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Learning the Art of Self-Respect

Respect emerges from within. The wanton disrespect we sometimes show toward things and others is really just a manifestation of our lack of self-respect. When I do not respect myself for who I am, how can I respect you for who you are? When I don’t feel worthy, I feel compelled to make you feel unworthy, or make you make me feel worthy. When I lack self-respect, I inevitably crave respect from others, becoming either the tyrant who commands people to look up to him, or the whining child who constantly complains that he is not getting enough attention.

How to cultivate self-respect

Self-respect grows by striving to do all that we explore when we live our Yoga: graciously living our dharma with feeling, attentively manifesting the wisdom that waits within, and cheerfully living with integrity in response to the truth of each moment. Even if we don’t often succeed, we being to value our life and realize we are worthy of our own respect.

Cultivating self-respect is largely internal work, a process of exploring and transforming our lack of respect. We must look inside ourselves and honestly search for what is unkind and rude. We then must ask: Why do I feel unworthy enough to be unkind, disrespected enough to be rude? How can I transform these feelings rather than merely suppress them? By asking such questions sincerely, and then humbly listening to our own intuition, we will be guided toward transformation.

Respect is a mirror

Though the work of building self-respect is from the inside out, it is also from the outside in. As we find ways to respect other people and things, we simultaneously find more ways of respecting our own selves.

As we learn to respect who we are, others will instinctively respect us. However, the moment we become egoistic, their respect will fade, for they will only see the ego working overtime. Self-respect is naturally imbued with humility.

The difference between self-respect and egoism

Respecting one’s self, then, is not the same as thinking of oneself first. Respect for self should not be confused with self-serving hedonism and careless self absorption — “doing whatever I want to do.” That is bondage disguised as freedom. Respect is actually the opposite. When I am respectful, I am present and fully aware of what effect I am having on others. With such awareness, we cannot have ego, and vice versa. It is only when we don’t know our true selves that the demands or our ego override sensitivity toward others. One who doesn’t know himself thinks of himself; one who truly knows himself thinks of everyone. It takes enormous self-respect to humbly and genuinely bow before another.

This article was first published on purnayoga.com, and is reposted with permission from the author.

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