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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss

On being worthy

Lately I’ve been thinking a good deal about what sows the seeds of unhappiness and other human afflictions. I don’t claim to have a definitive inventory but the one I observe more frequently than any other has to do with self-worth, or rather the absence of a sound and realistic view of oneself. It is not that we lack mirrors, we have many sources of feedback from our interactions with others, but for some such external evidence matters very little. You see, we are judge and jury, and adept at discounting whatever validation or critique we may get from others.

The potential for self-deception begins early in our lives, when we are still trying to understand who we are, and what we are about. At this juncture it is all too easy to fall prey to our tender egos, or the ill-informed judgment of others. Fortunately, it is hard to deceive someone who has been blessed by understanding and accepting role models. Once someone has acquired a positive and objective self-image they possess antibodies to self-recrimination and the attempts of others to denigrate them. Self-love—and that is really what we are talking about, does not wear rose colored glasses when it comes to self-appraisal. Accepting inadequacy, even failure is only possible when we understand the innate challenge of being human and are prepared to extend to ourselves the same forgiveness we offer others.

Being worthy does not mean we never make mistakes or fail to live up to the best versions of ourselves. But we understand that our errors and inadequacies are opportunities to learn and improve over time. Winston Churchill famously said that “success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” If, however, we lack a healthy sense of ourselves, we may be inclined to see failure as a setback, or far worse as a fundamental condemnation.

Over time, poor self-esteem is a corrosive force, robbing us of the very attributes we most need to make our way in the world. Worse yet, some people do not recognize the root cause of their behavior. They may become over judgmental of others—transferring internalized feelings that they are unable to sustain. If we cannot feel forgiveness ourselves, we cannot forgive others, and we may then see them as unworthy.

So how does one learn to be objective and accepting of oneself? If this attribute has not been instilled in childhood, as is frequently the case in those with poorly defined self-worth, learning to change one’s perspective requires working from the outside in. That is, it starts by focusing on how to be a servant to others. I do not mean being servile, but rather learning to accommodate the needs of others and above all accepting them as worthy. There is little in this world more satisfying then to see someone prosper as a result of our kindness and compassion. This sows the seed that was not planted in childhood.

It takes time for worth to grow. Not to belabor the seed analogy, tending to others also requires tending to oneself. Acknowledging our efforts toward others helps free the soul from the habit of withholding praise; it dulls the sharp-edged sword of criticism and denial that accompany an unrealistic self-image and makes it easier to accept positive feedback without denial. The key is to remember that self-fulfilling prophecies work in both directions—we can be our own worst enemy or our greatest friend.

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