After growing up in a country where hard work, toughness, and independence ranked one, two, and three on the staircase of values, and the concept of self-esteem was years in the future, immigrating and raising children in the United States was a cultural shock. In my mini cosmos, it seemed that American parents treated children as porcelain dolls. I started out as a not-fitting-the-mold kind of a parent. The first two children noticed that there was something different about their Mamma. One day, with friends in tow, they said, “Mamma, say Winchester.” Curious request, but I acquiesced and Cliff announced triumphantly, “I told you.” Since I couldn’t distinguish between the W and V sound, it came out as Vinchester much to my sons’ delight.
Innocent enough, but there were harder reformative moments such as when the police brought home my five and six-year-old boys from the playground admonishing me for leaving them alone but then complimenting me on their good manners. It may explain one of their many favorite parenting stories. “Mamma was big on manners. She’d tell us if a stranger offers you candy, don’t be rude.”
I didn’t agree with what I saw as the overprotectiveness of children. My brain existed in a homogeneous culture where doors remained unlocked and crime a rarity. Before more children came along, enough women gave me weird looks for me to change my ways, yet sometimes I just couldn’t go along with the program.
Jim Moss was in the rewards business. He sold ribbons, plaques, and trophies to schools. Business was good. The eighties was preseason for making sure everybody felt good. If you showed up for an event, you could count on a ribbon. My house filled up with mostly participation ribbons, and the Vinchester mom wondered, you really feel proud of showing up or running the 100 meters taking 98th place out of 99 runners? Is it so terrible not to win? But I said nothing. Didn’t want to harm the cubs’ self-esteem. Figured I’d already damaged the older three.
In seventh grade, Gréta’s (her real name as not to protect the culprit) progress report in science showed her with a D standing. The letter sat on the kitchen counter while I fixed myself a cup of tea, waiting for her to get home.
Vinchester mamma: “Gréta, your progress report shows you with a D in science. I didn’t even know you had science this year. What’s going on?” The cute little blue-eyed blond drops her backpack on a chair but says nothing. “I have never seen you even looking at a science book. What gives?” Staring at the floor, tears trickle down her cheeks as she whimpers, “What do you think this is doing to my self-esteem?”
She could have said, I don’t believe in the theory of evolution, or this may be a good time to tell you that I’m running away with the circus where science is not valued. It would have shocked me less. No doubt my blood pressure shot up and all my adopted cultural conditioning evaporated.
Vinchester mamma: “You have self-esteem in science? Well, get rid of it. You see, self-esteem is earned. I can’t give it to you, and I can’t take it away from you.”
Told by Eckhart Tolle, when the Dalai Lama was younger and meeting with westerners a participant said he lacked self-esteem and asked how he could get it. The Dalai didn’t know what he was talking about. He went around the group asking, “Do you have self-esteem?” Everyone he asked, said, yes, they had self-esteem. To the Dali Lama, this was the strangest thing.
We are the only species on the planet that has a relationship with itself. A cat doesn’t have a relationship with itself. Even the homeliest cat you can think of doesn’t have an issue with self-esteem. The cat takes care of her wants and needs, chasing mice, or jumping in your lap for love. Praise is not necessary for it doesn’t compare itself to other cats as in my coat is silkier than Bella’s. My toys come from a cat specialty shop, not in an Amazon box.
We Westerners talk about self-esteem as an entity we have a relationship with. We talk to it in our head or aloud. Edith, give me a break. You go grocery shopping for zucchini and come out with six items and no zucchini? Laying in bed wide awake, What did you expect after drinking a leaded cup of tea at 8 pm? You blockhead!
This relationship determines how we see ourself, how we feel about ourself. This entity is judgmental and unforgiving. Admiring Becky’s photo of a hummingbird feeding on a bright orange day-lilies and she finds faults, “The horizon is off” or “too much negative space.” I know I’m hearing from her entity because Becky would just have thanked me or said how much she enjoyed the garden for her photography.
Would you want a friend who is predominately negative about everything you say and do? Someone who keeps telling you that you’re not enough. Aside from thoughts, feedback from others (often misinterpreted) is also a fertile feeding ground for our entity. We compare ourselves in relation to others. How do my looks and health compare to theirs? I’m more educated than that person. My house is nicer, and I drive a Tesla Model S EV. Sometimes we go days with self-created high self-esteem, but sooner or later, the south pole starts pulling us down and again, we begin comparing ourselves to others.
One day, if we are lucky, we realize that this mind created entity is not our amigo. We created it. Only we can evict it. Easier said than done. But a ray of light can make us aware that we are dealing with an imposter, an entity pretending to be a part of us. It’s a starting point. The Dalai Lama and the Buddha saw the light and unmasked this illusion. This is when I should provide examples of how I sent my entity packing. But I haven’t. She’s still with me although I’ve demoted her to little Edith. Over the years, little Edith has lost some of her might and main but she still remains connected via my thoughts perpetuated by more thoughts that are about me and myself, Edith and little Edith. I can’t tell you how to make yours homeless. That’s for you to figure out and no trophy for trying. But if we work hard enough to get to the top tier of the staircase, we won’t even care about trophies or external acknowledgment. We’ll be too engaged living each day without the distraction of, as in my case, little Edith.