The impulse to self-love vs. the impulse to self-hatred

A person who is gently loved growing up matures into an adult who loves herself.  This is not the shallow self-love of the insecure egotist, it is a grounding in love that includes the self.  A person subjected to cruelty, brutality, disinterest, develops self-hatred, blames itself for the meanness it has experienced from others.  The person with love in her heart will be inclined to have a generous spirit.   The one who hates himself tends to hoard the things he holds dear, and, in bad cases, becomes an abusive person. [1]

A trait of self-love is an inclination to comfort others.   A loving person naturally helps, is protective of anyone who is suffering.   A person who has known only negativity and bitterness will be challenged to give freely of themselves.   Self-hatred hardens the heart against what each of us really needs, and, in the end, self-hatred kills.  

We live among millions of penitent monks, dragging and bearing heavy weights, living lives of unconscious penance for things they should have long ago forgiven.

I realized at one point that teachers and fellow humans break down into Encouragers and Discouragers.   It was an illuminating moment in my progress as a teacher to look at these two qualities directly.  You want a teacher who lights a spark of curiosity and fun, a sense of shared adventure rather than one who grimly gets down to business, performing a business transaction, expecting little in return.  This is not to say a teacher should never criticize, but should always lean toward doing it in a way that won’t harden the heart of the student.

Think of the best teachers you had, they gave you the confidence to learn a challenging thing, made the learning a shared adventure.   An encourager has natural enthusiasm, love of the thing they teach, likes to collaborate, gets pleasure watching progress, the development of a skill.   The openness of the encourager ensures that the interaction is play, never dull, unrewarded work.  The fun of doing and mastering the thing is the encourager’s greatest tool.  The genuine joy in the encourager actually gives courage to the timid and hesitant.

The discourager, a dogged realist, will always tell you the brutal truth, no matter what.  The discourager speaks with the voice of the rest of the world: what you most dream of doing is stupid, ill-conceived, far-fetched, preemptively doomed to failure.   The discourager has already been defeated, tried what you are attempting, is much better at it than you, and failed in spite of starting with much, much greater odds of success than you will ever have. The unrealistic wishfulness of what you are proposing, says the discourager, is just another example of your neurotic terror of life, your rigid refusal to see the world as it actually is.  Your giddy dream is just another gruesome illustration of the fact that you are, objectively, a complete loser.  

The discourager has a thousand such ready remarks, instantly popping up, since he speaks in a popular voice.  It is much easier to break a complex thing apart than to conceive, design and build it.   The discourager has the advantages of being often right in his foreboding predictions, many ideas fail out in the world, and echoing a voice already implanted in most people’s heads, the internalized victimizer.   The discourager always confirms the worst and immediately endorses your deepest fears.  

The encourager is glad to see you, happy to be spending time with you, eager to interact.  It is not merely a guitar lesson, it’s a chance to discuss the deepest matters of life philosophy.   What does it tell us about life that you can play a grooving bass line or even a solo with just one note?   The trick is to play the right note, to play it with an easy sense of time, keep it even, place it cleverly against the beat, as part of a swinging arrangement.   The encourager and the rest of the band can play many parts and arrangements against that single note.  The creative possibilities for each additional track are virtually endless.    

A discourager will remind you that less than 0.01% of all people who play a musical instrument ever become huge music stars.  For every Brittney Spears there are a thousand Friedmans and Speeds, talented, sophisticated, unique musicians, at one point energetically composing, arranging and performing beautiful music that nobody will ever hear.    Most musicians, the discourager is quick to point out, give up their instruments eventually, after their dreams of becoming rock stars die.  The stink of a failed dream will always attach itself to playing music for most people who picked up an instrument for the love of music many years earlier and dreamt of musical glory, the discourager adds.    

An encourager would hand you a guitar, or a hand drum or percussion instrument, perhaps offer you a hit, to remind you of your original love of music.   Somebody could hammer a low E note on the guitar, like a bass, and then someone overlays a rhythm lick over that, now a keyboard, with a low, thick, soft sound, a pleasing note  perfectly in the mix in that same space in each bar.   Each instrument could be playing only one or two notes, forming all the harmonies to suggest melodies.  The possibilities for the person improvising the next track are literally endless.  

A discourager would point out that in all of your long guitar and piano playing life, you had only one gig, unpaid, and that your only audition, for a wedding band in Sheepshead Bay, went disastrously.

The encourager would add:  for successful collaboration, everybody in the group should learn to be an encourager, or at least learn not discourage creativity by word or attitude.  Encouragers are the only good collaborators, really, since collaboration without mutual enthusiasm is a recipe for trouble. Invention requires risk and some of the best ideas start off as the most outlandish.  Going with a ridiculous idea is the only way to see where it might take you.   Inspired melodies often started off as ridiculous improvisations.

For the love of your fellow creatures, stay open to the impulse to create.  

When you forget to stay open to creative ideas, to being playful, you begin to die.   Death is a process that, once begun with any real determination, there is no turning back from. 

The future is a brightly colored wheel of fortune against the beautiful gradient of blue and green between sky and ocean.   Every pleasure you will ever feel, every connection, every great satisfaction, every discovery, are in that future.  There is every reason to be encouraged, if you love your life.  

If you dislike your life — be encouraged.  It is a wake up bell:  live a life worth living.

Pay no attention to the words of unhappy people who carp and cavil, barking out a hundred reasons why your expectation of happiness is stupid and unrealistic.  Seriously, yo, pay no attention to those sad souls.   Keep love of yourself and the things you love in your heart, it will keep your steps light and those around you less morose.

Be not discouraged by the words of those who tell you the lie that you are already doomed.  Their doom is not your doom. 



[1]  Note fucked up attempt to use non-sexist pronouns.  In enlightened law schools twenty years ago they taught us to use the feminine pronoun instead of the ubiquitous he, him and his of standard English.  Instead of “a person himself” we were encouraged to use “a person herself” (pretend you can picture a sentence where that phrase would be used).  It was a good idea, an important one, even, but in practice, well… you see how awkward it is to write that way.  You can see how awkward that is, right, girls?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s