It’s all very well saying that we should value ourselves. But what is self value? And how do we measure it -and therefore safeguard and increase it?
John Berger recently wrote a wonderful defence of the German Nobel Prize winning writer Gunter Grass (The Guardian: August 21,2006). Grass had been pilloried for not revealng that he had joined the Waffen SS at the age of 17. Berger’s response describes very closely what I believe to be the essence of ‘self value’.
"That he was naive when he was 17 means only that he was 17. Inside a story there are no mistakes, only the living through of mistakes. And he has lived through his, better than most of us would have done".
Grass, says Berger, ‘lived through his mistakes" by devoting himself "to grasping, narrating and explaining, with extensive fellow-feeling, the contradictions, cruelties, abysmal losses, wisdom, ignorance, cowardice and grace of people (person by person) under extreme historical stress. Very few other writers of our time have such a wide knowledge of articulate and inarticulate experience. Grass never shut his eyes. He became a writer of honour".
He lived though his mistake by ensuring that it became part of his life; by working with the grain to transform it into the pearl of his life’s work. He understood that the value of his life lay in living through his mistakes and successes – as experience – with his eyes open.
What would have happened if he had ‘confessed his sins’? Would his eyes have been opened wider? Would he have awakened himself more to the experience of his own life; to the value of his life? Or would he have been forced to devalue his life to the actions of the seventeen year old boy?
The word ‘redemption’ comes from the Latin verb ‘redemptio’. And one of the oldest meanings of ‘redemptio’ is to ‘to farm revenues’ – to cultivate one’s assets. And that is what I believe Self Value entails. The cultivating of the most precious asset we have: our Self.
Redemption does not start with the premise that we are a liability unless we do good; but that we can do good because we are an asset.
And how do we farm our revenues? How do we maximise our asset? How do we ‘make the most of our selves’?
By making ourselves as aware as we possibly can be of our selves: by probing how we think, feel, emote and behave in situations; by exploring the impact we have on our fellow beings and our world – and then reflecting on the chain of mutual reactions we create with one another. And by applying our selves in the world and the world in our selves.
And how do we learn? By observng, enquiring, reflecting, feeling, applying and integrating.And observing again.
And, as you can see, we can not make the most of ourselves, or increase awareness of our selves, unless we recognise and value our fellow beings. If I think you have no value then we have no impact on one another. But I know that is not true: all beings and I do have some impact on one another. So, I must be closing down my own awareness in order to believe that you have no value.
By reducing my awareness of your value I reduce my awareness of mine.
That is why choice is such a precious gift. When we remove it from others, we remove it from ourselves. When we trespass against others we trespass against ourselves.
So, to summarise:
What is Self Value?
It is the recognition that the Self is the Asset; that it "can do good because it is an asset"; that the Self is the stone from which the scultpure is continuously shaped. Without the stone there is no sculpture.
How is Self Value maintained and maximised?
By taking responsibility for that Self and making ourselves as aware as possible of how we think, feel, emote and behave in our mutual relationship with the world.
How is Self Value diminished?
When we diminish the awareness of both our own selves and that of our fellow beings; when we impose and abuse; when we prevent ourselves or others from discovering our Self Value
So, can Self Value be developed?
Self Value is. We do thing of value because we ‘are value’. The asset is there, whatever we do. It’s our awareness and management of it that impacts our actions. The more aware we are of the asset, the better we are able to use it.