Tuesday, January 16, 2007

American Culture on the Half Shell...

I had an interesting phone call last night. And, truly, I do not mean to blog every single phone call I get ~ and won't. Some of them are dull and boring. Most of them are dull and boring, not to mention short.

Still occasionally someone calls out of the blue. After a long absence, the conversation flows across all sorts of rivers and valleys, covering a variety of topics we may have been thinking about for months, trying to congeal into something worthwhile.

I'm becoming increasingly surprised at the depth to which Thai culture is shaping my way of thinking. It's so different that it is often at odds with people I once admired, people who seemed wise and beyond questioning. Things that used to be di rigeur now are glaringly out of place and odd.

The discussion last night involved "self esteem". This particular friend believes I have a bad case of Lack Of and wanted me to focus more on me, less on others, more on my value, less on contributing, more on being assertive, less on harmony. She believes I let people "get away" with too much. "You have to do what's right for you," she said, "if someone else doesn't like it, f**k 'em. You have to be tougher." This kind of talk now sounds to me like something from another planet. Yes, there are times when I let people get away with crap but in the final analysis, it is irrelevant crap ~ and forgotten a week from now. Living life on the defensive is not something I want to do.

First of all, let me begin by saying that I believe the whole "self esteem" movement is a crock of unmitigated crap. What the hell is "self-esteem"? Usually it translates to the belief in entitlement, that everything I do or feel is just fine. It doesn't help anyone aspire to anything beyond the mediocre and perhaps the most destructive thing about it is that it serves egoism and self-centeredness. (Like we need any more of that!) It makes any behavior acceptable because "that's where my heart led me."


I've learned this lesson the hard way. For 25 years or so, I had just me. I got to do anything I wanted to do without any social repercussions. (In the desert, there's nothing to lose.. and some of my worst personality traits grew from that time. It's a consistent effort to overcome them.) It's easy to stop growing when there's no accountability.

Now I find myself wanting to be concerned about others, to give to them, to be inclusive rather than exclusive, to build community with likeminded others, to have meaning, to be considerate, to be kind, to show compassion, to be a better person than I was before. The five principles of mindfulness are now something I take very seriously. Every decision I make is balanced against those foundational principles.

Sometimes it seems my karma runs over my dharma ... but I do my best.

So, given this, what of my friend's comment? What of her worldview compared to mine?

The very thing she is promoting is what I put behind me when choosing a Thai way of life. It no longer resonates on any level. It no longer has any meaning. It no longer feels "right" in my soul. It's like hearing something I believed as a child, long since discarded and forgotten.

I don't know if it is possible to find much commonality with this friend any more. The time may have come when it will come to its logical conclusion. It's hard to imagine but these things do happen. Gives new meaning to the idea that people come into our lives "for a reason, a season or forever." Our season has passed.




Anonymous said...

Can I add a huge "Amen" to your bullroar?

The paragraph immediately preceding it is absolutely telling it like it is. I'm of a mind to print it and post it.

Anvilcloud said...

What the hell is self-esteem"?

I think it's about appreciating that one has strengths and not simply focusing on and deploring one's weaknesses. Should I beat myself up because I'm not clever enough to put my music stand up wihtout calling in the cavalry, or should I feel good about the fact that I can make something vaguely resembing music once it's up? To me, that's self-esteem, and I don't see that as bad. Perhaps that's not quite what you're talking about, however.

meno said...

The parargraph about self-esteem reminds me of what Wooday Allen said when he started sleeping with the 19 year old daughter of his girlfriend, "The heart wants what it wants." Bet he has good self-esteem, because he certainly has no self-control.

KC said...

This got me thinking about self-esteem, and I think its absence is self-destructive. I hear what you're saying, but if lack of self-esteem causes someone to never find the happiness they are searching for, to always give and never think they deserve to receive, then social interactions lose their reciprocity and full potential.

I think some degree of self-esteem is necessary for powerful, loving relationships.

Just my two cents for what it's worth.

Gobody said...

I don’t know how to put this but I will try my best. You can let things pass by and ppl go away with crap when it does not really matter to you, when you are already above and beyond the small issues of life and feel comfortable, secure and complete inside your skin no matter what. In this state you know that no one’s action or lack of it matter an iota in the grand scale of things and only you and what you do is what your human experience is about. It is hard to reach this stage. And because of that self-esteem matters, because it is another way of not being affected by people’s comments, because of your knowledge and appreciation of yourself. It is not egoistical at all, in matter of fact, lack of self-esteem results in spiritual drainage because you feel you are only as complete as your reflection in the eyes of the others.

Did I confuse you already, or did I make my point clear?

MsLittlePea said...

I think I know what you're getting at. Sometimes the whole 'self-esteem' deal can get out of hand and into to narcissism. At the same time it's good to have a healthy balance. Feeling good about ourselves and proud of who we are is something to strive for but it depends on the individual's definition of success.

QT said...

I agree with you that the self-esteem thing has been taken too far, to excuse behavior that is unacceptable. It has been mislabeled.

I think you do what is right for you every day - but in a much different way than your friend describes.

KateMV said...

It seems to me there are two different concepts: "self-esteem" and "self-centeredness." You indicate that the "self-esteem movement" stresses self-centeredness. Perhaps I don't know much about the "self-esteem movement," but I don't think they are the same thing.

Self-esteem is about recognizing your own skills and gifts and believing that you are a person of worth even when your worth is not validated by the outside.

Self-centeredness is about putting your own needs in front of anyone else's.

I think that you can have high self-esteem, and work to maintain it, without being self-centered.

I also think that you can be self-centered and have very low self-esteem.

The two things are not connected, in my opinion.

In the Thailand that I live in (rural north), there's no such thing as "self-esteem", because individuals are not given that much emphasis. (Interestingly, people do talk a lot about "EQ," which they define as being a person's emotional ability to adapt to their society.) However, that doesn't translate into everybody "giving of themselves" to others. You really only "give of yourself" to your own extended family. Non-relatives are outside the sphere.

crazymumma said...

Your journey is a fascinating one.

Your friend sounds like many of us. Our cultures priorities are somewhat skewed and sometimes it is hard to see beyond.

It is ok to let go of a relationship, although perhaps she could learn some things from you.

Pam said...

We have become a self centered society to a certain degree and I see it as a lack of self-esteem. People who are comfortable with who they are and what they are don't need constant validation, aren't all about "me" and understand that giving and receiving are a balance.