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Sundries
...a sweatshop of moxie

Monday, December 05, 2005

An Unquenchable Self-Confidence

(Don't forget to scroll down for Sunday's belated posts, Flicks and Pesce!)



"Likes English and History. Has an unquenchable self-confidence."

Those words were not written about Young Winston Churchill, so pictured. They were written about me, age 10, in my school report.

And, by and large, I haven't changed that much in two decades.

My passion for the English language is requited, thankfully, every day I write, and my obsession with History still has no bounds.

This, of course, leaves my alleged good opinion of myself.

Was what this Headmistress said, true? Yes. It was. But that's not half the story -- it never is.

Perhaps you've met a child who has every possible negative setback in its life.

They are poor.
They are short.
They are ugly.
They are slow.

Perhaps this child has bad parenting to boot, as if their disgraces didn't already add up.

And perhaps, despite all this unrelenting misfortune, that child still believes in him or herself.

Don't think I'm about to out myself as that child, too, because in this case, that was not I.

I had every possible thing going for me in early life. I won't list them here. Just imagine them. I had them in spades.

But so did many another child in my position, far more blessed than I could ever be, like Young Winston Churchill, but they lacked what I had -- and that was self-confidence.

That was something young Winston and I shared almost innately.

Just look at that photo above.

See that bumptious chin, jutting out at an almost reckless angle for his pudgy years? He's a mere child in that photo, and his date with history is far off still.

But that which makes him the later Winston Churchill, that self-belief that comes from God knows where, deep inside, is present and very much accounted for.

(He even would've liked my irreverent prepositional ending)

In short, he radiates.

For in every story, no matter how desolate the tale, there is always a saving fairy.

In his case, that was his nanny, Nurse Poom. In my case, it was my mother.

His nanny was able to instill in him a sense of self, despite the neglect of his cruel, awful father, and social butterfly of a mother.

My mother, though separated by thousands of miles from me, for most of my childhood, fulfilled the same role, for there has not been a day, even the day of today, where she hasn't told me that I am wonderful.

(She ran up the most horrendous long-distance bill you could imagine, just so that she could send me that ego massage just about every day. A second's worth of your mother's voice is priceless to a child stuck in boarding school. She knew that, because she had been there herself)

It is this barrage of positive reinforcement, in the phrase of the hour, that is the difference between self-confidence and self-doubt.

What makes this anything less than pathetic, because to believe a mother's good opinion of one, is to be truly absurd, is that it came qualified with everything else around me.

One could never be too good, too intelligent, too well-behaved for just about everyone else in my midst.

Think about it in your own lives.

If you talked too loudly in class, there was detention.

If you misbehaved further, you were smacked.

If you did too well in one subject, there was always someone who came tops elsewhere, bringing you down to earth.

If you arrived at school looking too pretty (or too strong, for you lads out there), there were those too ready to mock your pretentions out of you.

Childhood is a landmine of derision.

How some people survive it, I do not know. And I know plenty who are shells of human beings because of it.

I said there is a saving fairy in almost every person's life, but the corollary, as you know, is that there usually is an ogre around us, too.

But it is how you fend off these people who do not wish you well, that proves what you have inside you is either a mother's starry-eyed fantasy, or the real truth.

There was something I read about Franklin Roosevelt once, that has stayed with me forever.

Someone said of him,

"Franklin almost never lost at anything, and you don't learn by always winning in life."

(How that person thought that losing the power of your legs is being a total winner, perhaps is best left unmentioned)

In his case, he was also blessed with energetic self-confidence, also due to a doting, perhaps even claustrophobic mother, but regardless, I think, he would have had that anyway.

And here is where a number of you jump off from my well-being wagon.

See, there are any number of psychiatrists out there -- my own mother included -- who would say this is nonsense.

A child is not born with an attribute: it develops it due to a combination of circumstances.

But that has NEVER explained sufficiently to me how a person can have a positive self-vision, despite endless setbacks, like the poor child I cited at the start of the blogpost.

I know one such person, who on top of everything, didn't even have the luxury of a good fairy. They had nothing.

Poor, ugly, hideously pockmarked with small pox at the age of 14 or so, the 7th of 8 females born to an alcoholic father in Panama.

And still this person has a positive outlook about herself, which pours from her.

Such people carry it as an aura, so you know there's no fakery involved. You feel it.

And here I must stop for a second, from my own homily on self-confidence.

Perhaps you are wondering if people who are self-confident are almost always successful?

No, they are not.

In fact, many people who are hampered by the worst self-doubt, are often the most outwardly "successful" people this world has ever seen.

Having adversity, feelings of worthlessness, and general negativity in life, can crush a person, as easily as it makes them want to overcome them.

