Marvin Repinski: This is a matter of self esteem

14 July 2023

Dr. Phillip McGraw has been on TV. programs it seems for a hundred years! And for good reason. When I’ve listened to his responses to questions, being an arbitrator between conflicting persons or digging into his own experiences, he often hits the mark: WISDOM.

An example of thoughtful responding is an answer he put in print when a letter to him arrived, stating:

“I see, read, and hear about something called self-esteem, but it’s a term I don’t understand. I’m not even sure I know how to ask this question.

The thing is, I hate everything about myself: the way I look, the way I talk, the way I act and think. Is this a curse that I was born with, or am I just doing a bad job living my life? What is self-esteem, and is there any way for me to get some?”

Dr. Phil’s answer is as follows:

“You actually asked the question very well, so at least quit dogging yourself for that! When I use the term “self-esteem,” I simply mean the degree to which you assign worth to yourself. Other common words for this are self-confidence, self-acceptance, and self-assurance. Some people possess a high degree of these qualities and some people don’t.

The bad news is your level of self-esteem is up to you. The good news is your level of self-esteem is up to you. Your self-regard may be influenced by your interaction with others and by your experiences in the world, but in the final analysis it’s entirely in your hands.”

It is an awesome declaration to be told that something, especially something like self-regard, is up to me. I blanch a bit, as I think a lot of factors are entering in. What we are is that reflection we see standing in front of a mirror. Standing there alone is what we are, and what we are to work with! Mrs. Phelps, my sixth grade teacher at McKinley School, said it dozens of times — to both boys and girls: “Stand straight!” I can still hear that voice. And as I write this essay, I’m thinking:  “Marvin, that still has to be applied to you.”

Let us think of “stand straight” as a figure of speech; a metaphor for our days. For me, it has been a quest for many years. It may have been encouraged by my early reading of every book I could find written by Jack London. I can still feel the numb fingers from the bitter cold. I can see a dog sled. I can hear the dogs barking, even wailing. In checking out my memory of the reading experiences that helped me feel good about myself, probably was sustained by the beginning and continued with me into my mid-80s.

The attraction to something or someone, and grooving on those experiences may be the building blocks of a life of self-esteem. 

We continue to grow as the early roots are fed with certain exposures, friendships, the parenting we receive. When that parenting is lacking, the struggle to affirm one’s dignity and self-worth may be damaged. Thank God there are many students who have received that “parenting” presence from disciplined and caring teachers.

Examples of how the “play it forward” reality shapes the ability to, without fear, be engaged in public speaking was hatched earlier. For me, I guess, having a long speaking part in a play while at Emerson School. “Do it, do it louder, enumerate, use your pauses, look at the crowd, memorize …” The coach, Ms. McNamara loved her classes!

My wife, Becky, who is keen on theater, suggested some years ago, to travel to Plainview, Minnesota. Why? It was the Hassler Homecoming in the boyhood home of Jon Hassler. The city is named Plum in his autobiographical novel “Grand Opening.” Jon and his wife, Gretchen, along with book lover volunteers, moved the Hassler home to the center of Plainview to become the new home of the Rural America Writers’ Center. It is interesting to note: Past and present hang together!

In these comments on self-esteem, I am going back to the July 2, 2023 issue of “The New York Times Magazine.” In an essay, accompanied by gruesome, sad photographs is the story “A Boy’s Life on the Front Lines” by Lynsey Addario.

Part of the story of mother Lena and son Yegor follows:

“When most children around the world were wrapping up the school week and looking forward to weekend soccer games and sleepovers, an 11-year-old Ukrainian boy named Yegor was living in a borrowed one-story home with no running water and sporadic electricity, its windows boarded up with plywood and tires and sandbags. His mother, Lena, worked in a nearby hospital where wounded soldiers came to be treated.

I’ve covered this iteration of the war in Ukraine since the day it started, and over the course of 15 months, I have taken many pictures of children. I first photographed Yegor in February, when I was surprised to find him in that frontline hospital, learning how to suture trauma wounds. After I left, I found myself thinking about him, maybe because my own son is his same age. So in late April, I went back so I could spend some time living with him, his mother and his 23-year-old half sister, Angelina, in the run-up to Ukraine’s long-anticipated counteroffensive against occupying Russian troops in the east and south. I watched a boy who no longer flinched when shells were fired from positions near his home as he ate his morning dumplings by the light of the kitchen window.” 

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