“As we love ourselves, so shall we love others.” — H. S. Sullivan
John Vasconcellos, who was a California legislator from Silicon Valley for 38 years, left us on May 24, a few days after his 82nd birthday. According to an article in the Mercury News – written by David E. Early — he was a “thunderous Capitol presence” and a “hard-charging, idealistic liberal.” (My kind of guy).
I remember him most for his 1986 “California Taskforce to Promote Self-Esteem and Personal and Social Responsibility” for which he was conveniently misunderstood by those to whom the term “self-esteem” was threatening. He is quoted as saying, “People are basically decent — and given the right kinds of recognition, nurturance, love and support — will live in constructive ways.”
That same year I attended a self-esteem workshop at which he spoke and, as a result, was motivated to write several columns about how healthy self-esteem is misunderstood by many people and offering many examples and opinions from others who had written on the subject. The following is one of the columns. I present it here as a tribute to Mr. Vasconcellos.
I love idealists like Assemblyman John Vasconcellos. The dream of a better way is essential, especially when it comes to social problems. Hearing a state assemblyman pose such views is extremely refreshing. It is only the gigantic proportions of his proposal to build the self-esteem of the members of our society to help prevent such things as crime and alcohol and drug abuse that discourage those who are honest enough to admit that he is on the right track.
Then there are other groups who will shoot all kinds of giant holes in his idealistic vision. First, there are the pragmatists among us who believe that such an effort could never be workable. They point out that such groups as Alcoholics Anonymous and drug abuse programs can serve the purpose. But that is locking the barn door after the horse is out. The idea is to work on the source of the problems and help people feel good about themselves so they don’t become involved in self-destructive behavior.
Others believe that upsetting the status quo, no matter how unproductive it may be, might be something like opening Pandora’s box. Should such a dream come true, they fear, the economy would collapse, those in power would lose their reason for being, and there would be little need for education and religion as they are today.
The third group is those who cannot even begin to comprehend that if the basic goodness of human beings were enhanced by a feeling of self-worth, they would be able to lead a life of honesty, decency and responsibility. These types believe that more and stronger authoritarian methods are the only answer.
The virtual impossibility of such a program working stems from very deep in the structure of our society. Our institutions are dependent on the fact that most people do not think for themselves and spend most of their time playing roles established for them by someone else.
Should the majority of us develop self-esteem, a whole new system would have to evolve. Corporate interests would be based on human needs. Love, peace and integrity would be the natural order of things. Few human beings would suffer from loneliness and isolation. Joy would be more evident than despair. Ah, utopia!
How sad that an attribute as basic to health and happiness of the individual as healthy self-esteem would be such a monumental feat to accomplish. How wonderful it is that there are people like John Vasconcellos who are still trying.
In case you still are not sure just what healthy self-esteem is, I offer part of the definition from the California Task Force. “Self-esteem is the kind of pride that arises from healthy self-regard, based on a realistic grasp of my own strengths and weaknesses. It’s not the same as ‘false pride’ or pseudo self-esteem, an all too common condition in which vanity and arrogance overshadow a person’s true self and identity, masking shame at myself. ... As I come to a fuller appreciation of my own worth, I grow confidence in my sense of adequacy and in my actual capability to live responsibly and effectively. This personal growth contributes to an emotional and spiritual warmth which becomes part of my sense of self and my relationships with others.”
Since 1984, Dorothy Dimitre has written more than 750 columns for various local newspapers. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.