The Voice Of Fear

Self Worth

 

I am starting to feel pretty good about myself.

Why did you feel bad?

Do you need a reason?


What is self-worth? And are we really meant to have it? There are times when self-worth is detrimental to the continuing of the human race. That may sound strange, but here are few things to consider:

 

Would we want men on a sinking ship to value themselves so much that they would take the lifeboats ahead of the women and children? Would we want women to value themselves so much that they would not accept the risk of childbirth? Would we want men and women unwilling to die for their country during war? Coal miners unwilling to mine coal? And so on…

 

You could come up with an endless list of how men and women are willing to sacrifice themselves for the greater good, so couldn’t too much self-worth be dangerous to mankind? No matter how self-aware a man or woman is and no matter how much he or she has developed his or her self-worth, they still are expected to sacrifice themselves if necessary.

 

If a husband and wife entered into a dangerous situation, such as walking into an alley where muggers jumped out from the shadows, the husband would not be viewed positively if he fled and left his wife behind. He would be considered a coward because he thought his life was more worthy of saving than his wife’s. On the other hand, if the man stood and fought, giving his wife time to get away, he would be considered a hero for sacrificing himself. The wife would not be considered a coward for escaping.

 

If a woman with a child in the back seat got in a car crash and escaped out of the car without trying to save her child, she would be viewed in the same cowardly way. But if she tried to save her kid, even at the cost of her own life, this would also be a heroic act.

 

So we can conclude that self-worth is fine except for when being sacrificial aids the greater good. We have the ability to put the values of others ahead of ourselves. In other words, it is clear that our self-worth cannot be allowed to get in the way of our duties. But if we remove the times where instinctive sacrifice is required, then what does it mean to have self-worth?

 

I think it means that you must live your belief system. I believe your self-worth is  developed around your beliefs in honor, ethics, morality, duty, etc., but you have to walk the walk. If you have the ability to stand by your ethics, morals, duty and honor in the face of adversity, then I believe you have developed self-worth. However, if you value your worth based on external accomplishment, then you must also devalue yourself when you fail.

 

I have never liked it when parents tell their kids that they are proud of them when they succeed at some task. I would like them to be proud of how the child conducted him or herself at the task regardless of if they failed or succeeded. I would rather have a child act with honor and ethics and fail, even if  everyone else is cheating. Our self-worth comes from within, and no external accomplishment can give it to us.

 

Building self-worth based on external accomplishments is like building a house of cards that any slight breeze can knock down, because you only have that self-worth until the next failure. I often hear athletes that have just won the Super Bowl or Olympic gold talk about how those accomplishments can never be taken away, even if they fail at every other thing they do. Using past accomplishments to determine your self-worth is like using an anchor as a floatation device.

 

Your worth is in your humanity. You maintain it through honoring yourself and others.

 

The following is a story about my first real test of self-worth.

 

 

Sink or Swim

 

When I was 12 years old my parents shipped me off to camp against my will. They thought it was time I got out of my cardboard box (this will be explained in a future chapter). The camp was up in the mountains near Yosemite. It should have been a kid’s dream. There were so many things to do: horse back riding, canoeing, hiking, etc. Most of the kids that went there loved the place; one even told me that his mother held the camp over his head all year to keep him in line.

 

I, on the other hand, was homesick, lonely and just wanted to leave. And just when I thought I couldn’t feel any worse, I ran into a camp institution – the token camp bully. His name was Mark and he apparently came from a wealthy family that sent him off to camp for all three sessions, which was basically the whole summer. Everyone else came for just one three-week session. He was famous for giving wedgies and I eventually stopped wearing underwear as an attempt to defend against this. But that just lead to a whole new problem of him trying to pants me.

 

Life sucked. I was homesick and my parents paid $1,200 so I could be constantly victimized. I would have rather just taken the cash and been quite happy in my box.

 

It was the day before my session ended and Mark decided that he was going to impart a great life lesson to me. This lesson came to be one of the more profound lessons I have learned. It is funny sometimes where wisdom comes from and the form in which it arrives.

 

We were all swimming in the lake. About 50 feet offshore was a wooden diving platform that was 12x12 with a ladder on the side. I was sitting on the edge of the platform, feeling sorry for myself and counting the minutes until I could go back home. The counselors blew their whistles for everyone to swim in and grab lunch. I was about to slip off the platform and swim in when I looked over and saw Mark facing away from shore. He hadn't heard the whistle because he was floating on his back, looking up at the sky about 100 feet from shore. Just as I was about to slip into the water, I saw him turn around and realize that everyone had headed to shore. When he realized this, something about him changed.

 

The counselors on the beach hadn’t turned around to notice us still out there, as they were busy getting ready for lunch. As I watched Mark I could tell he was starting to panic. I guess the idea of being alone that far out in the water panicked him. It was like watching a person who stutters that can talk fine in a noisy room. If it all goes quiet, however, they begin to stutter.

 

I continued to watch him panic and realized that he was in trouble. This is when the fear (devil) appeared on one shoulder and my heart (angel) on the other.

 

I hated him. He made my life hell and all I had to do was yell for the counselors and they would have rushed out to save him and he would have been humiliated. My fear-generated anger wanted this kid to pay for being the bully he was. My fear told me to leave him on his own and swim in. Then my heart spoke. It wanted me to be compassionate for Mark, and if I punished him then I was no better than he was. I sat for a few seconds before making my decision.

 

So, even though I really didn’t want to do it, I went over and grabbed the round life preserver and swam out to him. I knew no one on the shore had noticed and I figured I would pull him in enough so that his panic would subside and no one would know what happened.

 

His pride was still intact.

 

As I approached him, his big saucer-like eyes looked at me and he said nothing. I just pushed the life preserver toward him so he could grab on. He grabbed it and I started to pull him to shore. Around this time one of the kids on the beach noticed me pulling Mark in. Everyone turned around. It was at that point that Mark’s fear changed. He saw everyone looking at him and his fear shifted to humiliation that I had to save him. We were about half way in when he squeezed my arm hard and said, “If you tell anyone about this I will kill you.”

 

I believed him.

 

He let go of the preserver and went back to floating on his back, hooking the preserver with his foot to make it look like he had made me tow him in for fun. He waved to the kids on the beach like a politician in the back seat of a limo. Everyone on the beach got a good laugh and went back to what they were doing. That is when he told me again that he would kill me if I said a word.

 

As I continued to tow him I wanted to strangle my angel. For the two days we had remaining at camp Mark was meaner to me than ever. I realized that he needed to discredit me so in case I talked no one would believe me. They would think I was making it up to get back at him.

 

I have looked back on this story countless times over the past 38 years. It taught me that I have no control over the fear voice of another, no matter how noble the gesture. In the end all I had was who I was and what I wanted to give. I listened to the voice of my heart and not the voice of my fear. My heart was right, if had I not saved him then I was no better than him. Because it meant that I had listened to the voice of my fear just as Mark had.

 

I thank Mark every day for teaching me self-worth. 

 


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