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Review of Self-Esteem without Selfishness: Increasing Our Capacity for Love

By Alice Trimmer

Self-doubt, self-acceptance, self-esteem, self-loathingit is essential to have a good relationship with oneself in order to function well in life and to establish healthy relationships with others. But how does one develop self-esteem without going overboard and becoming an egoist? This is the question that is exhaustively explored in Michel Esparza’s book Self-Esteem without Selfishness, published in Spain in 2010, and recently made available in an excellent English translation by Devra Torres (Scepter Press, 2013).

This topic will be familiar to devotees of self-help books, but Esparaza’s solution is no quick fix. Esperza describes the balance between arrogance and the kind of false humility that saps initiative as “humble self-esteem,” and he makes it clear that the effort to achieve this balance is one that necessarily has to last a lifetime.

The book is divided into two parts:  Part 1 “Pride and Its Difficulties” explores the twisted nature of the situations we can get into through a misunderstanding of how to view ourselves. Part 2 “Towards a Definitive Solution” sets out in depth a way to develop “humble self-esteem” and in the process, enjoy a happy life. Esparza is a Catholic priest, so it is no surprise that his solution involves a deep spiritual journey. He also holds a medical degree and thus is well equipped to explore his topic from a wide variety of perspectives: physical, psychological, and emotional. One of the pleasures of the book is the wealth of quotations from literature and philosophy that he employs to illustrate his points. Although this book is written from a Catholic perspective, the author approaches his topic in a way that people of all faiths can understand, and all can certainly benefit from the insights offered. 

The subtitle of the book, “Increasing our Capacity for Love” gives a clue to the basic premisethat a rightly ordered love of self is the first step in enabling ourselves to give to others, whether in a romantic relationship or through the love of friendship. Drawing on classical philosophy, Esparza gives a lucid account of the different kinds of love as well as tips on how to navigate one’s way toward self-giving. His insights on the differences in communication styles between men and women, and the connection that these differences have with needs, understanding, and trust, are clear and incisive, and can be profitably employed in the workplace as well as in family life.

The search for the right kind of self-esteem is of particular interest to young people, as they seek to answer the question “What kind of person do I want to be?” At Rosedale, the educational center in the Bronx where I work, the Program Directors used excerpts from Chapter 1 as part of our fall volunteer training. Both the high school and college students found it refreshing, understandable, and engaging, and the readings led to many fruitful discussions.

Alice Trimmer is on the Board at Murray Hill Institute and is the Director of Rosedale Center for Girls in the Bronx.


Developing a Voice Through Assertiveness

Jenny Chen

By Jenny Chen

Recently, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella enraged the public by saying that women should not ask for raises, but let faith dictate their compensation. Though controversial, his statement serves as a wake-up call to the community that women clearly do not enjoy the same rights as men and more needs to be done to promote gender equality in the workplace. A previous Carnegie Mellon study on graduates with a master’s degree shows that despite a growing number of women graduating from college, women still make on average 7.6% less than men, in part due to their fear of speaking up. As I have learned from the MHI mentoring program, effective communication, especially assertiveness, is key to developing a voice and building a successful and fulfilling career. As a young, professional Asian woman working in a competitive, predominantly male industry, learning to communicate assertively has been a difficult, but necessary, challenge. A person with my profile is generally expected to obey authority, be polite, accommodating, and non-aggressive. While assertiveness is often confused with aggressiveness, the two differ greatly. Communicating assertively is neither forceful nor confrontational, but rather, direct, honest and respectful with the goal of a win-win outcome. Specifically, being assertive means actively managing my job rather than passively accepting all tasks which eventually result in excessive stress, burn out, and overall dissatisfaction with my work life.

To better manage my workload and my peers, I began to express my preferences, opinions and needs. I started speaking up during meetings, better setting expectations, and actively negotiating workload among my colleagues that had availability. Speaking up has opened up a communication channel between me and my team, and as a result, not only am I more relieved but my entire team is more successful.

While I still work the occasional late night and weekend, I am more prepared for them and feel better knowing that I actively participated in the dialogue. Part of the process was understanding myself and acknowledging my needs and limitations, as well as developing confidence and self-esteem to stand up for what matters. This also meant relinquishing the guilt of being selfish and not accommodating everybody's requests. To my surprise, my colleagues did not reject or criticize my needs, but rather, took them seriously and found the feedback to be valuable. I am humbled by their understanding, and realize that voicing my opinions and concerns is not about going against authority, but about promoting effectiveness on the job, a healthy work-life balance, and mutually beneficial relationships with my colleagues. A day after making his statement, Nadella recanted his words, and said that women should ask for raises. Whether sincere or not, statements like these help spark dialogue in the community and are beneficial for women as we continue to find our voice in the workplace. Furthermore, programs like the ones Murray Hill Institute offers will continue to equip women with the skills needed to better close the inequality gap. As long as we continue to forge ahead assertively and with greater confidence, we will continue to strengthen our relationships with our male counterparts and work towards gender equality for the well-being of all.

Jenny Chen is a diversified industries corporate banker.