Understanding Self-Respect

I see a great deal of self-contempt in many people I encounter. It isn’t necessary for a person to tell me 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. The same is true of people who defile their bodies (e.g., with facial tattoos, piercings adorning inappropriate body parts, and pink/purple hair) in order to attract attention. 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 is unlikely to respect others. In all too many cases, such a person harbors 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, “We must have good domestic relations with ourselves before we can have good foreign relations with others.”

How do you overcome feelings of inadequacy and perhaps even a dislike for yourself? Philosophers and psychologists have been dealing with this question for centuries. In truth, there is no simple answer. But I do believe there are certain ingredients that are guaranteed to help:

Ingredient No. 1: Ridding 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 I have found them, as a group, to be more insecure than the average person. So never allow yourself to be 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. Without even meeting you, I’m certain you have a number of unique talents. Why? 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: 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 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 instead.

These days, I show up for appointments 15-30 minutes early… sometimes 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 a good book or other reading material with me, being early is never a waste of my time.

Ingredient No. 3: Dealing only with people who demonstrate — through their actions — that they are anxious to deal with you.

If someone doesn’t return your phone calls, it’s the height of rudeness. But the important thing to understand is that he is sending you a message that you are a low priority on his “to do” list.

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 you’re independent when you deal with whom you want, when you want, and, to the extent possible, on your terms.

Ingredient No. 4: Striving 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 means renouncing childish behavior and accepting adult responsibilities (marriage, family, and a profession). It means understanding that your actions affect those around you in ways that are not always obvious. It’s much like throwing a pebble into a pond and watching increasingly large ripples form. Every action you take causes ripples that affect many other lives, including those of people you may never even meet.

Remember, 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 do not show you respect. As a general rule, however, the more you demonstrate that you respect yourself, the more likely others are to respect you.

[Ed. Note: To learn how to survive and prosper during the turbulent years ahead, check out Robert Ringer’s powerful audio series Succeeding in a World of Chaos. And be sure to sign up for a FREE subscription to his one-of-a-kind e-letter A Voice of Sanity in an Insane World.]