The dictionary defines self-respect as proper regard for one’s own person and character; commendable self-esteem. In spite of this very clear definition of the meaning of this term, and in spite of the general understanding of what the word means, the detailed understanding and application of self-respect to our personal lives is in many cases nebulous and uncertain. It is capable of being interpreted according to the intelligence and ethical attainments of the interpreter. A proper regard for the person demands cleanliness of body, and a proper regard for character, means cleanliness of mind and heart. Our bodies and our minds should both be kept in a wholesome and healthy condition, and this can be attained only by doing our share of the work of the world with as much efficiency as possible, by striving to acquire greater knowledge and efficiency and by successfully combating most of the temptations that yielding to would weaken or degrade us.
Self-respect has nothing to do with what other people think of us or our actions, but it has a great deal to do with being and acting as a fine and noble person should, so that a person that has the proper amount of self-respect must inevitably, except in isolated cases of injustice, also have the respect and esteem
We have a duty and obligation to our country, our state and our community, but we also have a more supreme obligation, although of a different character, to God, to humanity and to our own self respect. These obligations round out our American citizenship, and make the individual citizen not only free, courageous and strong, but also in the fullest meaning of the word independent.
Independence is a treasure to be purchased by our most earnest and intelligent effort, to be fought for at all costs and under all conditions, to never be abandoned so long as the breath of life remains within us, and even after death to be made safe and permanent by entrusting its care to our children and bequeathing to them the intelligence, courage, and strength of character to guard it safely, and to preserve it at all hazards, of his fellow men. It should be distinctly realized, however, that the motive behind ethical conduct is to satisfy an inner urge within a man himself which prompts him to do the right thing regardless of consequences, and that the motive must never be the desire to gain the plaudits and honors of the world.
Certainly there is nothing that is any way undesirable about a man desiring and trying to attain the esteem and gratitude and appreciation of his fellow men for worthy things that he may accomplish. It is merely desired to call attention to the fact that this particular incentive has nothing to do with self-respect, for occasionally self-respect requires that you do certain things that will bring down on your head accusations and blame, resentment and ridicule, and often this comes from friends as well as foes.
Self-respect must be an inherent part of our character and be used as a lubricant to aid and assist the other qualities of character to perform their functions with a reasonable degree of ease and efficiency. Self-respect is so capable and strong, if properly imbedded in our characters, that we can lean on it when all other aids seem to fail us. A man may be in the depths of despair, he may feel that the world is all wrong, or that it is arrayed against him, but his self-respect will not only prompt him, but will actually give him the courage to carry on like a man, to overcome the obstacles that confront him in pursuing the right course, or at least to die in the attempt, with his honor and his name unsullied.
Self-respect is somewhat analogous in a real man, to the cement with which stone walls are joined together. The cement when properly set will prove to be stronger than the stone wall itself. This is principally because self-respect partakes in different degrees of practically all of the noble and fine qualities of character. It is the guardian of our thoughts, speech and actions, ever present and ready to be called upon. Honor will sometimes seem to be dim and distorted. Loyalty will occasionally become vague and uncertain. Common sense will often desert us under the stress of emotion. Courage, justice and confidence, will sometimes flee away right at the time they are most needed, but self-respect is always on the job, needing only to be called upon to perform its function of protection or salvation. Self-respect never deserts us and we can only avoid its aid by deserting self-respect.
Self-respect evidences itself through thought, speech and action. The self-respecting man will not commit acts that are mean, vicious, vile or degrading. He will not intentionally do things that are cruel and unkind or inconsiderate of other people’s rights. Physically he will keep himself clean and free from disease or afflictions that can be avoided.
He will respect womankind, because women are the mothers of the race, with all that implies in suffering, anguish and sorrow, as well as love. This love brings to women such happiness as they receive from life, but it also brings misery when their men fail in character and especially in self-respect. A man who has self-respect in a fair measure has automatically enough of the other noble qualities to satisfy the need that is inherent in all women to have their men the type that they can both love and respect. This applies whether it be father, or son, husband or other loved one. Therefore, the man who claims to have self-respect can never fail to respect womankind in general and to fully realize that a large part of the sins or transgressions, errors or mistakes of women are due to men’s influence over them in the wrong direction. Self-respect should impel a man to protect women and not to be unkind, inconsiderate or selfish. Incidentally it may very well be said at this point that self-respect should also keep a man from being the type that can be wound around a woman’s finger, as the old expression goes. It means courage and strength to keep from doing the wrong things that women might desire you to do, as well as the wrong things that you might desire to do yourself.
Self-respect should also impel men to be especially kind to children and to those who are unfortunate in regard to health and mentality. This does not mean, however, that we should do too much, any more than that we should do too little, to aid those weaker than ourselves. We should only do what is necessary to awaken their spirit and their desire to solve their own problems, but we should never take these problems upon our own shoulders, thereby causing them to become weaker and more dependent than ever. It is never worthwhile to help a man by giving him money or charity and taking away permanently his independence and self-respect. Charity should never be considered as anything but an emergency aid outfit to be used only until such time as the patient can be taken to the hospital and have the real care and attention that is necessary. This care and attention means restoring the spirit and the morale of the individual. If this is not done it is comparatively true, with all humane consideration for mankind, that the patient might just as well be dead. The person without spirit, morale, independence or purpose in life, has no real reason for existence, but fortunately only one person out of a thousand is the type that cannot have the spirit and purpose instilled into them. Our own self-respect demands that we use our money, our energies and our time to make less fortunate individuals independent of our money as well as of any other money that they do not earn.
In the realm of speech, which also includes written matter, self-respect demands that we refrain from untruth and perversions of the truth, as well as vulgarity and indecency. Language was invented to express the meanings that were given to the words in the language. Self-respect demands clear and honest opinions or statements of facts. People with self-respect do not use words to conceal their meanings, or to pretend to have a different meaning from the actual one, but to reveal their meanings. That is why politics has obtained such a bad reputation in all countries and at all times. Politicians endeavor to distort and make blameworthy the motives of their opponents and to praise their own motives to the skies. In distorting truth in order to achieve the result of having people believe things different from the truth, they thereby automatically lose their own self-respect.
A man’s thoughts should be kept clean and wholesome and the safest and best way to achieve this result is to fill his mind full of worthwhile and interesting material. This can most easily be done by furnishing men opportunities to acquire additional knowledge and broaden their responsibilities, which automatically builds up within them this fine trait of character, self-respect.
H. B. MONJAR – July, 1935