Being Respectable

Please visit our YouTube channel to watch Rev. Ann Marie’s video recording of this reflection.

My daughter is and always has been very different from her twin brother. She is the extrovert. Her twin is happy to be alone, for hours. “Alone time” for my daughter feels like punishment. My son is usually delighted to tell you about his “alone time” world, full of Roblox, Minecraft, and YouTube.

Being an introvert myself, I’m not at all worried about him. He seems to be joyously self-contained, accepting of who he is and his place in the “world.” The world which—for him, a year in now—is our immediate family, is not going much beyond “us” except via the internet. Yet there he finds a place to be connected, stimulated, competitive, and informed.

Good self-care for introverts is making sure that we get enough alone time to figure things out. He seems to be doing that. Even though both of us, he and I, can get into a funk about what we may have done that we are not proud of there in alone time, in alone time we also get back to center. I am mature enough now to know I have some rough edges, probably always will, but I love myself and generally feel respected by those I care to be respected by! He seems to have found a similar state of being for now. Self-respect feels good.

The theme of respect is what we are focused on this month. Today, I am most interested in our reflecting together about what it means to be worthy of respect. I have often said that a person who expects to be treated with respect needs to be respectable—meaning “to receive respect, one needs to be worthy of respect.”

I realized, when I started thinking about it, that perhaps my definition of respect is not the one you might find in the dictionary. I don’t mean that being “worthy of respect” is about maintaining the conventional social graces, like being on time, or dressed in a certain way, or always being polite. I do mean being sure of yourself enough to pay attention to other people’s feelings, and their needs and coming across as being centered in a set of values, principles, or morals that are good for not just you, but for the greater good of the world.

Back to the story of how we are doing at home: my daughter, the extrovert, unlike her twin brother, is struggling within the confines of this pandemic-induced isolation. The virtual world of schooling, the remote learning that we have kept them both in (which they both call “zooling”) seems to be successfully teaching them math and writing, and all the other foundations they need to know as first graders. But for my daughter, the virtual world and our relatively isolated and monotonous home life is not offering enough contact with other human beings for her. 

She misses her friends. She misses the friends she might have. When we all go to the park, she is thrilled when she makes a new acquaintance, which most of the time means she has asked a child near her age what their name is as she shares hers. When she knows that child’s name, she runs around the playground shouting her new “friend’s” name. Knowing someone new makes her very happy, even if it is only a name she will soon forget. Yet back at home she hits her brothers, sometimes bites the toddler. She screams and argues and fights. She is defiant in the way you would expect a teen to be. Then she is clingy and craving attention. She apologizes for being a bad person all the time to the point of annoyance, no matter how much we try to reassure her that not only is she loved, she is liked. If she would just stop screaming and fighting and whining, we would like her even more.

It has finally dawned on me that she needs more than us to convince her she is lovable and likeable; that our reassurance is not enough.     

I worry as this pandemic isolation stretches on, for the children who need other children, other adults in their lives, real people other than who they are interacting with at home, or the faces on the internet, or the short moments in the park.

It takes a village, they say, to parent a child.

It takes a village for all of us to be human, doesn’t it?

Every child needs to develop a strong sense of self-esteem, a sense of themselves as valuable, lovable. Self-esteem is based on what others think of us. But what about self-respect?

As a nod to Women’s Month, I’d like for us to hear from Dr. Ellen Langer, the first fully tenured woman professor of psychology at Harvard. In an article published in Psychology Today and titled Self-Esteem vs. Self-Respect, she wrote:

Our culture is concerned with matters of self-esteem. Self-respect, on the other hand, may hold the key to achieving the peace of mind we seek. The two concepts seem very similar but the differences between them are crucial.

To esteem anything is to evaluate it positively and hold it in high regard, but evaluation gets us into trouble because while we sometimes win, we also sometimes lose. To respect something, on the other hand, is to accept it.

…The word acceptance suggests to some readers that our culture does indeed deal with this idea of self-respect; after all, don’t we have the concept that it is important to accept our limitations? Aren’t many of us encouraged “to change the things we can change, accept the things we cannot change and know the difference between the two?”

…The person with self-respect simply likes her- or himself. This self-respect is not contingent on success because there are always failures to contend with. Neither is it a result of comparing ourselves with others because there is always someone better. These are tactics usually employed to increase self-esteem. Self-respect, however, is a given. We simply like ourselves or we don’t. With self-respect, we like ourselves because of who we are and not because of what we can or cannot do.

