Living With Ourselves
Each of us lives with a wonderful person - ourselves! Every one of us is unique and valuable with something special to contribute to the world. Yet sometimes we may forget how wonderful we really are, and put ourselves down. That is what happened in this week's Torah portion, when the group that Moses had sent to scout out the Land of Israel came back with their report. The spies said, "Compared to the people living in the land, we were like grasshoppers in our eyes and in theirs." The spies had lost their self-confidence, and their negative report made the rest of the Jewish people panic and delay moving into the Land of Israel. This ultimately led to many misfortunes. We learn from here the value of maintaining a healthy sense of self-confidence and good feelings about ourselves.
In our story a boy discovers the value of self-confidence.
"I know that answer," thought Alan Kline, as he peered at the algebra problem that Mr. Greenbaum, his new math teacher had written on the board.
He was about to shoot his hand up with the answer when the little voice spoke up inside his head, "Don't say the answer! You might be wrong after all, and everyone will laugh at you."
The boy decided to remain silent, and he watched his classmates try to answer the question until finally someone came up with the right answer that Alan had known all along. The boy spent the rest of the class in silence, like he usually did.
Everyone thought Alan was a quiet, shy boy. In fact he was so quiet that some of his classmates weren't even sure if he knew how to speak.
The recess bell rang and the kids ran out to the playground to play dodge ball. Alan, as usual, sat on the side on one of the benches and watched. It looked like a lot of fun to Alan, and he even once or twice considered joining in. But he would always stop himself, thinking, "Oh, I'll probably just make a fool out of myself. So why bother?"
The boy picked up the book he had brought along and started to read. It wasn't very interesting, but what else was there to do? Suddenly he was startled as an adult sat down next to him. It was Mr. Greenbaum, his teacher.
"Hi Alan, okay if I join you?"
Alan was at a loss for words and merely nodded his head. The boy started to panic - maybe he had done something wrong? But the teacher's warm smile, and calm demeanor soon put him at ease.
Looking out toward the dodge ball game in progress, Mr. Greenbaum turned to Alan and said, "The kids look like they're really into it today, huh?" Alan readily agreed. "How come you're not out there playing?"
Alan shrugged. "I'm not as good as those guys. I'd probably just mess up and drop the ball or something."
"I see," the teacher said thoughtfully. "But..." he added, "It seems to me that if you did drop the ball, you would be just like everyone else. Here, take a good look Alan," he said, pointing at the field. Alan watched the game closely. Sure enough it seemed that at almost every other turn someone was either dropping the ball, over-throwing, or making some other kind of mistake. And most interesting of all, he noted, nobody was laughing at him.
The teacher smiled at Alan. "As you can see, even though they make a lot of mistakes, those guys are still out there trying, and having fun. The same thing happens in class. Over half the time that someone answers one of my questions he gets it wrong. But it doesn't stop him from trying, does it?"
Alan shook his head.
"And it doesn't have to stop you either. I can see from your test results that you are one of the better students in the class. Just believe in yourself, don't be afraid of mistakes, and you will do just fine!"
Mr. Greenbaum's words made Alan feel good. And he had to admit the teacher was right. The other kids in his class really weren't so much better than him. Not at sports, and certainly not in algebra. The boy took his teacher's words to heart, and soon he found himself beginning to participate both in the playground and in the classroom. His friends were pleasantly surprised to realize that the quiet boy really did have something valuable to say, even though Alan knew it all along.
Q. How did Alan feel when he first saw the kids playing ball?
A. He felt like he wanted to play, but he didn't because he was afraid that he couldn't play as well as the others.
Q. How did he feel after he spoke with his teacher?
A. He felt like he was really just like everyone else, and it would be okay for him to play too.
Q. How does the way we look at ourselves affect the way that others look at us?
A. A person's self-image has a big impact on how he behaves. Someone who thinks well of himself will be more courageous, confident, and friendly to those around him. It is only natural that other people will respond to someone like that more positively as well.
Q. Why do you think that Alan's teacher went out of his way to point out to him that the other kids playing ball were also making mistakes?
A. Many times when a person lacks confidence, he can come to believe that he is really different, and worse than everyone else. By pointing out that the others weren't perfect either, the teacher helped Alan to feel better and realize that there wasn't anything unusual about him.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Let us suppose that Alan really was not as good a ball player or student as his classmates. In such a case would it be appropriate for Alan to have a poor opinion of himself?
A. While it is nice to have talents, ultimately they are not what we should be basing our self-image upon. It could very well be that Alan excelled in some other area such as kindness or sensitivity to others. But even without that, each of us, as children of God, has an inherent importance and special quality which we can always draw upon to feel good about ourselves.
Q. What is the difference between humility and low self-esteem?
A. Although they may appear similar on the surface, actually they are worlds apart. Humility is a positive trait which doesn't deny one's good points, it merely puts them in the proper perspective of realizing that they are God's gifts to us, and not a reason to put others down. Low self-esteem stems from an incorrect self-perception, wherein one fails to recognize the good points in himself, which everyone has. It is interesting to note that the people with the most genuine self-esteem will also invariably be the most humble as well.