How We Cheapen Ourselves With Our Speech

Speech is so important that the freedom to use it without restriction (excluding putting lives in danger) is codified in the First Amendment. One proverb says, “Open your mouth only if what you are going to say is more beautiful than silence”. The same principle applies to not opening your mouth if what you are going to say is disingenuous or rash. By not speaking with caution and sincerity, we cheapen our word. By cheapening our word, we cheapen ourselves. By cheapening ourselves, we harm our senses of self-esteem and self-confidence. Constantly breaking our own word (even, or maybe especially, if the promise was made to ourselves) acclimatizes us to not believing in ourselves and feeling powerless to change our destinies.

Speaking carefully also avoids decreasing our motivation right from the get-go when we set an intention. If we are used to “just talking” we are less likely to take ourselves seriously when we make commitments such as “I am going to lose weight”, “I am going to take a walk every day”, “I am going to make my bed every morning”. With every incident of not staying true to our word comes a lessened sense of self-agency and autonomy needed to exact change.

It is important to make sure our words have power. We cannot do this by constantly contradicting them. Being careful before we speak by setting well-thought-out intentions beforehand ensures others stop and listen when we speak. By making false promises, lies, or disingenuous talk, we dilute the potency of our speech. We don’t want our speech, as William Shakespeare’s Macbeth put it, to be “…full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”.

Contentment vs. Striving

Both contentment and goal-setting are lauded as positive by society. Yet they seem very much like opposites. If you’re content, why are you striving to reach goals? If you’re striving to reach goals, does that mean you’re not content?

Let’s examine the issue. What is your reason for goal-setting? How do you know if your goals are worthy and are coming from a positive place? Is your motivation internal or external? What positives will reaching the goal bring into your life? Is it a lasting or temporary positive?

Be honest with yourself about why you’re setting a certain goal and whether the motivation comes from a place of good faith or insecurity. For example, wanting to lose weight because your BMI is dangerously high, you have trouble breathing after walking up one flight of stairs, or your knees have started to hurt are all healthy reasons to want to lose weight. But losing weight in order to catch your crush’s eye is not. The first set of reasons are in the spirit of self-care and self-love and have lasting positive effects. The second reason is due to feelings of inferiority, of not being “good enough”. And even if you do lose weight and win over your crush, a relationship based on looks is unstable, dehumanizing, bound to cause resentment on your part, and can be easily severed by the introduction of someone who is even better-looking. In other words, the effects are temporary. Likewise, setting a goal to make an A this quarter instead of a B is a worthy, healthy goal if it’s springing from yourself instead of your parents and is due to you knowing you are capable of making a better grade. In this case, the goal emanates from your knowledge that you are highly capable, intelligent, hard-working, and an A is within your grasp. On the contrary, giving in to your parents or professor and setting a goal to make an A when you used all your talents, skills, abilities, and other positive traits to make the B, is self-defeating, self-sabotaging, and inherently comes from a place of seeking to placate others by admitting to the falsehood that you’re not good enough as you are.

Is it lazy to be content? Should you always be goal-setting? Feeling contented (fulfilled, satisfied) when you already have what you need is often an indication you have not given in to societal standards that urge you to always be buying, upgrading, competing, and climbing life’s “ladder of success.” And goal-setting should not be considered inherently positive. Contentment and striving are not necessarily mutually-exclusive. You can feel content but also set goals. If you don’t meet the goals you set for yourself, does your unconditional positive-regard for yourself become diminished? It shouldn’t if you are truly content. If so, reappraise the motivation and origin of your goals. Are your goals the result of self-hate, lack of confidence, not feeling like you measure up, or not feeling like you play an important role in the world? This might mean self-care and introspection should take place in the immediate and goals set on the “back burner” until they can be re-evaluated when you are in a healthier and more loving frame of mind towards yourself. According to the Buddha, “the root of suffering is attachment”.

Happiness should be a positive effect of contentment and goal-achieving. It should not be the goal, itself. It should be the means, not the end. Striving for happiness is the best, fastest way to rob yourself of contentment. Happiness is an amorphous, abstract concept, and therefore, it’s easy to chase it your whole life. Instead, ensuring that you are living in a way concordant with your physical, mental, emotional, intellectual, financial, social, and spiritual health will bring happiness. As Henry David Thoreau said, “Happiness is like a butterfly. The more you chase it, the more it will elude you. But if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.”

How to Increase Your Self-Esteem

There are many terms that all basically refer to an internal positive regard towards one’s self. These include self-esteem, self-confidence, self-respect, self-assurance, etc. I’ve noticed that nowadays self-esteem is often described as something you’re supposed to achieve before you can accomplish anything else. However, I have a different view of it. I believe that self-esteem is something that must be built, nurtured, and encouraged — that self-esteem can only come after accomplishments, not before. First instance, Baby Boomers have been criticized for rewarding their Millennial children with “participation awards” and doing away with bad grades in order to raise self-esteem. They have been criticized for this, at least in part, because many argue these practices have resulted in children who are unmotivated, unhealthy, and irresponsible (ironically, traits that often lead to self-loathing — the opposite of self-esteem).

I have noticed in my own life that if I give into unhealthy habits (for example, eating bad food, lying in bed all day on my day off, reacting without thinking, etc), I feel nothing but self-loathing. However, if I do what I am supposed to do (eat healthful food, get my cleaning or errands done, react appropriately to a confrontation, etc), I feel good about myself and feel an inner calm and stability. This isn’t because of the tasks themselves, but, rather, because I’ve shown myself I have certain admirable, or esteemable, qualities, such as diligence, time management skills, delayed gratification, impulse control, empathy, etc.

Another factor in building self-esteem is that it should come from permanent, non-superficial sources that are within your control. That way, it will be lasting. It should not be based on being the “best” or at another person’s expense, but rather on doing your best. For example, winning a race is a bad source of self-esteem. Why? Because it’s something that can change (there is a big chance you won’t win the next race), and it’s predicated upon someone else “losing”. It’s also very much up to chance, since the other competitors probably practiced just as hard as you did. Instead, an appropriate source of self-esteem would be setting a new fastest record for yourself. Why? Because you’ve proven to yourself that you are hard-working, perseverant, and capable at the task you set out to accomplish. Reaching goals (as long as they are not harmful, and the motivation behind them is not harmful) and building positive character and personality traits, is always a positive source of self-esteem.

It’s important to note that true self-esteem always comes from the internal, not the external, by doing right by others and to yourself. A friend telling you they like your new outfit is nice and gives a very temporary mood high, but is still a superficial source of self-esteem. Whether another person likes your outfit is outside your control, and clothing styles change, so that trendy outfit you’re receiving compliments about today might be ridiculed in a couple years. Likewise, the fancy car you’re driving might get compliments, but did you work hard to be able to buy it or was it given to you? Even if you did work for it, did the people you went to school with and your current coworkers without fancy cars work just as hard as you? It’s quite possible the answer is, yes. Did your schoolmates go into a line of work that is fulfilling in many ways but doesn’t garner them the kind of salary needed to buy a fancy car? Again, it’s quite possible the answer is, yes.

Before closing, I just want to say building self-esteem is something I continue to struggle with and am really working on. I’d like to get to the point where an insult does not unduly negatively affect me and a compliment doesn’t unduly positively affect me, either. Do you have any tips for building self-esteem or any thoughts regarding what I’ve written in this post? Do you agree or disagree with my conclusions regarding this topic? I’d really love to hear!