THE OBLIGATION OF SELF-ESTEEM
The parents of ten-year-old Josh Berman are trying to build up his confidence. They sign up for the local baseball team, with the hope that a little success will bring self-esteem to the rest of his life. Unfortunately, he lacks the natural skills to be the pitcher or take some other in-field position, but he gets his share of secondary responsibilities.
Somehow, the team makes it to the finals, and in the second half of the final inning, bases are loaded with the other team up to bat. Fortunately, his team is ahead by one point, so all they have to do is catch the ball and Josh’s team is the winner. The coach puts our hopeful star out in left field as this game is just about to end. And so is the day, with the sun setting right behind the batter.
Sure enough, the ball is hit far out to left field. Without having to move very much, it looks like Josh is going to be a hero. The ball seems to be heading right into his glove, as though it was sent there intentionally to give our little champ a moment of fame and a lifetime of self-esteem.
He lifts up his hands as the ball slams into his glove. As the crowd is screaming, he starts to close his hand around the ball. At that moment, the rays of the setting sun shine from behind his glove and blinds him enough to make him lose his bearings. Poor Josh drops the ball. Game over. They lose.
Okay, so they lost the series – it’s just a game. Everyone will understand what happened.
Perhaps, but what about our little friend Josh?
“I’m such a jerk,” he says to himself. And not just once, but over and over again… for years. Josh is now 32 years old and since fifth grade he’s been calling himself a jerk every time he feels the slightest hint of failure.
Beating Ourselves Up
Do you have any embarrassing events of your childhood that have inflicted an emotional scar yet to be healed? If so, the trauma of such an event has likely found a comfortable place inside of you ready to reappear every time you do something clumsy like forgetting to bring something you really need for an important business meeting or when you regret saying something stupid or insulting. How about when you accidentally sent an email full of private information to the wrong person? Ouch! Even when the errors are so minor, when people whose opinion we respect give us that “your such a jerk” roll of the eyes, it can still really hurt.
Speaking slander about yourself
Although many people are aware of the prohibition of speaking lashon hara (slander) about others, they don’t feel the slightest hesitation when it comes to ripping themselves to pieces. It’s understandable. After all, what’s so terrible? They aren’t hurting anyone.
But when you insult yourself, you are hurting the person whose well-being you are most responsible for. Every time you say something negative about yourself you are adding salt to that old wound that has never been given a fair chance to heal. How can I heal if every time I knock myself down I am scratching away at my wound?
Just as verbal abuse can destroy other people’s lives, it destroys your own. (In fact, we tend to believe our own self destructive messages even more than what others say about us.)
Let’s look at a Jewish approach to this “I’m such a jerk” syndrome. Rabbi Avraham Grodzinski, a great Torah scholar who passed away in 1944, wrote, “Pride in the awareness of the greatness and elevation of your soul is not only proper, but is actually an obligation. It is a binding duty to recognize your virtues and to live with this awareness.”
Self-esteem is a Torah obligation because it affects our ability to achieve the meaning and purpose that we are put in this world to strive towards. To explain, let me take you back a few years, to Aish HaTorah in the early 1980s.
I will never forget when Rav Simcha Wasserman, z”l, came to speak to a group of us beginners. I vividly remember him saying, “In every one of us is a beautiful pearl.” Then with tears pouring down his face, this elderly man said, “But the problem is that the pearls are all covered with mud.” I felt the incredible sincere love he had for all of us and I was inspired to uncover my own pearl and allow my soul to shine.
I learned that no matter what mistakes I make in my life, no matter how much external success I achieve, my true value lies in this pearl, this unique soul whose value cannot be diminished by anyone or any events that may take place.
Self-esteem is about becoming aware of the greatness that God already placed within me.
The Jewish view of self-esteem is based not on having to pump myself up to get the high of feeling great in the eyes of others. Rather it is about becoming aware of the greatness that God already placed within me.
The Real You
One of the ideas that really help me on my journey is the following statement by the great Arizal: “Since the creation of the world, no two people have been created with the same soul or the same purpose.” I found this statement to be life transforming because it teaches us that we have no basis to compare ourselves to anyone. Talents that someone else may have been gifted with may be for me the most difficult challenge I will have to face in my life. But my goal is not about being the other person. It’s about being me. The real me.
This is not an easy battle to face, especially when the “I’m such a jerk” syndrome makes us dependent upon other peoples’ approval and values. In my journey, I realized that not only did I have a priceless pearl, but it was unlike anyone else’s. Both my natural strengths and weaknesses are part of the design that God gave me to utilize on my amazing journey. The more I discovered my true strengths and weaknesses, the less critical I became of myself and the less prone to the superficial voices that surround me.