Honoring Thyself

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Straight up now. I want to talk about a topic that is better left unsaid to most people. It is about selfishness. I am fuzzy on what selfishness really means. Does it mean depriving others with help? Is it giving yourself first priority over others? Is it reluctance to share things with others? All of the above?

The notion of “it is better to give than to receive” is great. The teachings about the Good Samaritan are noble. Religious exhortations of sharing what you have with others are praiseworthy and we Pinoys have been brainwashed by our parents about these honorable virtues from the time we could walk on our own. I believe there is no shortage of generous and compassionate people in our country but why have we as a society stalled in the area of prosperity ?

Nathaniel Branden, author of the book Honoring the Self has offered a startling if not radical (allegorical if one might assume) definition of selfishness as exactly the title of the book – honoring the self. He contends that selfishness, in this case honoring the self is an essential ingredient to the self-esteem and well-being of a person. Lack of selfishness often results in an unhealthy and unproductive personal relationship which could precariously turn into a sacrificial relationship. He says that the whole notion of sacrificial relationship is wrong, whether you are sacrificing yourself to other people or vice-versa. Human relationships should be based on exchange of values, not of sacrifices. If you want something someone else has, you must offer value in exchange that will be perceived as roughly equal, appealing to the self-interest of whomever you wish to trade with. Herein also emerges the formula for respect, that you never ask anyone to act against his or her self-interest.

Everyone must avoid needless personal sacrifices. The author has these pointers for selfishness or honoring oneself:

  • Be aware of yourself and the world
  • Think independently and have the courage of your own perceptions
  • Know what you feel and accept your right to experience such feelings… fear, anger or other emotions we often consider negative.
  • Accept who you are without self castigation or pretense
  • Speak and act from your innermost convictions and feelings
  • Refuse to accept unearned guilt. Attempt to correct the guilt that you have earned
  • Commit yourself to your right to exist. Acknowledge that your life does not belong to others and that you were not put on earth to live up to someone else’s expectations
  • Be in love with your own life and with your own possibilities for growth, joy and the process of discovering your human potential

Now here comes the rub. We Pinoys as a people love sacrificial relationships don’t we? We believe that a sacrificial relationship is the truest and most honest form of relationship. We see it in Pinoy movies and TV soap operas every day! We extol people who have the forbearance to endure a sacrificial relationship. God bless that person. He will get his reward someday. Do we really honestly believe it or is it simply the fallout of our religious brainwashing? Has too much religion deprived us of our basic sense of self-respect? Now here comes a book that says – sacrificial relationship is crap. Selfishness is not necessarily a sin. You weren’t born to be somebody’s whipping boy in this world. You ought to be respected like anybody else. First things first. If everyone honors himself, he will walk with his head high and won’t easily fall into that oppression trap and we all individually walk straight into our journey to prosperity.

Now I am not writing this post to chastise you of your relationship – heck for all I know I might be mired in a sacrificial relationship myself without my knowledge hahaha 🙂 If you relish sacrificial relationship and find fulfillment with it – go ahead 🙂 I remember a friend of my wife who moved into the U.S. and eventually met the father of their mutual friend back in Pinas. Her friend and the mom often took tours to Asia, changed their car every now and then but the fact is the father is a TNT ( illegal) in the States, has 2 full time jobs and rents a room in a cheap apartment shared with fellow TNT Pinoys and lives on canned food most of the time. This just a mild example and there are more horror stories out there waiting to be told..

I do think that the high divorce rates in this part of the world has to do with people asserting themselves and believing those words in italics shown above, that they can’t simply put up with the unfairness of a sacrificial relationship. I believe that honoring thyself is paramount and comes before anything else but there should be a balance between our religious convictions and our sense self-respect when reacting to the vagaries of life.

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34 Responses

  1. this is thought provoking and would elicit varied reactions, depending on how one views it. but that is why we share ideas.

    i think self sacrifice for loved ones is very much part of our Filipino psyche, part of our lives. but then because of this, people tend to abuse that and rely too much on others. on the other hand, we should not forget ourselves as we sacrifice for our loved ones. sometimes, in the course of doing such, we forget that we need to be happy. we need to save for our future.

    as per your example, that is so sad. harsh reality of sacrificing oneself. hopefully those back home should think twice spending money unnecessarily.

    good post!

