I watched an interesting TED talk by one of the great influences on my thought, Rabbi Lord Sacks. Most of the talk is not relevant to this blog (although it’s definitely worth watching), but two things stood out to me. One was where he mentions the best decision of his life, meeting and eventually marrying a woman who was nothing like him: someone joyous and friendly when he was a self-obsessed young philosophy student. My thought here was, “Why can’t something like that happen to me?” I know I’d love to meet a frum woman who is joyous, friendly, gentle and kind who, for some strange reason, likes me. I can’t imagine it happening. I try to work on myself, to be more confident, friendly, outgoing and happy, but it doesn’t seem to help, as shown by my recent date dumping me apparently in part because I lack self-confidence. I hope today to start work proper on the social anxiety CBT book I dug out a while back, but I’m not confident of it helping.
The other point, less wistful, is where he talks about the culture of the self and suggests replacing the self with the other, literally doing a “find and replace” in our minds and changing phrases like ‘self-worth’ and ‘self-esteem’ to ‘other-worth’ and ‘other-esteem’. This is something I think about, because in recent years I’ve got into Jewish religious existentialist thinkers a bit and there the emphasis is on the redemption of solitude through helping the other. The problem is that I’m very bad at this. I try to be a good friend to my friends who are going through depression and other tough times, but there is a limit to how much I can do given that I am not a trained counsellor or therapist. I just try to remember to email sometimes and to respond to their emails. I’m too shy to really get involved in voluntary work or anything like that. I wanted to get more involved in my depression support group, but because of pressure of work in my new job, I don’t have the time or energy to go very often any more and that pressure is only going to increase next term when I work four days a week. I’d like to think I am reaching out to people and helping them with my blog, but deep down I know I do it only because I need release from all the words in my head, and maybe for the likes.
In any case, I’m not sure how sensible it is for me to replace ‘self-esteem’ with ‘other-esteem’. I think my problem is I perhaps esteem others too much and certainly esteem myself too little. I don’t trust my judgment on anything, but I find it hard to disagree with others, even if deep down I know they’re wrong. I find it hard to stand out from the crowd. As I said, I just got dumped apparently in part because my date thought I was “frightened” of her, frightened of disagreeing with her more than some abstract fear. And she was probably right.
More than that, I feel actually ashamed of myself much of the time, at least when I’m in company. Ashamed of my political views and perhaps occasionally of my religious views (where I am more ‘modern’ than my shul). Ashamed of my hobbies and interests, which seem childish and a waste of time that would be better spent in prayer, Torah study and good deeds (from a religious point of view) or more cultured pursuits (from a secular one). Ashamed of wasting what little creativity I have and also ashamed of wasting my time on it when I do devote some time to it. That is why it’s safer to be in solitude, despite the loneliness this entails. This is why I didn’t hang out with my peers in adolescence or at university. This is why I can’t open up to people and make friends or find a partner.