What is wrong is to make others suffer, or put them down, so that they can bring themselves up and have a goal of their own.

Challenge, surely. Belittle, never.

Which brings us to another reason most people don't want to encourage their children too much is that they believe that these children will turn out horribly arrogant, vain, and spoilt.

There is a lot of wisdom in that. But one moment. I have a question for you.

Would you like a child like that? But how about if I put it to you in a different way -- would you like your child to be popular?

Some parents, perhaps themselves horribly ignored or bullied growing up, will tolerate just about anything, as long as their child is popular.

To them, that means "well-adjusted", even if it's anything but that.

It's a compensation mechanism then, which is at fault, this which also ignores the simple fact that self-confidence and arrogance are very different attributes, though easily mistaken for one another.

Arrogant people are that way because they feel inadequate inside.

Self-confident people are that way because they feel at least adequate inside.

Do not fear ladling onto those around you, your praise, for fear it'll make them arrogant and competitive with you.

Bring people up, never down, unless they truly deserve your scorn for their actions...not for their BEING.

Because this is something which provokes us into thinking that we have something to fear from excessively self-confident persons.

One thinks such people will suck the positivity around one, as if goodness were limited in supply.

Not at all.

Never fear those with superiority complexes -- they tend to self-destruct, or become so risible, that everyone around them, hovers between pity and ridicule.

(Napoleon, no stranger to psychological complexes..., once said there is but one small step between the ridiculous to the sublime, and never was there a truer word uttered)

Instead, be wary of those who have no self-confidence, and who have an inferiority complex because of it.

It's not people who have something to prove who are dangerous, but rather, those who have something to disprove.

At the start of this blogpost, I started by comparing myself, if only tangentially, to perhaps the greatest person Britain ever produced in the 20th century, arguably of all time.

That, my friends, is arrogance personified.

But I have told you not to fear the arrogant. Fear those who would not see any resemblence with themselves to this larger-than-life, unforgettable man, because they only see his sublime greatness.

I don't. I see his almost despicable faults, too, as readily as I can see my own.

And that is the difference between arrogance and self-confidence.

Where you can like yourself, despite knowing every last one of your faults.

P.S.: After I left that school, fêted, made Head Girl, with an one-way ticket to Oxford, I received a package from my 23 other classmates. The note read, "Enclosed, please find a sledgehammer. To be used when doors prove too small for your head."

I had it framed.

UPDATE: A Reynoldsian "Heh" escaped my lips when I went to this updated blog, just before logging on to the Blogger main page (don't you love clicking at randomly appearing sites?).

The post is entitled Arrogance.

I think one of my faults is arrogance. I tend to think I am smarter and stronger than most people. However, when I try to view myself objectively I find that I am smarter and stronger than most people. Not all people mind you but certainly most of the general population.

The blog's masthead is called "A Little Right of Centre". There are no coincidences in life. Just well-planned jokes from the Deity.

15 Comments:

  • "The realization of the futility of a rational cosmological view occurs the first time you scream at the top of your lungs for something and the world doesn't race to give it to you. Deep in your heart you know that what you want is rational, and so being deprived of it is, by definition, irrational. How you make your peace with this disappointment is way more significant than what Tuxedo of Reasons you think makes you look cool. "

    Although it doesn't look like it fits your remarks about childhood, Victoria, I believe it does! Oh, the quote is from the novel I'm working on, by the way!

    Good post, I need to read it a few more times to let it soak in!

    By Blogger Ron, at Mon Dec 05, 08:53:00 am GMT-5  

  • Loved this post! We share having a mother that did wonders for our self confidence! Early on in my exile, Cuban refugee experience, I could have mistakenly allowed our lack of material resources somehow define me as a failure. However, it was my mother, always telling me that I was "maderita fina" who instilled in me a sense that I could achieve wonderful things no matter what temporary setbacks we would face in our new country.

    By Blogger Jose Aguirre, at Mon Dec 05, 09:38:00 am GMT-5  

  • "But how about if I put it to you in a different way -- would you like your child to be popular?"

    No. But I wouldn't mind too much.

    By Blogger JSU, at Mon Dec 05, 11:04:00 am GMT-5  

  • "The realization of the futility of a rational cosmological view occurs the first time you scream at the top of your lungs for something and the world doesn't race to give it to you. Deep in your heart you know that what you want is rational, and so being deprived of it is, by definition, irrational. How you make your peace with this disappointment is way more significant than what Tuxedo of Reasons you think makes you look cool. "

    Although it doesn't look like it fits your remarks about childhood, Victoria, I believe it does!

    Well, if you think that, since you have further insight into the matter than I have access to, then it must! ;)

    However, that sounds like Dr. Spock's oft-quoted injunction to let your kid ball and not to pick him up -- so as not to spoil him.