  2. as mitch albom said in his book, the five people you meet in heaven:

    ” sometimes when you sacrifice something precious, you’re not really losing it. you’re just passing it on to someone else. “

  3. it’s the way we’ve been brought up as people… masochistics…

  4. Well, you can partly blame the church for this. The clergy have been drilling the very word (sacrifice) into out minds for more than four centuries… and that the more “kawawa” you are, the closer you are to God.

  5. Ipanema – thanks.. I know what you mean and I’d like to be in a position of neutrality as much as I could 🙂
    The reason why I posted this is because a few weeks ago I met a Pinay who is in the house renovation business ( they did my master bedroom bathroom) with her husband who is from India and she told me the story about selling their house so she could help her family back home and some of them to migrate to Canada. In the end, she is not in good terms with the family that are now here. Now one of the side effects of sacrifical relationship according to the book is concealed anger to those we helped. Not only did she have a sacrificial raltionship with them but her husband has a sacrificial relationship with her too ( vicious chain reaction) 😦 Good that their marriage did not fall apart.

  6. Nell – that’s quite refreshing, that the sacrificial help we offered isn’t wasted 🙂 Bonus points in heaven is always a plus but others , esp those in this part of the world seem to have second thoughts of making their life miserable in order to attain such bonus points .

  7. Jeff – now that’s a powerful word – machosists ! if you mean people are innately programmed to oppress his neighbor whenever he can.

  8. Sngl – that’s very true but I have seen people in this part of the world who I can say more religious than people back home but their brand of “religiousity” seem to be entirely different to what we practice back home. Ironically both profess to adhere to religious truths. For example, I have been in family relationship seminars – remember I taught Sunday school once upon a time 🙂 – where the pastor openly said that it is sinful to borrow money so you can bail out your son
    ( married and has his own family) from his financial problems. It is shocking for us from the 3rd world to hear this but obviously the man wasn’t speaking out of his own – he had biblical truths to back it up as always.

  9. I can’t agree with you more. Talagang maraming martir dito kaya hindi tayo yumayaman as a nation.

    I think it was philosopher who once taught the principle of selfishness as being a virtue.

    And in highschool, I remember an essay by a famous American essayist (I forgot now the name) that had how the individual must have at least a healthy level of selfishness, in order to avoid self-destructive ways, and be self-anachronistic.

    Without selfishness,it becomes unnatural and unwise for one might even give away the food one has to put into one’s mouth. That’s bad. There is self-destruction that way.

  10. Please Note: The philosopher I was referring above was the iconic Ayn Rand, who once wrote that
    “Selfishness Is A Virtue”. I never had read any of Ayn Rand’s book, but a friend who was a fan of Ayn Rand told me that.

  11. ako selfish ako. aminado ako. hehehe ;p

  12. Maybe people stick wit sacrifical relationships because they fear they cannot have a relationship anymore if they break away from it. It is lack of self confidence ?

  13. Like in most things, keep the middle ground. Don’t fall from one extreme to the other. A bit of sharing doesn’t hurt anybody but people should not abuse of your kindness either. I guess each individual has to decide for himself how much sharing he wants to do.

  14. Interesting! I actually like this approach in “selfishness”. I think most pinoys are too sacrificial o relationships that they actually loose their own identity. I guess society, religion and educational upbringing brought that up. People must realize their individuality ad be able to ive something genuine of themselves.

    Am liking your blog here in WP. 😀

  15. This may not be related to this post but I’d like to share these here:

    From Anthony de Mello:

    Most people don’t live aware lives. They live mechanical lives, mechanical thoughts — generally somebody else’s — mechanical emotions, mechanical actions, mechanical reactions.
    ***
    People go through life with fixed ideas; they never change. They’re just not aware of what’s going on. They might as well be a block of wood, or a rock, a talking, walking, thinking machine. That’s not human. They are puppets, jerked around by all kinds of things. Press a button and you get a reaction.

