Maggie: A lot of kids my age don’t really like themselves. Do you think we need to like ourselves before we can have good friends?
John: It makes me a little sad to hear you ask this question. Being a young adult can be difficult at times. We need to talk more about the challenges you and your friends face. But back to your question.
The short answer is yes. We need to like ourselves in order to make and keep complete friends.** Let me explain why this is the case; then I will explain how we can learn to like ourselves.
1. Why do we need to like ourselves? In order to answer this question, we need to distinguish between base people, good people who dislike themselves, and good people who like themselves.
a. Base/unvirtuous people: People who are base or unvirtuous most often choose what gratifies their appetites over what helps make them virtuous. Money, power, and physical pleasure are what drive them.
These are the type of people who make false statements about others in order to make themselves look good, spread gossip because it makes them feel powerful, and make fun of special needs kids in order to be part of the popular crowd. You know these people. These are the mean girls at school, the athletes who physically abuse weaker kids, the coaches who take pleasure in yelling at students during P.E., and the false friends who tell lies about you.
It is true that we all have vices in our lives. But these people do not know themselves and they do not try to know themselves. They are guided purely by self-gratification. They want only what is pleasurable to them and, as a result, they do not have complete friends.**
b. Good people who dislike themselves: These are virtuous people who dislike themselves. But they dislike themselves because they do not clearly know themselves.
These are the people who work hard, but think they are lazy; are really smart, but think they are dumb; and are beautiful in many ways, but think they are ugly. These are the really good kids who dislike themselves for being introverted or shy or uncoordinated. I suspect that most of the friends you mentioned are in this category.
It is challenging to have complete friends when you do not like yourself, no matter how good you are. This is because we tend to dislike in others what we dislike in ourselves. For example, it is hard to appreciate an introvert when you dislike yourself for being introverted. It is hard to like a shy person if you hate yourself for being shy. In other words, by being critical of ourselves we make it difficult to appreciate and accept those same characteristics in others.
c. Good people who like themselves: You and your friends are good people. My hope for you is that you learn to like and accept yourselves, with all your virtues and vices. By doing so, you will then be in a position to accept, appreciate and like the characteristics of others, no matter how diverse; which is the first step towards making and keeping complete friends.
2. How do we learn to like ourselves? Have you noticed that people who don’t like themselves do not have a good understanding of themselves? They can’t see their good characteristics, they make their bad characteristics worse than they really are, and they don’t comprehend their value to their families and friends.
That is why learning to like ourselves starts with good self-appropriation.
We engage in self-appropriation by first asking questions about ourselves. In answering these questions, we gain insights into ourselves. Those insights lead to more questions and more insights. Once we have asked all the further pertinent questions about a particular topic, and gained all the relevant insights, we can make a judgment about ourselves. That judgment provides us with the truth about ourselves. Let me see if I can illustrate this process.
Imagine that one of the things you dislike about yourself is your work ethic. You think you are lazy and you worry that you are never going to get a good job as a result.
Maggie’s Brain: Why do you think you are lazy?
Maggie: Because I like to binge watch television sitcoms like That ‘70s Show on the weekends.
Maggie’s Brain: Why do you like to do that?
Maggie: Because I go to school all day during the week, I do homework until eight or nine p.m. every night, and I do homework every weekend. When I get a break I like to let my brain rest and sitcoms help with that.
Maggie’s Brain: Is there any other reason?
Maggie: Yes, I also like to watch these shows because my dad watches them with me.
Maggie’s Brain: Any other reasons?
Maggie: Come on, Ashton Kutcher is on the show! Even Senator McCain has a crush on him. Google it if you don’t believe me.
After asking and answering these questions, you are now in a position to make a judgment about whether or not you really are lazy. And I think you can see by the responses you gave that the answer is no. You are one of the hardest working people I know. Binge watching sitcoms may not be the healthiest thing to do on a Saturday, but it certainly doesn’t make you lazy.
But what if you decided you were a little bit lazy? Well, you would then know the truth about yourself and, with that knowledge in mind, you can begin to change.
Either way, by knowing the truth, you put yourself in a position to begin the process of liking yourself. You can begin to recognize and accept your good qualities as good and your bad qualities (which we all have) as simply characteristics to be improved. And, just as important, by gaining this self-knowledge, you can begin to appreciate the good in others and more easily accept their vices. And that, my young friend, is the key to making and keeping complete friends.
My hope for you and your friends is that you regularly engage in the self-appropriative process, come to like yourselves, come to accept the good and bad qualities of others, and, as a result, gain one or two tres bons amis.
**Remember our previous discussion on February 26, 2017 about the three types of friendships: utility friendships, pleasure friendships, and complete friendships.