    OTOH, I can see your point, because it's an internal process you are describing, similar to mine.

    Oh, the quote is from the novel I'm working on, by the way!

    Congrats, Ron! Tuxedo of Reasons is my new favourite phrase!

    Good post, I need to read it a few more times to let it soak in!

    It will reward you for your patience.

    (See what I mean?)

    Seriously, thanks, Ron. Lemme know what else you liked about it, if you do.

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Mon Dec 05, 01:13:00 pm GMT-5  

  • Loved this post!

    Thank you, Jose! :)

    We share having a mother that did wonders for our self confidence!

    The most important moment in life is the second you are born to the woman who is your mother.

    How she is, how it happened, will determine so much.

    I'm glad you had a loving, supportive mum, Jose. :)

    Early on in my exile, Cuban refugee experience, I could have mistakenly allowed our lack of material resources somehow define me as a failure.

    Especially, and we need not be shy to say it, in this country, where there is so much, and so many people who were not born to it, have so much by working for it.

    But I absolutely loathe feeling sorry for oneself. I'm glad you don't.

    However, it was my mother, always telling me that I was "maderita fina"

    Ah si? I've never heard that expression! Excellent.

    "Refined wood"?

    who instilled in me a sense that I could achieve wonderful things no matter what temporary setbacks we would face in our new country.

    And I betcha, 40 years on, you have much more than many another person who has lived here just as long, but who didn't have those inspirational words from their mother.

    As a future mum, I am going to set high targets for my children, like I had, but tell them I love them and that they're great every day, like I was.

    The worst that could happen, is that they'll blog about it to untold millions. :)

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Mon Dec 05, 01:19:00 pm GMT-5  

  • "But how about if I put it to you in a different way -- would you like your child to be popular?"

    No. But I wouldn't mind too much.

    I'm happy someone mentioned the popular angle in the comments, JSU.

    Because I'm sure it hasn't escaped anyone's notice that popular kids are often the worst brats in a class, doing reckless things which thumb their nose at authority, OR they project tremendous self-confidence, which translates outwardly as being likeable, and worthy of being around.

    I was neither popular nor unpopular. As you can imagine, I was too much of an avis rara.

    But I've always had a Pied Piper quality that masqueraded as a kind of popularity growing up.

    That's what I would wish for my kids, too, rather than outright popularity.

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Mon Dec 05, 01:24:00 pm GMT-5  

  • Well, given that I was a "pickee" all the way through school, until college, I'm not so sanguine about the popular thing.

    Sure, I'd like my kid to popular--who doesn't want better for his or her kid?

    I just don't want it to be at the expense of more enduring values.

    But if he does turn out to be popular but lacks appropriate compassion for the pickees of the world, I might just have to take him out (having brought him into the world, and all that).

    By Blogger reader_iam, at Mon Dec 05, 06:10:00 pm GMT-5  

  • Ah si? I've never heard that expression! Excellent.
    "Refined wood"?

    Mostly used in describing "high end" furniture. Fina can also mean classy.

    And yes, I think my Mom's injections of self esteem, were a major reason for all my successes.

    By Blogger Jose Aguirre, at Mon Dec 05, 06:12:00 pm GMT-5  

  • Victoria, I've thought about your post on and off all day...there are many things in it! The main line of thought I kept coming back to concerned the distinction between the what and the how of self-knowledge. We are very concerned about the what, but we are not concerned enough with the how! Perhaps we think positive intentions, by themselves, excuse how we learn, but I don't that is honest enough to stand inspection. People are concerned about over-confidence, but not with over-humility! Perhaps we are fearful of the idea that people need different ways of getting their inner self-confidence out, and mere happy thoughts are insufficient. It seems that people don't realize how much feelings need work and honing just like the rational faculties do to achieve their greatest realization....


    hmmm...I'm trying to say a lot here, and it's because the post gave me lots of ideas! Forgive the above rambling, but I'll leave it there for honesty's sake!

    Instead, be wary of those who have no self-confidence, and who have an inferiority complex because of it. This idea in particular I thought was insightful.

    More thoughts as my brain manufactures them!

    By Blogger Ron, at Mon Dec 05, 11:42:00 pm GMT-5  

  • I'm still thinking of what you're thinking in future, Ron.

    I'll get back to you later in the day, after the Champions League matches. ;)

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Tue Dec 06, 01:01:00 pm GMT-5  

  • I was just remembering how cruel children were back in elementary school. How did any of those kids survive?

    Whats interesting is that the kids who bullied probably had the least self confidence and did poorly in school.

    I'd be happy if my child is confident enough to be themsleves.

