Respect Yourself

Here is an extract from Joan Didion’s erudite and insightful 1968 essay on self-respect.

You can read the entire piece here but I recommend you buy Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays, the collection from which this comes. The book is not only a masterclass in writing with elegance and intelligence, it shows how one can be forthright, honest and blunt and, simultaneously, calmly indifferent – and indifference can be a powerful choice since not everyone deserves your interest or passion.

You need to read this several times for full benefit.

‘To have that sense of one’s intrinsic worth which constitutes self-respect is potentially to have everything: the ability to discriminate, to love and to remain indifferent. To lack it is to be locked within oneself, paradoxically incapable of either love or indifference. If we do not respect ourselves, we are on the one hand forced to despise those who have so few resources as to consort with us, so little perception as to remain blind to our fatal weaknesses. On the other, we are peculiarly in thrall to everyone we see, curiously determined to live out – since our self-image is untenable – their false notion of us. We flatter ourselves by thinking this compulsion to please others an attractive trait: a gist for imaginative empathy, evidence of our willingness to give. Of course I will play Francesca to your Paolo, Helen Keller to anyone’s Annie Sullivan; no expectation is too misplaced, no role too ludicrous. At the mercy of those we cannot but hold in contempt, we play roles doomed to failure before they are begun, each defeat generating fresh despair at the urgency of divining and meeting the next demand made upon us.’

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