People-Rating: Are you living down to your label?
People-rating is like judging a book by its cover. Let us say the rating is directed at yourself. You start by evaluating one of your personal traits: how you look, what you are like at sports or study, how you do as a worker or parent. Or you focus on something you have done - a behaviour.
You then rate (evaluate) the trait or behaviour concerned. You decide whether it is worthwhile or has value. So far so good. If you stopped there, you would have no problem.
But, like most people, you probably go a big step further and expand the rating of that one trait or behaviour into a rating of your 'total self'. You end up saying things like:
It's as though, in some magical way, one part of a person becomes the total person.
This does not make sense. People are mixtures of positive and negative traits. But a single rating of your 'total self' suggests that the rating applies to all of your many traits and behaviours. Not only is this an overgeneralisation, but you can never know every one of a given person's characteristics and actions anyway. People-rating, too, implies that someone has always been this way and always will be - but, in reality, people are always changing.
People-rating also implies that there is a universally accepted guideline for judging the worth of people. To rate yourself as, say, a 'good' or 'bad' person, suggests that you have some kind of standard of what is a good or bad person to which you can compare yourself. But there is no such standard with which everyone would agree. The standards which do exist for judging people and their characteristics change between different periods and differ between social groups. People who behave aggressively for instance, may be defined as 'courageous people' in wartime - but in periods of peace regarded as 'violent criminals'.
Note, too, that people-rating is based on the irrational process of demanding. If you are comparing yourself with some kind of standard, this says that you believe you should, somehow, be living up to that standard. In other words, you are operating on some kind of 'universal law of human behaviour'. But where does this universal law come from? Your own head!
Unfortunately, most of us engage in self-rating to some extent. You are probably doing it when:
What is the solution to self-rating? One common one offered is the suggestion that we develop 'self-esteem' This is a popular idea. To achieve 'self-esteem', we are encouraged to try and see ourselves as having 'value' or 'worth'; to add up our good points and see for ourselves we do have 'value'. We are also told that human beings are naturally 'worthwhile'. Quite how we happen to have such intrinsic worth is never spelt out. It just seems to 'be there'.
Unfortunately, this conventional approach simply reinforces the tendency to self-rate. It creates the demanding belief that to be happy we must be 'worthy'. This may work for us if we have many talents and few flaws - and a constant ability to think positively. But how many of us are in this class?
A better way: self-acceptance
There is a better solution: dispense with the idea of self-esteem altogether! Forget about having a 'self-image'. Give up the notion of liking or disliking your 'self'.
You do not need to worry about whether you are worthwhile - because 'worth' and 'value' are ideas that do not apply to human beings.
Sounds a bit radical? Let us take a closer look. What I am saying is: do not rate yourself at all - even in a positive direction. Instead, accept yourself.
Self-acceptance is the opposite of self-rating. It is unconditional. You accept your entire self (flaws and all) as you are now - even if there are things you'd like to change.
To accept yourself is to acknowledge three things - (1) you exist, (2) there is no reason you should be any different to how you are, and (3) you are neither worthy nor unworthy.
Like it or not, you exist as you are - with all your present traits, both good and bad. You know, too, that you have acted in certain ways in the past. To acknowledge these facts is to recognise reality (as opposed to demanding that reality be different).
There is no law of the universe which says you should be different to how you are. You may not like some of your present traits and tendencies. You might not feel comfortable with things you have done in the past. You might want to do something to change the way you are (and perhaps plan to). Acceptance simply means that you avoid demanding that the present you (or your past actions) not exist.
Rate Your Behaviour Rather Than Yourself.
'Sounds great,' you say. 'But if I accept rather than rate myself, won't this stop me ever doing anything to improve?' Not at all. Rather than rate your total self, you can rate your various traits, behaviours, and potentials.
In other words, instead of wasting precious time and energy brooding over how 'worthwhile' you are, get on with deciding which parts of yourself you could usefully change or improve on.
Maybe you would like to improve your physical health, to achieve your goal of living longer. Great idea - but you do not have to label yourself as 'unfit' or 'weak'. You can develop your vocabulary without calling yourself a 'useless communicator'. You can admit your marriage is failing, but without thinking this makes you a 'failure'. You can acknowledge that although you sometimes do bastardly things, this does not make you a 'bastard'.
Value Your Existence.
If you are prepared to rate specific tendencies and actions, then you will be able to see whether they help you achieve an existence which is worthwhile or valuable to you. In the end, is it not the quality of your existence that matters?
So value your existence rather than your 'self'. You can recognise you exist without putting any rating at all on yourself. You are neither good nor bad, worthy or unworthy, useful or useless. You just exist. Put your energy into maximising the quality of that existence.
This will aid your total happiness much more than debating whether you have 'value' or 'worth' as a person.
People-Rating or Behaviour-Rating?
Making the switch means changing what you tell yourself. Compare the lists below:
Notice that the people-rating statements include 'I am', 'you are', or 'he/she is'. These expressions are cues that you are rating the entire person. They imply, too, that the person always has been, and always will be, what the label says they are. Rating your behaviour, on the other hand, shows that you can change in specific ways (if you choose) to improve your existence.
Making the change
Let us summarise what self-acceptance involves:
Unfortunately, self-acceptance is easier to describe than to practice. Self-rating will be a habit for most of us. We also live in a world where people-rating is the norm, so others are unlikely to help us change. But it's not impossible. Here are some strategies which will help:
If the idea of living without self-rating still seems radical, you are not alone. Most people probably subscribe to the idea that to be happy you have to see yourself as 'worthwhile'. For a moment, though, put aside conventional thinking. Look closely at those high-sounding words: 'human worth' and 'value'. They are, in reality, nothing more than that: words - ideas that exist in our heads. Whether we apply these ideas to human beings is a matter of choice.