    By Blogger Renato, at Tue Dec 06, 04:27:00 pm GMT-5  

  • Responding belatedly to Reader_Iam:

    Well, given that I was a "pickee" all the way through school, until college, I'm not so sanguine about the popular thing.

    Until college?? You mean, even during Senior High?

    That to me, sounds like you were either too brainy (as your nick implies) or too unwilling to change your ways, to suit whatever the popular crowd wanted you to be.

    I was bullied too. Until about age 13 -- 3 years into my boarding school life.

    At first, it was bad, but things which may not at first appear bad to bystanders.

    Like apple pie beds, and wet towels in my sheets. But there was the threat of physical intimidation always -- which is every bit as bad as the real thing.

    I dare not ask too much, but anything you'd like to share, R_I?

    Sure, I'd like my kid to popular--who doesn't want better for his or her kid?

    See, the reaction of every parent is this -- they'd much rather an popular kid, not all of whom are bad, by any means, but often are not kind.

    I just don't want it to be at the expense of more enduring values.

    Right.

    But if he does turn out to be popular but lacks appropriate compassion for the pickees of the world, I might just have to take him out (having brought him into the world, and all that).

    Just take him or her "out to the woodshed" instead! ;)

    P.S.: I too would absolutely hate it if any of my own turned out to be bullies. I think that comes out of frustration and low self-esteem, more than anything, and I hope not to inculcate into my child those attributes. You know what my dad did? He forcefed me compassion, by making me volunteer in his clinic every summer. I learnt about suffering first-hand...I was never the same.

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Tue Dec 06, 11:42:00 pm GMT-5  

  • Victoria, I've thought about your post on and off all day...there are many things in it!

    An awesome compliment. Thanks Ron. :)

    I must say, I've had a very positive private reaction to this post.

    My "original" posts, not the ones based on research, or politics, are always the ones which get that reaction most, I think.

    Vide, "Why are we Afraid of Benedict XVI?".

    The main line of thought I kept coming back to concerned the distinction between the what and the how of self-knowledge. We are very concerned about the what, but we are not concerned enough with the how!

    Hmm, yes. Stellar point.

    Perhaps we think positive intentions, by themselves, excuse how we learn, but I don't that is honest enough to stand inspection. People are concerned about over-confidence, but not with over-humility!

    Extremely insightful.

    "Over-humility".

    Fortunately, my mother always taught me that the overly humble are either too good to be true, or martyrs, and she wanted neither for me.

    Neither a boast, nor a masochist be.

    Perhaps we are fearful of the idea that people need different ways of getting their inner self-confidence out, and mere happy thoughts are insufficient.

    Hmm. Care to expound a little on this?

    It seems that people don't realize how much feelings need work and honing just like the rational faculties do to achieve their greatest realization....

    This despite that since the 70s, we have virtually fallen into a cesspool of self-help.

    But yes, I agree.

    People aren't hyper self-aware. They are just hyper.

    hmmm...I'm trying to say a lot here, and it's because the post gave me lots of ideas! Forgive the above rambling, but I'll leave it there for honesty's sake!

    No, no! Never apologise for "rambling".

    Why, I have a whole blog on it! ;)

    Thanks so much for your considered reply.

    I noticed one notable absence from this thread by a Sundries reader. I hope he liked the piece anyway.

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Tue Dec 06, 11:48:00 pm GMT-5  

  • I was just remembering how cruel children were back in elementary school. How did any of those kids survive?

    I don't know how it was with your classmates, but I and others survived by a particular quirk of the British independent boarding school system:

    You know that eventually, you will be older, and get to lord it over others.

    This creates a system of expectation, but also entitlement, which goes a long way to explaining our rigid class structure.

    No one wants to rock the boat, unduly, because if you do, you don't get your turn at bat.

    Whats interesting is that the kids who bullied probably had the least self confidence and did poorly in school.

    Absolutely.

    I think I have never met a bully, female in my case, who weren't at least partly like that.

    I'd be happy if my child is confident enough to be themsleves.

    Yes. But the more I grow older, the more I realise those with enough (what my mother calls) "personality", are very rare people indeed.

    And don't think I'm so bluff all the time.

    Of course, I have my moments of self-doubt. I'd be lying if I said otherwise.

    But the difference is that I can feel a core of iron inside me, that sustains me from I don't know where...

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Tue Dec 06, 11:52:00 pm GMT-5  

  • I thought this evening that perhaps what we are discussing is somewhat Aristotilian, from the Nicomachean Ethics! The "Great-Souled" view humility and arrogance as being one and the same; what the Great-Souled want is to know who they truly are. and are unconcerned with appearance...Is this helpful?

    By Blogger Ron, at Wed Dec 07, 11:18:00 pm GMT-5  

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