Oft times nothing profits more Than self-esteem, grounded on just and right Well manag'd.
-- John Milton, Paradise Lost; 1667
Dear Friend and Reader:
When we look back honestly on this phase of history, we'll see that one of the most profound issues of our day is a pandemic-scale crisis of self-esteem. We don't need to look far for the manifestations of this, or for the causes. They surround us so completely that we barely notice them; or if we do, we assume they are an indelible part of existence. They are built into our relationships, which are often designed as shelter from the storm, but which don't usually work.
Photo by Eric Francis / Book of Blue.
As Brian, my editor at Chronogram
magazine put it when I ran this article idea past him, he's noticing this most in people feeling like they are going insane because the world doesn't appreciate who they are or what they have to offer. This is particularly strange in a world that has nothing but ever-increasing needs; in theory we should all be in greater demand.
To describe something as a crisis of self-esteem is to use a byword covering a great many potential situations. Ultimately they all come back to how we feel about ourselves and our existence. Do we feel good about who we are? On a deeper level, do we consciously notice our existence? Do we feel like we have a right to exist?
We may not be so articulate with ourselves. Usually, we get the data in emotional form. If we're struggling, it may arrive as anything from depression (literally, the sense of being pressed down) to the challenges of adapting in a world that is not the same place from hour to hour. Adapting takes energy and being in a constant process of adjustment can consume nearly all of our energy.
But there is something else unique to our time in history that I think may hold the key: as a society and often as individuals, we live as if we have no responsibility to anyone or anything; not ourselves, not our society, not the world. I'll give you an example. There is a large swath of society that feels like it's entitled to do absolutely anything at all. There is a larger swath that allows them to get away with it.
It's not just how we feel about ourselves that is suffering, but rather how we feel about very nearly everything. And in a word, that would be cynical. Cynical is another way of saying having no respect. Another way is suggesting that we live in a time of ethical bankruptcy, which is taking a personal toll in the form of a great many people feeling worthless. It should come as no surprise that most have done very little to earn that sense of worth from themselves.
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