Self Help

by 4:08 PM 0 comments
I just started reading Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse. Although I was a big fan of Hesse's in high school, I never got past the prologue of this book before. It's been on my shelf for about ten years, though, so I'm glad that I have a chance to read it.

I came across this passage early into the novel: "His whole life was an example that love of one's neighbor is not possible without love of oneself, and that self-hate is really the same thing as sheer egoism, and in the long run breeds the same cruel isolation and despair."

The notion that self-hatred is an unseemly breed of narcissism rings true with me. After all, the energy that is poured into hating oneself could be used to produce something, to work, to interact with another person. It took me some time to realize this, I read too much Dostoevsky as a teen, so I thought it was a positive character trait to moan about myself, 'oh, I'm such a terrible person. Something really ought to be done about me.' Suffering was an art that I had mastered, despite being almost entirely unaided by materials that I might draw from as fodder for complaint. 

The passage advocates for self-love, which I have found to be just as ineffective as self-hatred in terms of leading a happy, productive life. Growing up in a gifted program in the '90s, it never took more than a turn of the head to see a self-entitled "genius" protected from the whims of teachers and administrators by over-protective parents. And we all know them now, those unhappy upper-middle-class white young professionals persecuted by a world that doesn't recognize their unique excellence. They are special. Those people pour time and effort into preservation of their self-image that may become increasingly at odds with reality. As any scientist can tell you, energy expended depletes the energy source for other purposes. 

So, instead, I believe that the road that ought to be followed is the road of self-improvement. It's not about if you're awful or wonderful. There is no system for measuring such things, and even if there was, what's the point? The focus of one's self should be am I getting better? Measuring against oneself, everyone has a reasonable baseline, from Charles Manson in prison to Barack Obama in the White House. 

Using oneself as a reference point, reasonable expectations can be set. There's no comparison of oneself to others, so judgmental thoughts are precluded. Self-reflection is an important part of life, and it can lead to positive gains. I've found that this is the best way to do it in order to avoid navel-gazing. 

Marina Gafni

Marina Gafni is a 28-year-old speech pathology student. She lives with her husband in San Jose, CA.


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