  16. Major Tom – Selfishness Is a Virtue can sound like an oxymoron but as you said, as long as it is a healthy level of selfishness and not to the extent of extreme self-indulgence, it is not necessarly self destructive. I’ll check that author out – thanks for the tip 🙂

  17. Tin – you mean selfishness aka honoring thyself – that’s OK hehe 🙂

  18. Irrealis – that could be very true that people in sacrificial relationships don’t bother to change the situation because they are either too emotionally and financially dependent on the person that abuses them or the other way around, the abusive party has no self confidence to break the relationship because he/she fears she cannot find a relationship any longer 😦

  19. Sidney – very true. Our actions must be tempered by balance between our religious beliefs, physical and emotional capabilities. We can go that extra mile on ocassion but we must not forget ourselves too 🙂

  20. Fredz – losing one’s identity I think is the most dangerous one, when you think you only exist for others and never for yourself 😦 I feel that there seems to be that lingering confusion as to what helping thy neighbor really means. Now the question is – should we change the giver or the reciepient’s mentality so we all could go forward?

  21. MyePinoy – it’s actualy very related bro and great that you pointed this out. That to me looks is cultural, when you do things because everybody else seems to do it.

    But things change by force of circumstance sometimes, like in Saudi Arabia where they had women only work in embassies, schools and hospitals 20 years ago, But because of economic pressure, they have allowed women to work alongside men nowadays.

  22. The book seems to take an extreme view. It seems to say you can’t have one without the other. I think you can. I think there’s nothing wrong with selfishness. One has to take care of onself. But i also think one can be generous to others. They’re not mutually exclusive.

  23. btw, bro, does the music player on your blog have a setting that’ll make the default setting be “pause”? When I visit your blog, I always have to look for the pause button to your player b/c I’m already listening to my computer’s music player. Anyway, just a thought. hehehe

  24. Wil – this kind of selfishness is more on honoring oneself which does clash with religious teachings . The message is people seem to forget that they ought to give themselves priority , ie. think of their own happiness too. I can be even bolder to say that you must set yourself in order first and then help others.

    The music only plays one round. To turn it off go to my Sonific widget at the left column and press stop. 🙂

  25. Don’t you think it’s just semantics? “Selfishness” is too negative a word. Maybe, it’s just self-preservation we need.

  26. Abaniko – yes it can be just a case of semantics because i agree that selfishness is too broad . But you know how authors sometimes capitalize on blowing up a word to mean only one thing. Be there as it may, honoring thyself still smacks of selfishness I would think 🙂

  27. You’ve raised a lot of issues here, BW. So I don’t really know where to start. LOL.

    Well, all I can say is, selfishness or, as Webster defines it, “the excessive concern over one’s welfare in disregard of others” (paraphrased) was never a Christian virtue. It is actually a sin, however dogmatic this statement may sound to others. But the Bible is absolute about things like this. Jesus actually never prescribed selfish acts as a way of life. He actually exhorted people to be selfless, to love God and to love one another. His dying on the cross for the salvation of mankind is the ultimate selfless act…a love sacrifice, if you will.

    However, being selfless doesn’t mean you should not love and respect yourself. The Bible is clear on the subject of honoring one’s self. There is a command to “take care of the temple of God (our body).” In practical terms, this means taking care of our physical, emotional and spiritual well-being (health in all aspects). We honor God and we honor ourselves that way. For how can we be a blessing to God and to others if we don’t bless ourselves by observing good health measures?

    I believe we should always strike a balance in all things. It’s a tall order, but it’s doable. (My guiding principle is hinged on this acronym: WWJD.)

    It’s ideal to be givers, but this doesn’t mean that we should give without wisdom. We should always strive for good stewardship of resources (time, talents, money). So this means that we don’t just give to every person who asks for our help. For all we know, these people may be just plain hustlers out to rip us off. So we should give with discernment and wisdom. We say “yes” to the right recipients of ‘good will’ and we say “no” to the, um, ‘parasites’ (to quote an acquiantance who uses this term to describe lazy Pinoys who pester people with incessant requests for financial assistance, even though they are strong enough to work). And yes, we should always give WITHIN our means. (I had to ‘rebuke’ a Christian friend of mine for lending money to so many needy friends even if she didn’t have the means to do so anymore. She even sold her Mom’s properties for this “selfless” act. She just couldn’t say “no” and she thought she was doing God’s will this way. I told her this was not the Biblical way to do it.)

