Monday, June 27, 2016

I am not a good scholar, I am not a bad scholar

The old Al Frankin/ Stuart Smalley skit. "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me."

You feel bad about yourself in some fundamental way. You judge your writing, your teaching, some essential aspects of your personality, or how productive you have (or have not) been.

The SNL skit parodies a frequently prescribed intervention for such thinking: positive affirmations.

And while positive affirmations are certainly better than negative self-appraisals, they are problematic in that the cognitive habit of rating oneself will perpetuate itself as an option: if you can rate yourself as excellent, good, or good enough, you can rate yourself as horrible, awful, and worthless.

The solution is learning to refuse to rate your essential worth. This is often hard for scholars; we have learned, during a lifetime spent in schools, to rate and evaluate everything we do, to compare ourselves to others at all times, in all ways.

"So, Rich, let me understand this," you say as you squirm in your chair (yes, setting up my own strawman fallacy here, bare with me).

"How am I going to improve as a writer and publish more if I accept myself myself totally," you challenge.

I am glad you asked :).

Engaging in radical self-acceptance does not mean that we don't work to improve, or develop our skills. When we learn to not rate ourselves, we tend to be less defensive about improving ourselves and improving our work. We learn to accept our flaws without feeling flawed.

If we develop a philosophy of total self acceptance, we can also more effectively stay in process and work on our craft as fully as we can. Since my work having flaws and not being perfect is just a part of life, and not suggestive of my worth, I can improve and grow without feeling bad about what I have yet to achieve. 

As one of my clients says, crazy talk Rich. This is crazy talk.

For the next few posts, I am going to explore this notion radical self acceptance in a bit more depth. It is really, really important.

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