We Have Undervalued Ourselves

undervaluedGrowing up, I heard lots of complaints from parents and teachers about children being conceited, proud, and arrogant. Looking back, it seems to me that most of these complaints were related to a failure to obey. We did have one or two kids who were arrogant jerks, but the rest of us received the same comments they did.

But whatever motivated the adults of my youth, they were mostly wrong – it’s not our overvaluation of ourselves that is the real problem; it’s our undervaluation.

Here is a passage from G.K. Chesterton’s The Defendant that makes this argument:

There runs a strange law through the length of human history — that men are continually tending to undervalue their environment, to undervalue their happiness, to undervalue themselves. The great sin of mankind, the sin typified by the fall of Adam, is the tendency, not towards pride, but towards this weird and horrible humility.

I think Chesterton was entirely correct, and I think we have all been surrounded by, and influenced by, a “weird and horrible humility.”

Most of us, most of the time, fear making errors, think about our failures and deficits, and live in a sea of guilt. Not only is this dark self-image unnecessary, but it degrades us and is built upon falsehoods.

We are, since childhood, trained to view ourselves as dangerous creatures, teetering on the edge of error and harm. We absorb these ideas through what currently passes as “law” and by parts of modern religion… particularly the doctrine of “original sin.”

Even the definition of “good” is held to be “selflessness,” which clearly maintains that “self” is bad.

Bear in mind that I’m not saying all humans are good. Clearly, some of them are violent and vile. But these are a small minority, and we should not lump normal people in with them.

The System as It Is

The world system we were all raised in is built on the assumptions noted above: that people are dangerous, need to be controlled, and must be held in a permanent fear of punishment.

Furthermore, the system requires us to feel inferior, uncertain, and flawed:

  • Free, confident people don’t just obey because someone in a particular costume tells them to; they require a reason.
  • People who think on their own easily understand that when they are told, “The law requires this,” it really means, “Do this or we’ll hurt you.” And they also grasp that such statements are orders backed by violence, not reason.
  • People who are free from guilt do not feel inferior and do not automatically comply with authority.

Whenever it is that a significant number of people develop healthy psyches, modern systems of rulership, including “law and order,” will fail. These systems assume that they will always enjoy instant and unreasoned obedience. Once that changes, they will be ill-suited to survive.

Under the modern scenario of rulership, a truly healthy person is the proverbial “square peg,” and ruling institutions are the proverbial “round hole.” The two do not fit together naturally.

Other Views of Humanity

While my disapproval of doctrines such as “original sin” stands, it’s worth noting (for believers and nonbelievers alike) that this low opinion of mankind is not really a biblical thing. Consider these passages:

You are gods. All of you are children of the most high. (This was first spoken by David, then repeated by Jesus.)

You have crowned him (man) with glory and honor, and set him above all the works of your hands.

The noted psychologist Abraham Maslow found the same thing as Chesterton, by the way. He writes,

Human history is a record of the ways in which human nature has been sold short. The highest possibilities of human nature have practically always been underrated.

And as Maslow went about to study the healthiest and best people, he ran into another problem:

Even when ’good specimens,’ the saints and sages and great leaders of history, have been available for study, the temptation too often has been to consider them not human but supernaturally endowed.

In other words, human nature has been depreciated, and when a clearly good case comes along, it is promptly identified as being something other than human.

It has been an imperative that “human” must equal “broken and untrustworthy.” This is a false, degrading, and cruel sentiment; yet our current world systems rest fully upon it.

Last thoughts

In another passage in The Defendant, Chesterton writes,

Every one of the great revolutionists, from Isaiah to Shelley, have been optimists. They have been indignant, not about the badness of existence, but about the slowness of men in realizing its goodness.

If we could drop the dark images we hold of ourselves and accept credit for the good things we do, we would partake of pleasure without guilt, and we would have a greater capacity to experience beauty, awe, and wonder in our everyday lives.

Whenever it is that we come to understand ourselves and the true nature of the world, doing the right thing will cease being a burden. We will do the right thing simply because any other action would be stupid.

Give this some thought of your own, please.

Paul Rosenberg

14 thoughts on “We Have Undervalued Ourselves”

  1. Paul:

    As I read this, I was instantly reminded of a quotation of Marianne Williamson in her book, “Return to Love”. She said:

    “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate
    Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

    It is our light, not our darkness that frightens us.

    We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?

    Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to manifest the glory of God within us. It’s not just in some of us; its in everyone.

    And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

  2. This strikes me as the Liberal mindset … one empowering them to act with impunity and without remorse … perhaps it is a perceived “enlightenment” that allows them to impose their values and choices onto all others and to condemn those who disagree with them … if these are actions and behaviors of “self-enlightened” individuals then I cannot accept that they understand themselves or the true nature of the world …

    1. xlb:

      “Valuing one’s self” has NO connection to “forcing our will on others.”

      It is people in search of meaning through power who tyrannize others. Confident, satisfied people live and let live.


      1. Thank you … you have shared an “enlightened” perspective … for that, I’m very grateful … I said, “strikes me as the liberal mindset” and meant that to reflect “The System as It Is” … my struggle is not “who I am”, but rather “who I must become” to make “square holes” for “square pegs” 🙂

  3. I thought the quote about being a positive thinker was interesting. I have, so far, defeated a vicious and absolutely terminal form of cancer, years beyond what all my doctors thought was possible. Among the reasons put forward by my international team, is that I am unfailingly positive in my attitude. When I was younger I was denied the opportunity to be an Uncle at Large because the psychologist thought I was “like the bluebird of happiness flying above the shit in my life”. So be it. I also believe that by calling ourselves progeny of a greater being, we deprecate ourselves. We are animals whether some like it or not and we have barely risen above those roots. Some would say there are animals which are better behaved than man :~D. I say that if we try our best to behave well, we can do marvelous things. After all, look at our patron here.

    1. My thought, from my studies over the years and a lot of rational (to me) approaches is that we are not the progeny of some greater being. We ARE that being. Even quantum physicists are beginning to think about the Source of all this wondrous magic which surrounds us. And we get to play with all that potential, should we choose to do so. Great game.

      You proved your power by outliving that vicious cancer. Bravo for your solution. I once cured myself of a seriously deteriorated disk in my spine. I had been told it was not possible. Six months later, it had totally repaired. We are truly magicians, if we choose to be and, like you, remain “unfailingly positive.”

  4. Sorry. I have found the most obvious and provable Christian doctrine is that of original sin. If you’re atheist, call it human nature, or whatever, but it is at the heart of axioms like “absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Humans will look out for their own self interests, family and cronies. That is simply fact. Even the very best of us with the best intentions cannot be trusted to rule over other humans….because of this hubristic desire to be as God over others…because we are all convinced we know best. That is why statism always devolves to tyranny.

    1. Chootee: A few brief snips and comments:

      “absolute power corrupts absolutely”
      Yes, but the issue is power, not human nature. If we were evil by nature, we wouldn’t need power to corrupt us.

      “Humans will look out for their own self interests”
      Also a true statement, but what’s evil about that? “Self” is not bad, unless and until it harms others. Looking after yourself is NOT harm to others.

      “hubristic desire to be as God over others”
      I don’t have that, my friends don’t have that, and I doubt you do either. If we did, we’d be grasping for political power.


  5. Great article…….” A Thinker is a Creator” so why not think and act as such!

Comments are closed.