By Professor Stephen Morrow – Columnist

I love words (and will get back to pets later). Seeing a new word when reading a book is an incredibly satisfying feeling for me.  Last night I learned the word “echolalia,” a tendency to repeat phrases said by others, particularly helpful to young children learning to speak. Saw it, learned it, and heard it pronounced on Google. Happy, and had made a new connection to other lives that this word plays a role in. And I thank the author Kristin Neff for teaching me and conversing in thought with me! The phenomena and effect of words in our lives is beyond comprehension! Games like Scrabble and Boggle persist in popular forms into our virtual game worlds. Short answers and essay answers always there in our testing. Saying the right thing at the right time in the right tone can change lives! Right Speech of the Buddhist’s 8-Fold Path goes to the core of how we treat others and treat ourselves.  Take 10 minutes to bring up Dr. King and just listen! Or maybe just as enlightening, take 10 seconds to listen to the chatter in your own mind and wonder, “Where did all that come from?”  

The researched numbers for Shakespeare’s word use are 31,534 words used in his writing, knowing another 35,000 for a grand total of 66,534 words in his active vocabulary.  We mere mortals? We do well with having above 10,000 words to use and to articulate meaning in our lives.  That’s a lot of thinking and talking over one’s experiences and thoughts and life regardless. 

I am after the meaning of two words in my thoughts with you today: self-esteem and self-worth. To help deepen your own understanding of these two words, but also to just express them as one example of how deeply our understanding of words move our lives this way or that, backwards or forwards, to happiness or not.  I hope they are words that you include in your own self-reflections and assessments from time to time.  You should. They drive whole industries and can drive personal behavior to great harms and to great successes. Two little words.

Professor Stephen Morrow (Courtesy Photo).

Self-esteem is the more apparent term we use in self-reflection and culture-building. How you feel about yourself, usually in comparison to others or to the (often unexamined) assumptions of cultural norms. Pretty, not pretty, smart, not smart, the right car/neighborhood/hair style/shoes/clothes/dog/earrings/friends/culinary experiences/job/music/on/on/and on.  If self-esteem high (positive), life good; if self-esteem (negative) low, life bad.  Seems a pretty simple way of gauging one’s life. But, oh, the shadow!  

How much damage and suffering we do to others expecting them to make-decisions or treat others based upon the measures and feelings of self-esteem.  The metaphysics here of self-esteem runs pretty much like this: I can feel better about myself the more I feel above others. There are exceptions, of course, to persons who overcome the constant back and forth of finding self-esteem trough comparison or cultural norms, but for me, they remain the exception proving the rule.

And self-worth? Sounds a worthy synonym for the word self-esteem, but, oh, the sunlight! Self-worth is the secret/magic word-and the great comedian Groucho Marx might agree with me that “you bet your life” on such a secret/magic word-at least it might have won you an extra 100 bucks on his game show😊. Self-worth is the true metaphysical ground we may stand on to go about the business of being an individual and being in the business of navigating one or more cultures all at the same time. No comparison, just a given: As a being, I am worthy and equal to other beings like me, and by the way, other beings not like me have the same worth and value of life and dignity. Period, end of discussion, defined, let’s move on and live life through self-worth.  The real action and the real light is in the word self-worth, not in the word self-esteem. Two words used so profoundly the same and two words so profoundly different in their lived effects. 

Let’s think pets.

I have great friends who are dog persons while I personally am a cat person- my motto: ”books. cats. life is sweet.” Our pet preference need not encroach upon our respect and valuing of each other. In a world of self-esteem, however, relationships get complicated. Superior dog breeds, degrading cat remarks, city park socializations, my pet doesn’t need a leash, yada, yada, yada. 

Self-worth? Dignity and value do not change or vary regardless of ownerships or preferences. We are in this together. Period. End of discussion, defined, let’s move on.  And the pets themselves. When your dog greets you at the front door, any judgement there? Of course not. Pure love and affection. Your cat who rubs up against you leg or just ignores for the fun of getting your attention? Just pure love and affection (kinda😊). Self-worth on all sides, no questions asked.

My oldest son raised leopard geckos when he was young. He loved those guys. And it was always fun going with him to Alligator Alley to get the geckos’ Saturday fixin’s of mealworms. Leopard geckos do not greet you at the door or rub up against your leg, but my son knew affection and love from the care of his geckos. Warm-blooded, cold-blooded, self-worth could care less; it is only a matter of being in the world in caring relationship. 

Can replacing the word “self-esteem” with “self-worth” cure the ills of the world? Pretty much, but that is a whole other discussion on the potentials of human consciousness. I will argue here that it can go a long way in your own life. Think grades. Self-esteem: an A, look at me! a C, should have done better, an F, how stupid am I! But self-worth: an A, I am so glad I have found a study that I love, a C, next time I will spend more time with the tutor or college resources in this subject, an F, OK, I just had to take care of my family needs first this time, or I have just discovered this field is not one that I find happiness from. Profound results occur from the use of our vocabulary.

May your vocabulary and your life effects always find friendship in self-reflection and self-respect. From there, life is your open book.

Professor Sigmund Morrow             Go Humanities! 

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