…Compared to those with high self-esteem who are still caught in an evaluative framework, those with self-respect are less prone to blame, guilt, regret, lies, secrets and stress.

Many people worry whether there is life after death. Just think about it: If we gave up self-evaluation, we could have more life before death.

There’s a big difference between self-respect and self-esteem. Choose self-respect.

Langer, Ellen J. “Self-Esteem vs. Self-Respect.” Psychology Today, 1 November 1999.

“Those with self-respect are less prone to blame, guilt, regret, lies, secrets and stress.”

If we choose the path of self-respect, how do we come to like, to love ourselves? To simply accept who we are at any given time? And make that acceptance of self a constant state of our spirit?

There is a clear message about this to be found in our First UU Principle. Acceptance doesn’t have to do with evaluative measures, whether we fulfill any certain expectations or not. Instead, the First Principle can be understood to say every being deserves worth and dignity simply because they exist. No other reason is needed for self-respect, except that we are. We have made a promise to live by that principle. May we learn to apply it to ourselves. 

It is a goal to strive for, and a way of being we can learn and certainly lean into as we live.

I believe that radical self acceptance, simply receiving/acknowledging that we are who we are, and that it is okay, is the key to self-respect. But it really does take a village. It really does take other people holding up that mirror when one is young, when one is adulting and maturing, to develop a healthy understanding of where one fits in the scheme of things. Why do we exist? For what reason did we land here now? 

How many of you got everything you needed to learn to like yourself, to accept yourself, from your immediate family? Some of us may have. But many of us need or needed mentors, those who aren’t our parents, friends that aren’t our competitors. We all need a team, a wider version of families chosen from those who aren’t necessarily our blood relatives.

We need others who accept and respect who we are, in order to nurture the positive self-respect that gives us the most basic and fundamental sense of being of value. We have worth and dignity simply because we exist.

It isn’t a natural state of human being to be in the kind of isolation we have been in.

For so many of us it has felt exhausting. 

A recent article in The Atlantic says:

The share of Americans reporting symptoms of anxiety disorder, depressive disorder, or both roughly quadrupled from June 2019 to December 2020, according to a Census Bureau study released late last year. What’s more, we simply don’t know the long-term effects of collective, sustained grief. Longitudinal studies of survivors of Chernobyl9/11, and Hurricane Katrina show elevated rates of mental-health problems, in some cases lasting for more than a decade.

Cushing, Ellen. “Late-Stage Pandemic is Messing With Your Brain.” The Atlantic, 8 March 2021.

We mourn that so many lives were lost to this pandemic. We have lost connection with the wider world of each other. Children have lost seeing themselves in each other’s eyes.

I tell my daughter that it is okay to be angry, to cry, to be exactly who she is. One day, this too will be over, and we will have survived.

As a nod to St. Patrick’s Day, here is a blessing for us all from the writer John O’Donohue.

For One Who Is Exhausted, A Blessing
 When the rhythm of the heart becomes hectic,
 Time takes on the strain until it breaks;
 Then all the unattended stress falls in
 On the mind like an endless, increasing weight,
 The light in the mind becomes dim.
 Things you could take in your stride before
 Now become labor.
 Weariness invades your spirit.
 Gravity begins falling inside you,
 Dragging down every bone.
 The tide you never valued has gone out.
 And you are marooned on unsure ground.
 Something within you has closed down;
 And you cannot push yourself back to life.
 You have been forced to enter empty time.
 The desire that drove you has relinquished.
 There is nothing else to do now but rest
 And patiently learn to receive the self
 You have forsaken for the race of days.
 At first your thinking will darken
 And sadness take over like listless weather.
 The flow of unwept tears will frighten you.
 You have traveled too fast over false ground;
 Now your soul has come to take you back.
 Take refuge in your senses, open up
 To all the small miracles you rushed through.
 Become inclined to watch the way of rain
 When it falls slow and free.
 Imitate the habit of twilight,
 Taking time to open the well of color
 That fostered the brightness of day.
 Draw alongside the silence of stone
 Until its calmness can claim you.
 Be excessively gentle with yourself.
 Stay clear of those vexed in spirit.
 Learn to linger around someone of ease
 Who feels they have all the time in the world.
 Gradually, you will return to yourself,
 Having learned a new respect for your heart
 And the joy that dwells far within slow time. 

Take advantage of the remaining slow time. Love yourself, be gentle with yourself. Respect yourself.

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