Heartstyles blog

Resilience & Self-Respect

In 1961 Joan Didion, an American journalist, wrote this in Vogue: “In brief, people with self-respect exhibit a certain toughness, a kind of moral nerve; they display what was once called character… the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life…”

Self-respect does not come from others, from doing those things that might have made us successful (pleasing people, passing exams, having clean hair or good manners or a clear categorisation from a psychometric test like Belbin or Myers-Briggs). No, it comes from the sense that we live by doing things that we often do not much want to do, by putting doubts and fears to one side, and by weighing immediate benefits against the possibility of larger (even abstract) benefits’ in the future. We need a way to accommodate between the two.

In her essay “On Self-Respect” Didion charts the moment as a young woman when she was stripped of the delusion that she liked herself. It was an end to innocence (coincidentally the theme of an influential song “The End of the Innocence” by the American songwriter Don Henley). This is not to say, of course, that we should not like ourselves, but merely to recognise that what has got us this far may not get us to the next stage. For Didion, self-respect is not a charm that keeps monsters and disasters at bay – nothing can do that; but it concerns instead a separate peace, a reconciliation with ourselves and an acceptance of who we are and what we have done; it is a matter of having the courage of our mistakes.

Maybe the matter of self-respect is better seen by thinking about its absence: to do without self-respect is to be a viewer in the documentary of our own lives as we see our failings, real and imaginary, presented to us at each new screening. And to live without self-respect is to live in thrall to all the moments when, through carelessness, sloth, cowardice or waste that might keep us awake. Those who accept these things about themselves, and the human experience, will sleep better.

The Heartstyles indicator is just that, an indicator of where you are on a particular day or in a particular phase of stage of life. Awareness is vital. Augment your self-respect by being aware of your strengths and weaknesses and receiving feedback from others – or from the situations you encounter.

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