Where to start on such a profound a subject?
For some time now, I’ve suspected that something very fundamental and simple is missing within most of us.
Several months ago I wrote a blog post called Eyes That Were Made to See. I remember well both being at that point in my life, and also the joy I felt in finally being able to produce such a piece. It was a marker of a turning point in my growth.
First, let me say one thing. I am tremendously privileged to be able to not only write about my explorations into understanding myself, but also to have the capacity to even see myself from the view point that I do. When I write these pieces about myself, I am doing so from a relatively removed perspective. My intention is to better understand the idiosyncrasies that make up this ‘wild beast’ of a human that I am. I realize that this is the kind of undertaking that takes time and patience. Steadiness. This why my blog posts are generally infrequent. In the time in between them, I am doing a great deal of growing. A great deal of confronting myself.
This is my privilege.
That I have both the courage in my heart and the capacity of mind to see myself falter, fail, and suffer. Without taking it too personally.
Before I get too far, I want to share a metaphor.
There are many traps in life. Some we walk into knowingly, and others we don’t realize are traps until we have already gone far. One of the worst traps I have come across that I would advise anyone seeking a deeper understanding of themselves and the world around them to stay aware of is best described by metaphor.
Swimming. Imagine you are looking out across a vast sea and there are people in the water swimming. The breeze is crisp, the waves gleam in the sunlight, and the swimmers are strong and full of life. But you yourself have never swum. In fact, you don’t know how. You’ve been trapped on shore all your life, longing to know this ocean and to have the skill and confidence to navigate the waves. But all you have ever done is watch. Perhaps at some point you decided to read some books about swimming, you engaged in lively debate about it with your friends and family, you thought deeply about swimming, and maybe you were so fortunate to once even meet a swimmer. But if all you’ve ever done is read, think, and debate about swimming, will you ever learn to swim?
This understanding is the very first step.
Life is a practice. It is not meant to come easily and without effort. But the kind of effort matters. If what you desire is to know the ocean and navigate its waves with steadiness then be sure that every step you take in life is with this intention in mind.
Absolutely easier said than done. But it is possible. Take inspiration from the swimmers that it has been and can be done.
What is respect and why should I care?
From what I have seen, respect, both for the self and for others (as well as all living things), is the basis on which everything else is built. If this foundation is faulty, all else built on top is at risk. In fact, it almost doesn’t matter what one builds on top— a person can be kind, generous, intelligent, strong, brave, funny, thoughtful, loyal, inspired, persevering, understanding, tolerant, self-aware, mature, and have any number of other positive qualities— but without respect, it is only a matter of time before a challenging situation in life can bring the entire structure tumbling down.
And what is this structure exactly?
This is the self; this is our character. The structure is made up of the positive qualities within ourselves from which we draw our confidence. Confidence is like the roof of the structure.
It is confidence that allows us to take a step toward the sea for our first swim. Confidence is a quality that is cultivated by learning to be kind, generous, intelligent, and so forth. The more we see ourselves grow in these positive qualities, the more confident we become. A false sense of confidence is called arrogance. We can all spot this from a mile away. True confidence is humble. It doesn’t need any validation. It is unfazed and does not falter in the face of failure and suffering. Confidence is built on strength of character, and this cannot be faked.
The more we work consciously to strengthen the integrity of our character, the better the swimmer we become.
But back to respect, which is the foundation.
I’ve met a great many people in my life who have many admirable qualities. But what nearly all of them lacked was a fundamental respect. I include myself in this observation, by the way.
The foundation of respect has two layers: the deep layer is self-respect; the surface layer is respect for others.
If there was a single quality I would wish for all of us to gain overnight, it would be deep and profound self-respect. Everything else built on top is relatively straightforward.
From where can we gain this fundamental quality?
This is a question I am working on answering myself at the moment.
What I know is that this quality I am calling self-respect here also goes by other names: self-love and self-compassion. I know that when one has gone deep in self-respect, the world becomes a playground. Fear and insecurity are not so threatening. And are replaced instead with knowing.