    To wrap it all up, I think the book you’ve just read is a New Age kind of literature that proliferates in the market today. The content may sound okay, even ‘recommendable’ in this day and age of “I’m Ok, You’re Ok,” but its subtlety in going against what the Bible says bothers me.

    *****

    (OK, gtg now. Maybe I’ll come back later to write another comment on another issue you’ve raised here — the Pinoy mindset with regard to martyrdom.)

  28. Jayred – thanks for your comments. I agree and the bottom line for me is a balance between reality and religious convictions. This “balance” I think is crucial to the prosperity of any society. It is up for us to tip this balance the right way so we don’t get engulfed by one side and get mired in a bind that will not allow us to move forward in life 🙂

  29. Medyo natamaan ako duon sa comment ni irrealis. I admit that I am one with a low self confidence. I was just writing in a post about how I got married for all the wrong reasons. Please don’t get me wrong. I loved my husband and I still do. I think. 🙂 Oh, of course, I still do. 🙂 We have had a tough relationship even from the start, even before we got married. I went back home to the Philippines so that we could get married. But after realizing that things haven’t changed, I began to have second thoughts of going ahead with the wedding. But we already had a child, and people were expecting for us to get married and I would sponsor him and we would all be together here in Canada. People would have hated me if I didn’t marry him. And I also thought that if I didn’t marry him, then I’d be a single mother and I didn’t think that I would find somebody else who would love me and my son. And I also wanted him to be there for his son. So I married him. Or maybe it’s also because I loved him. But it’s been tough.

  30. almost all the things that i wanted to say were written but it is always important that each person should learn to love thyself and in loving comes honoring thyself. it should be done with careful discernment and wisdom.

    i think, too, that views regarding this topic are varied. to some people, giving and doing things unimaginable to some are not even sacrifices but acts of love. to some, it would be foolishness. personally, for me, selfishness is a negative word. contrary to selflessness, that word sends a meaning that is more conflicting than encouraging.

  31. Niceheart – sorry for the delayed response. All I can say is we don’t easily have to give up on a relationship and suffer in silence. I honestly think that couples need to fight about their marriage if they want to save it. I am quite certain that there is no such a thing as perfect marriage and in some way, we all are guilty of covering up, of tolerating our partners for the sake of harmony. All I am saying in this post is there is such a thing as honoring thyself and people may get a new sense of perspective of what this means as it applies to their own lives.

  32. Bing – I agree that the word selfishness can connote a more negative meaning but I also think it is quite an effective word when it comes to zeroing in on what the author really means. Selfishness can both be good or bad depending on how you use it.

    I also believe that some people don’t even expect that there’s such a thing as honoring oneself because we all have been hard-wired by religion and society to help others against our will. I have a friend who openly told me that she cannot take the idea of her friend back in Pinas and her husband and 2 kids to stay in their house for 6 months to settle in Canada. It is not a case of not willing to help but she becomes miserable when other people are in their house, let alone her own family – husband and 2 kids – and the thought of other people camping in her house stresses her to the max. I told her – then follow your heart. If your life becomes miserable as the result of this – then don’t do it. Now she is worried that her friend might view her as unhelpful, blah blah.

    Simply put – what is wrong if she tells her the truth? Fear of losing her friend? So she would rather be miserable for 6 months than lose a friend? In truth this is a no brainer but the poor girl agonizes so hard on a decision that is for the most part honest, just and right.

    Lose a friend or make a sacrifice? Me? I would rather lose a friend who is NOT WILLING to understand me than putting up with his/her crap …oops where’s my horns…my horns.. 🙂

  33. just read this post of yours. branden has essays in the book i’m currently reading. i echo your thoughts in here.

    i don’t believe in sacrificial relationships, too. that’s insane.

  34. Mari – I believe that a relationship should be fair and no one must be made to suffer for the sake of the partner’s whims. It’s just common sense but sometimes hard to do because of our cultural biases 😦

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