Over the years, I’ve been fascinated by the lack of self-respect I have observed in so many people with whom I have dealt. It isn’t necessary for a person to tell me that he lacks self-respect. You can see it in his facial expressions and body language; you can hear it in his words and in the tone of his voice.
People who lack self-respect leave clues. Territorial people, for example — who saturate the workplace — always lack self-respect. There are no exceptions to this.
The same is true of people who defile their bodies (e.g., facial tattoos, piercings adorning inappropriate body parts, and pink/purple hair) in order to attract attention. School bullies — a group I have studied in some detail — are also notorious for a lack of self-respect.
If a person dislikes himself and has a low regard for his own abilities, he’s unlikely to respect others. Such a person tends to harbor resentment — even hatred — for people in whom he identifies his own intolerable flaws.
This is why self-love (not narcissism) is the foundation of a peaceful society. If you don’t love yourself, how can you “love thy neighbor as thyself?” As Joshua Liebman phrased it nearly a century ago, “We must have good domestic relations with ourselves before we can have good foreign relations with others.”
How do you learn to overcome feelings of inadequacy and perhaps even a dislike for yourself? Philosophers and psychologists have wrestled with this question for centuries. In truth, there is no simple answer to it, but I do believe there are certain ingredients that are guaranteed to bolster a person’s self-respect. These include:
Ingredient No. 1: Rid yourself of the delusion that people of great wealth and/or fame are superior to you. I’ve known my share of rich and famous people, and have found them, as a group, to be more insecure than the average person.
Which is why you should never allow yourself to become overly impressed by the fame and fortune of others, and never sell yourself short because of someone else’s success. You are a unique human being, and, without even meeting you, I’m certain that you have a number of unique talents.
How do I know that? Because the universe is not a cookie-cutter factory. No two stars are alike, no two snowflakes are alike, and no two human beings are alike.
Ingredient No. 2: A second factor in possessing self-respect is showing respect for others. You don’t have to respect a person’s behavior, but you are morally obliged to respect his time. Which means, first and foremost, being on time when it comes to phone calls, meetings, and other commitments.
When I was just starting out in business, I was notoriously late for appointments. What I recall most about arriving late was that it made me feel inferior. I felt like I was on the defensive before I even entered the room.
On a couple of occasions, when the person with whom I was scheduled to meet refused to see me because of my tardiness, I felt like a bug. Thankfully, the pain ultimately became great enough to motivate me to become obsessed with being early to meetings, telephone appointments, and all other types of commitments.
Today, I usually show up for appointments fifteen to thirty minutes early — sometimes even an hour early if traffic turns out to be much lighter than I expected. I still miscalculate now and then, but it’s rare. And since I usually have my Kindle with me, being early is never a waste of my time.
Ingredient No. 3: If someone doesn’t return your phone calls, it’s the height of rudeness. But from your viewpoint, the important thing to understand is that he is sending you a message that you are a low priority on his “To Do” list. To maintain self-respect, it’s important to deal only with people who demonstrate — through their actions — that they are anxious to deal with you.
Even worse is when you allow yourself to get maneuvered into a position of having to justify your existence. If you ever find yourself in such a situation, make it clear to the other party that you don’t have time to be interrogated — then make your exit.
As an alternative, skip the explanation and just exit immediately. The most important self-respect builder you will ever find is the word “Next!” When you possess self-respect, you recognize that you don’t need any one person or any one deal. You know that you’re independent when you deal only with whom you want, when you want, and, to the extent possible, on your terms.
Ingredient No. 4: Strive to lead a concentric life. By this I mean making certain that your actions align with what you know, in both your mind and heart, to be right. Pretension and hypocrisy are among the most vile human traits, so be vigilant about always displaying the real you.
This often means renouncing childish behavior and accepting adult responsibilities such as marriage, family, and a profession. It means understanding that your actions affect those around you in myriad ways that are not always obvious on the surface.
It’s much like throwing a pebble into a pond and watching increasingly larger ripples form. Every action you take causes ripples that affect many other lives, including those of people you may never even meet.
Above all, remember that self-respect comes from within. You do not have the right to demand respect from others, but you do possess the right to refuse to deal with people who treat you with disrespect. As a general rule, however, the more you demonstrate that you respect yourself, the more likely others are to respect you.