In the Book of Matthew in the Bible, Jesus Christ teaches that you should love your neighbor as yourself. Unfortunately, too often we forget the last part of that admonition, to love ourselves.
Those who know me well know that I have almost no ability to fix things. I am not particularly good with my hands, and whenever I try to play handyman, it generally results in disaster. That’s ironic considering, when I was very young, my father finished out our basement and did other similar projects around the house. By the time I was old enough to learn how to do some of those things, my father had traded in his handyman skills for a comfortable chair in front of the TV. But even though he didn’t help me to be a great handyman, I love my dad, and he taught me many other great lessons.
In seventh grade I took a required wood shop class. I was having trouble with my very first project. The teacher, seeing my frustration, took my project, and said, “Here, let me help you.” He then made a series of cuts on the band saw, nailed together the resulting pieces of wood and handed it back to me. He had essentially completed the project for me. I know he intended well, but by completing the project for me, he was silently telling me that I wasn’t very good at that sort of thing. And of course, I believed him.
On the other hand, I was raised in a religion where everyone had to participate in meetings, and at a very young age, I had to write short talks and give them, first, to other children, and then to the entire congregation. My mother believed that, even as a child, I should write my own talks. I remember many times sitting next to her as she sat at her typewriter while I dictated to her the talk I was asked to give. I still remember her repeatedly telling me that I “had a way with words,” that I could say things concisely and better than she ever could. You know what? I believed her too. And from a very young age I have always felt that writing was a talent that I had – although I have worked hard to improve that talent through the years. That ability has served me well and is the number one reason I became a transactional lawyer.
I am relating these stories to emphasize the point that our self-images have a great deal to do with who we are, and that our self-images are largely based on what other people tell us about ourselves. Well-meaning parents, siblings, friends, teachers, coaches and others have in some cases helped us achieve greatness, but some of these same people also have contributed to our failures. And sadly, there are probably more examples of failures than successes. And sadder still, sometimes those people have not been so well-intended. That’s why teasing and other forms of bullying can be so destructive – because we actually believe the teasers and the bulliers, whether or not there is any factual basis for their comments.
I like this clip from Unbroken,[i] where an older brother helps a young Louis Zamperini gain some self-confidence in his running abilities:
It took Zamperini a lot more than an encouraging word from his older brother for him to be able to compete in the Olympics; it took hard work and training day after day. But that dose of encouragement from his brother, that instilled self-confidence in Louis, is where it began.
Unfortunately, the opposite is true. I love this scene from The Perks of Being a Wallflower[ii]:
I love the line, “We accept the love we think we deserve.” How true that is. If we think we are unworthy or no good, we act accordingly – in the friends we choose, in the jobs we take, in the people we love, and so forth.
Forrest Gump [iii] is one of the best movies illustrating how our perceptions of ourselves can shape our reality. Forrest is not “smart” enough to realize his own limitations, even when others point them out. But he does believe his mother, who always taught him, “stupid is as stupid does.” With a never-ending self-confidence born from the teachings of his mother, Forrest becomes a football star, a war hero, a ping pong champion, a successful businessman, and a wise sage from whom many others seek advice. Perhaps his most helpful advice of all is, in life, “[sh]it happens.” And it does. But according to Forrest, bad things that happen to us should not affect who we are. Here is just one scene from the movie where Forrest helps Lieutenant Dan realize that even though his legs have been blown off, he still has worth:
Like Lieutenant Dan, each of us has a destiny. We just need to be sure we don’t let others and our own self-doubts prevent us from reaching that destiny. When Jenny asks him, “Do you ever dream, Forrest, about who you’re gonna be?” Forrest responds, “Aren’t I going to be me?”
In future blogs I will discuss what movies can teach us about improving our self-image. In the meantime, let’s remember these words: Of all the opinions which people entertain, the best one is the one that they have of themselves.
Here’s hoping that each of us can be our best selves, regardless of what others (and sometimes ourselves) say about us.
- Production Company: 3 Arts Entertainment; Jolie Pas, and Legendary Entertainment
- Director: Angelina Jolie
- Screenwriters: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen (based on the book by Laura Hillenbrand)
- Starring: Jack O’Connell, Miyavi, and Domhnall Gleeson
- Release date: December 25, 2014
[ii] The Perks of Being a Wallflower
- Production Company: Summit Entertainment and Mr. Mudd
- Director: Stephen Chbosky
- Screenwriter: Stephen Chbosky
- Starring: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller
- Release date: September 21, 2012
[iii] Forrest Gump
- Production Company: Paramount Pictures
- Director: Robert Zemeckis
- Screenwriter: Eric Roth (based on the book by Winston Groom)
- Starring: Tom Hanks, Robin Wright and Gary Sinise
- Release date: November 11, 1994