May 272011

Individuals generally derive their identity based on the groups to which they belong. Sometimes group membership, when the group is seen negatively, causes the members to suffer low self-esteem. Consider the various groups to which you belong.  What instance(s) can you relate from your life in which membership in a certain group caused you to have low self-esteem?

Having someone criticize the community to which you belong does not have to direct your self-esteem. Your response is dependent on the nature of your own character, values, and worldview. Several times, I have found myself in groups that are regarded negatively. In each case, I have perceived my membership as either positive or neutral. In hindsight, having to face prejudice early, gave me the understanding that others may be wrong about me and that I can maintain dignity, self-respect, and peace of mind without the social support of the immediate majority.

Beginning in earliest childhood, I was part of a religious community that differed in many ways from the surrounding mainstream culture, such as celebrating different holidays. However, I was proud of my membership and differences and felt, at the time, that this made me distinctive and advantaged.

As an elementary school student, I was white in a predominately negro (politically correct in the early 1960s) neighborhood. I was the object of verbal and physical abuse by other (mostly high-school aged) children. I didn’t feel guilty or better about being white; it was simply the way things were. I believed that my persecutors were misguided in their hatred of me.

In middle school, I went from being taunted as “porky pig” to “bean pole” by growing about ten inches in two years while keeping the same 30-inch waistline. I didn’t like being called Porky Pig but don’t remember having low self-esteem because of it. By the time I was Bean Pole, I could clearly see how superficial and transitory such things are.

Being in the workforce as a young adult was more challenging without a college degree. I remember feeling disadvantaged and angry about being presumed to be incompetent in every new work situation. Nonetheless, I did not feel lower self-esteem by being initially identified as “blue collar.” I always worked especially hard to demonstrate my enthusiasm and abilities and to develop a reputation for being able to produce results. I ended up working directly with (and sometimes directing the work of) engineers, only for a much smaller salary.

I currently belong to a group that is often dismissed as “surly old bad-tempered curmudgeons” and am fond of quoting Groucho Marx’s “I won’t belong to any organization that would have me as a member.” I find that I am able to get away with saying and doing things in public that I would not have considered as a responsible younger man. This seems to increase, not suppress, my self-esteem. Life is good.

Copyright 2009, David Satterlee

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