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Two weeks ago I wrote about a culture of self-indulgence and instant gratification that seems to have permeated Western society. It is so prevalent that North Americans have thrown financial caution to the wind and many are drowning in debt. (The luckier ones break even, but are not setting aside or saving money for emergency situations like unexpected unemployment.)
If something catches their eye, they buy it – with no thought of the consequences. I attributed this self-indulgent, even reckless, behavior to two factors – a lack of boundaries due to secularism, and low self-esteem.
With religious observance becoming passé, people are growing up with no restrictions, no limits and no boundaries to guide their impulses. There are no “can’t,” “not allowed,” or “it’s forbidden” in their lives. Hence many never had the opportunity to develop such life-enhancing attributes as patience, self-control and self-restraint.
In this column, I will focus on the issue of low self-esteem.
Human nature is such that no one wants to feel inferior. No one wants to think they are a “loser” and that they don’t measure up to their peers. Everyone likes to see himself or herself as being “cool,” or a winner. How else do you explain sports fans? Often their lives revolve around the game and the outcome of each one can affect the mood of an entire school, city, and even country. If your team wins, you walk around elated, feeling superior.
But if you think about it, why is that? Why should the performance of a group of strangers affect a person’s mood? Why should Joe Average be so emotionally invested in how his team does? It is because being associated with a winner (famous people fall into this category as well, no matter how messed up their lives are) makes a person feel good about himself or herself. For someone with poor self-esteem, his or her sense of inadequacy is replaced with a sense of superiority, if only for a short time – until the next game or season.
Likewise, people equate possessions as indicating that they are winners. The bigger, the newer and the pricier the item, the more the consumer feels on a higher madreigah than the “have-nots.” Shopping makes people who have a poor self-image feel better about themselves. Marketers know this and build on people’s insecurities. If you buy their product, you will either get the girl/guy, the job/promotion, your life will become exciting, etc. In other words, you become a “somebody” by dressing according to the latest fashion (even though it may totally not suit you) or by acquiring the newest gadgets.
However, this sense of “coolness” is fleeting because almost overnight there is a new and improved version of whatever it is you bought – and got into crippling debt over.
People who have a healthy sense of self don’t need to artificially make themselves feel good. They don’t need to buy and spend to know their true worth. They don’t need to be snobs, or ingratiate themselves with people they perceive as being superior because they are wealthy, popular or have “yichus.”
How do you recognize someone who has positive self-esteem? They are the ones who are modest and unassuming, and who do not chase kavod – despite achievements they justifiably could brag about. Their modesty is a reflection of true yirat Shamayim because they know that all they have is a gift from Hashem; and not because they are so special or better.
Those who live Torah lives know that the authentic and long-lasting way to feeling good about themselves is by giving, not by getting. Ask yourself this question: Who feels more positive about herself – someone who sent a meal over to a family whose mother is in the hospital, or the person who bought designer shoes with an inflated price tag, shoes that likely will be out of season around the time the credit card bill arrives in the mail?
Do you ever wonder why we love our children so much, even though they complicate our lives so drastically? They take away our leisure time, interrupt our sleep, and drain our finances and mental and physical stamina. You’d think we’d resent them. But in fact the very opposite occurs; we love them fiercely. Why? Because they make us give and give and give, and we feel so fulfilled and so good about ourselves. And our self-esteem, our sense of worth soars.
Sadly, shopping till we drop, in a subconscious desire to elevate our sense of self, is a temporary fix – at best. At worst, you’ll really be down in the dumps when the bill collectors come knocking.