Self Respect And Stoicism

Joan Didion’s essay “On Self Respect” explores the importance of self-respect in one’s life and how it can be cultivated and maintained.

At the core of Didion’s argument is that self-respect is essential for a fulfilling life and that our actions inform our sense of inner well-being. She writes, “Self-respect is a discipline, a habit of mind that can never be faked but can be developed, trained, coaxed forth.” 

Self-respect, as conceptualized by Didion, differs from our current understanding of “self-worth” in multiple ways. For Didion, one must take responsibility for their own actions, emotions, and decisions. Self-respect is earned, not given: 

“To live without self-respect is to lie awake some night, beyond the reach of warm milk, and the sleeping hand on the coverlet, counting up the sins of commissions and omission, the trusts betrayed, the promises subtly broken, the gifts irrevocably wasted through sloth or cowardice, or carelessness.”

This idea of actively growing self-respect is echoed in the teachings of the Stoics. The Stoics believed that the key to living a virtuous life was to focus on what one can control and to let go of what one cannot control. They also believed that one’s inner state of mind was more important than external circumstances.

Stoic philosopher Seneca wrote: “The mind that is anxious about future events is miserable.” This statement echoes Didion’s argument that self-respect is essential for a fulfilling life, and those that lack self-respect tend to be anxious and uncertain about their own worth.

This concept of self-respect may differ slightly in meaning to Didion and the Stoic philosophers but it is central to their writings. Both Didion and the Stoics recognize that self-respect is essential for a fulfilling life and that it can be cultivated through inner discipline and focus on what one can control. 

Self-respect is simply doing the right thing in any given set of circumstances. The fruits of the actions we cannot control but our actions are always up to us.

Ask yourself this: am I earning my own self-respect through my actions? Remember it is self-respect for a reason. It only requires looking inwardly thoroughly and honestly, regardless of what others may or may not say.