Do you feel that you are a truly worthwhile person?
What do you see when you are genuinely trying to evaluate yourself and you look in the metaphoric mirror of life? That is, when you are wholly truthful with yourself, no masks, no games, no pretense, defensiveness or guile, do you really like (respect, admire, appreciate) that person you see?
Who are we, really?
We all experience successes and pleasures in our lives, just as we do disappointment and setbacks. Life can be complicated and pressured. In these circumstances we sometimes question wonder about our personal qualities or worthiness as human beings. We might behave differently in diverse circumstances (work, school, family, recreation), and when we’re with different people and settings. There may be times we worry about how we’re being perceived by others, but we ultimately have to answer to ourselves.
I’ve learned through research studies, clinical work and social relations with people of diverse ages and backgrounds that we all want to be “comfortable in our own skin.” We know that if people have enough to live on and are properly clothed, sheltered and safe (admittedly a big IF), it is not the amount of accumulated material wealth which leads to self-appreciation and ease ‘inside’ their beings. Most people are looking for more substance and meaning in life, and in fact have similar views about what makes them appreciative of their own worthiness.
So, what is it they (we) are all looking for?
The genuine appreciation of our worthiness and our quality depends on whether we achieve four core inner senses, which I call “The Four B’s”—the personal senses of Being, Belonging, Believing and Benevolence.
BEING (Personal): People who have achieved a sense of Being feel grounded and at ease with themselves. They have the sensation of inner peace and self-acceptance. They have insight into themselves and they have a realistic self-image, neither boastful or demeaning of themselves. They are grateful for whom they have become and how they’ve acted with others. They are aware of their strengths and potential, and similarly, of their faults and limitations. They appreciate themselves in spite of mistakes they have made and their emotional scars. They have worked at overcoming their frailties and redeeming themselves for transgressions.
They are empathic and caring, kind and generous to family, friends and strangers, and they’re respectful and tolerant of others. They are responsible and trustworthy, and feel comfortable with who they have become.
BELONGING (Social): People with a sense of Belonging know they are integral members of at least one group or community of people that is very important to them, where they feel comfortable, liked and appreciated, and where they genuinely reciprocate those feelings. These groups could compose a family or close friends, a congregation, a club, gang, team, cast, platoon or a wide range of other possible communities.
Members of these communal groups feel an organic affiliation and comfort with others who share their values and traditions. The members provide support, respect and friendship. These kinds of relationships bestow pleasure and fulfillment. They diminish anxieties and help prevent depression associated with loneliness. The warm glow of belonging contributes to their physical and emotional health, and enhances the quality of their lives.
BELIEVING (Ethical/Spiritual): A sense of Believing refers to having guiding values and principles of one’s behavior. Millions of people around the world venerate (their perception of) a God(s) who gives them comfort and hope, and provides moral rules for their ethical conduct. But one need not believe in a Supreme Being to be an ethical individual, and by the same token, religious followers are not inherently more principled or compassionate than agnostics and atheists. We human beings need to believe in a system of moral principles and civil behavior. Ideally, we adhere to these overriding tenets in our daily functioning and relationships and we wish to pass these down to our children. When we act according to principles based on religion or other humane social philosophies, our lives become more meaningful during times of both joy and pain.
Our lives can be at different times and circumstances rewarding, mundane or challenging: We are concerned about ourselves and perhaps even more about our families, wanting to protect and facilitate their navigation through life’s challenges. We are also at times beset with the pressures of finances, responsibilities, health, obligations, social demands, political issues and other aspects of life’s travails. The details and decisions of life can get to us.
Yet when we wonder about issues beyond everyday practicalities and materialism, we can be awed by just how minuscule we are. We are microscopic in our own world, but especially infinitesimal when we consider our own infinite universe and countless other universes. Looking at the photographs taken from the Hubble telescope can be riveting and awe-inspiring. They can transport our thoughts into cosmic or spiritual realms, and help us realize we have but one life to live, and making it fulfilling and meaningful becomes of even more consequence.
BENEVOLENCE (Altruism): A sense of Benevolence refers to the extent to which we have bestowed a caring effect on others. It encompasses how we have positively affected and contributed to people in our lives. This can be in our everyday lives, when we demonstrate seemingly small but important acts of kindness and generosity. The positive effects we have on others linger on in the ‘social atmosphere.’
Benevolence is in a way a culmination of the other B’s. Our personal legacies are best represented by our acts of decency and respect for each other. Notwithstanding humanity’s history of aggression and violence, we humans are also genetically predisposed to be helpful to others. Studies have shown that we can in fact learn to behave with more tolerance and generosity and with less aggression and animosity. The kindness and goodness we bestow on others throughout our lives is the essence of a sense of benevolence.
Nobody is perfect. I know many wonderful people but have yet to meet a veritable saint or tzaddik who is the epitome of perfection in all of his/her personal thoughts and behaviors. While a purely noble existence may be beyond us mere mortals, most of us endeavor to be intrinsically worthwhile: Decent, honest and caring—in other words, a “Mensch.”
When we are evaluating the worthiness of our lives, we aspire to the goals of the Four B’s. These are the foundations for our important core legacies, “Our Emotional Footprint.”