Sunday, August 16, 2009

Zoning in on Self Esteem

Aladdin in the Magic Garden, an illustration b...Image via Wikipedia

“Is that your own thought you’re thinking?” From Individuality by Rachell Ferrell

You should know that there came a day when a beautiful and flawed man informed me that I needed to improve my second hand self image. Now, it’s not that I disagreed with his assessment of me as someone who needed to obtain self esteem, I just wanted him to give me some direction, several clear, concrete explanations of about self esteem’s basic construction, and the best techniques for its application. He might as well have told me to go and find the location of Aladdin’s lamp, steal it from its current owner, and force the enslaved genie to give me anything I asked for. OK, that metaphor is obviously an exaggeration, but that is how abstract and mysterious the meaning of self esteem has been to my unconscious mind. I feel like I need someone to tell me the exact route to it, because I’m most likely lost on the path somewhere beside it, or passing by it, unable to see what is right before my eyes.

Presumably, it has something to do with the supposed fact that you should know how to love yourself before you can love someone else, and that children should feel good about themselves or they will probably have difficulty learning and establishing worthwhile social relationships and blah blah blah blah!

In this world of loss and success, change and conformity, and absolute ambiguities, it can be hard to know with certainty what a healthy self image consists of. As a curious seeker of beneficial knowledge, I am attempting to thoughtfully, elucidate a clearer
understanding of self esteem.

In Amy Tan’s novel The Joy Luck Club. A young woman named Rose is told by her mother An-mei Hsu that she had to understand what her value is or to “know her own worth.” Rose hid her own personality after she was married to a Caucasian, and her mother tried to pull her daughter back from the perimeter of sliding into an abyss of murky confusion. Rose’s mother tried to tell her that a person had to understand, weigh, and acknowledge their own positive and negative attributes according to their own personal inner knowledge, rather than how the outside world sees them. Although Rose was an intelligent and accomplished woman she seemed to be puzzled by the concept of her own self worth. Rose was a very attractive, physically fit, highly educated woman who lived in a very large expensive house stocked with servants, and a shiny, luxury automobile in her spacious and comfortable garage. However, none of her possessions gave her a feeling of self worth.

Many people riskfully base their self esteem on their economic position or education and if they lose these things they also lose their self worth. It is interesting that although Rose possessed these things she still did not feel brilliant, beautiful, or even lovable. She seemed to need something else or something more.

We live in a world in which we are measured and judged according to the formulas of success being used at the time in which we are born. In the past, a women who was skilled in the domestic arts and raising children was considered superior to a dame who was analytical and interested in working outside the home. Then the Women’s Movement came along and made housewifery seem insipid. A career became the ultimate goal of the woman with supposed true self awareness. Of course, there are plenty of women who belong outside of these rigidly defined roles. Some prefer to stay single and have no children, or stay single and have children without a man. Others are interested in having a same sex relationship with or without children. One of the problems is that we are always changing, and at the same time the world around is also changing.

Currently the world respects money and the making of money. Thus the definition of high self esteem needs to coordinate with the making of money. An "inside the perimeter" family with is more economically productive because homogeneity creates a simpler society. Self esteem is used like a line material that keeps the economy directed towards profit. Less complexity in families makes it easier for industries to market their wares. So the family and a certain kind of self esteem is a part of a larger economic paradigm. This kind of self esteem is a created to consume the goods that has kept our economy held together. In this way a family is more defined by forces outside of it than the individuals that make up the family.

It can be assumed that there will always be outside forces attempting to shape individual self value. If this is so, a person will need to decide what is most important to their own distinct lives. This can be difficult because it means thinking in ways that are probably different from other people and it could conflict with the need to conform and fit in socially. Human beings thrive in community. The dilemma then becomes how to trust ourselves without completely ignoring outside input from family and friends. Hmmmm....Now this is where I am stuck.

What I do know is that we are complex beings with the many different kinds cells in our bodies that somehow have thousands of different enzymes which create a myriad of chemical reactions that allow us to exist. In "A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek" Dillard describes how different classes of plants and animals live next to each other, their fates interconnected. Yet somehow we are supposed to think of ourselves as simple creatures. I have noticed that even members of my family who have the same genetic makeup vary in physical and personality type. And it is true that we are all a lot alike, but we are also naturally a little different.

Of course this is the opinion of an outside source, but I think we all need to not expect one another to be one thing because we are all so many, sometimes conflicting things at one time. Take this for what it is worth, from one flawed person to another.

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