life?
It’s going to break your heart.
Don’t let this happen to you.

I want to live a life that is big and juicy and creative – we all do.


1 comment:

  1. Oh Paul, this is so true. So close to my heart. Which will indeed break at some point if I don't 'bare my thighs'. You write every day, no matter what I guess. That's so creative, so trusting, and so about you just giving yourself up to living a juicy creative life regardless of what others think. You write about what matters to you. I read your posts and I bow to you xx

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