Last semester I had to fill one credit hour, so I decided to take a one credit self development course called Self Esteem. Over the course of this two day class I not only decided that the class would be more appropriately titled “Bitch about how much you hate your parents”, but also that I already have pretty good self esteem.
I found the class to be pretty annoying straight from the start. Almost the entire first day was spent with the professor lecturing us that we’re all racist, which, if you define racism as ever saying or doing something insensitive out of ignorance or cultural training, then yeah, I suppose everyone is racist. The second day was spent mainly allowing students to complain about everything that’s gone wrong in their lives (mainly that their parents sucked) and the professor validating and encouraging all the complaints.
I couldn’t join in. Not because I had perfect parents or siblings, I didn’t. I couldn’t join in because I recognize that I too am an imperfect parent or sibling, so it wouldn’t be right to pass judgement on my parents for something I myself am guilty of. This acknowledgement that I am not perfect and it would be unreasonable to expect other people in my life to be so was something that many of my fellow classmates seemed incapable of. Or perhaps they just weren’t wanting to make that acknowledgement. Either way, it was clear to me that making that acknowledgement was probably the first thing these people needed to do.
I listened to all the stories of unfortunate childhoods, some of the complaints against truly miserable conditions, others complaints I found petty, and I found myself thinking in response to it all, “If you can’t forgive others for what’s wrong with them, no wonder you can’t accept yourself full of faults either.” It became obvious to me that those most critical of others were also the most critical of themselves. And it wasn’t constructive criticism.
I’ve been guilty of non constructive self criticism of myself, too, but over the years I have found it extremely important to be less critical of others and try to be more understanding of how circumstances in their lives might have led them to do things that are less than ideal. This has brought me a great deal of peace, but it wasn’t until taking this class that I realized it’s done something else for me. It’s made it easier for me to be easy on myself. Do I still have imperfections that I dislike and criticize? Of course. But I no longer hate these features of myself, I no longer feel desperate to change them at any cost. I accept myself as a human being complete with flaws, and I am able to do so because I accept others as human beings complete with flaws. In the whole session of complaining about our parents the only legitimate complaint I had against either of mine, and the only one I shared with the class, was that my mother never saw herself as as beautiful, strong, and admirable as I saw her, and that hearing the woman I most looked up to in the world say negative things about herself probably helped me to develop a bad habit of not recognizing the beauty in myself and only focusing on my flaws, a trait I don’t want to pass on to my own son. I brought this up only because other people in the class had children, and I found myself desperately hoping that they did not say the kinds of things they were saying in class around them.
I’d like to attribute my enlightenment to my age and experience, which is considerably more than many of the students I share my campus with, but in this class the balance was more towards people my age and older, rather than fresh out of high school students. This is not something you figure out with age, obviously. And I really don’t know that I have it all figured out, but I completed the class feeling pretty sure I had more figured out than anyone else in the class, including the professor, who spent a great deal of time bitching about her parents as well.
The message I took away from this class was that it’s important to be gentle, understanding, and forgiving with others, so that it is easier to be that way with yourself as well. If you set high standards for those around you, you’re going to be disappointed in yourself if you can’t live up to them either, which chances are you can’t. I ‘m very glad that I do not waste a lot of time being angry at my loved ones for not being perfect, and not being able to mold me into a state of perfection. Accepting them as they are has been a vital step in accepting myself as I am.
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