The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem by Nathaniel Branden

Nathaniel Branden was the single biggest figure of the self-esteem movement, and this book is hailed as his definitive masterpiece on the subject. He wrote several other books over a period of many years but this appears to be the “one to read”. I should note that this book seemed antithetic to notions like “everyone is beautiful” or “every child is a winner”. Branden clearly believes that authentic self-esteem begins with awareness of reality.

This work is seminal. After reading it I’ve realised that many other writers have directly borrowed or learned from this book. Especially in the world of self-help or mens’ dating advice. I believe that in cases like this, one gets much more out of reading the original than reading derivative works. It just seems to give you a better grounding because it has to build its case from the foundation up, fully justifying its arguments. It is designed to take you from a state of not knowing about self-esteem to a state of knowing about it, so it gives you more than just the sound bites.

The book takes a very foundational approach to self-esteem. There are no quick fixes. In many respects it is a book about basic virtues such as having integrity. Although this is only insofar as will improve self-esteem.

The book seemed highly reminiscent of Ayn Rand. And sure enough, it is revealed that the author was in a romantic relationship with Ayn Rand for many years.

It uses a psychological technique called sentence stems. Sentence stems involve completing certain unfinished sentences in rapid succession. Supposedly this will bypass the logical mind and hopefully challenge what we think we know. I liked that it had an exercise to practise, because it’s more powerful than simply reading something about your psychology.

The two components of self-esteem are self-respect and self-efficacy. All six of the pillars are geared towards improving these two components. Self-esteem is something that we evolved to have; it has survival and reproduction value.

The six pillars are:

1. The practice of living consciously. Self-esteem requires that we have an attitude of respecting and seeking to be more conscious of reality as it truly stands. No weak excuses, no kidding ourselves, no averting your thinking from painful truths, no trying to escape the present moment and certainly no lying to ourselves.

2. The practice of self-acceptance. If you don’t accept yourself then you effectively don’t have self-esteem. Self-acceptance has various meanings though; such as not “disowning” certain parts of yourself.

3. The practice of self-responsibility. This is about making the successful transition from dependent infancy to independent adulthood. Includes the physical, financial, psychological and whatever else.

4. The practice of self-assertiveness. People with self-esteem aren’t afraid to be assertive (whilst being contextually aware). Whereas low-self-esteem people are more likely to perceive it as risky, unjustified. Acting this way improves self-esteem and having self-esteem causes you to act this way.

5. The practice of living purposefully. Having a sense of purpose is important for humans. I imagine people without purpose as having a certain slave-like quality. Having a purpose that that is wisely chosen is great.

6. The practice of personal integrity. Living in harmony with what we believe or profess to value strengthens our self-esteem, seals up the leaks where we lose respect for ourselves. If we don’t live in accordance with our inner-held values then it creates dissonance and we begin to feel worse about who we are.

Philosophers’ Zone Podcast: Martin Buber and Pascal’s Wager

I’m a big fan of Ayn Rand’s two main novels: Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. In Atlas Shrugged, it’s revealed that Rand thought a person should study physics and philosophy. The heroes in her book studied philosophy, physics or both when they were in university. I’ve studied some basic physics but never much philosophy. So I decided to learn some philosophy (whatever that means) by listening to the podcast Philosopher’s zone.

I began with the oldest podcast they had, it was called: Jewish Philosophy: Martin Buber. “Martin Buber was born in pre-Nazi Austria and emigrated to Israel in 1938 where he spent much of the rest of his life. He grappled with Zionism, Jewish thought, secular philosophy and politics and the result is a body of thought very much based on relationships.”

I learned just as much about this man’s world view from his life story as from what his ideas were, probably more. One story was told of how his mother left him as a child and he couldn’t get her to turn around when she was leaving. This had a big impact on him and therefore his philosophy.

Another story told how a young man came to ask his advice one morning and he spoke to him for 30 minutes before work and advised him, but the very next day the young man killed himself. This was portrayed as an important factor in his “relational” sort of philosophy. The guest of the podcast explained how this caused an epiphany in Buber in which he saw the need to connect with things viscerally.

I don’t really I understand what exactly this philosophy is actually about. Can it all be reduced to a few essential quotes? If so then I don’t remember what the quotes were. It’s almost as if to write about it you need to have read or heard something other than the podcast.

Wikipedia says that he is best known for the philosophy of dialogue, a form of existentialism centred on the distinction between the I-Thou relationship and the I-It relationship. Apparently in philosophy there are two fundamental ways of relating to things in the world: I-Thou and I-It. The wikipedia definitions are very complicated and the podcast didn’t explain it well but essentially it’s the different between how we relate with a thing and an entity. Martin Buber founded this concept.

The second podcast I heard was: Pascal’s wager, betting on god. This was a lot more understandable to me. Basically Pascal who was a famous scientific mind became very religious later in life, Jansenism was his specific sect of Christianity. It was at this time that he described his famous wager, which would later be almost seminal to studies of probability, decision-making and more.

The premise is that there are only two possibilities: there is a God or there is not a God. We don’t really know exactly which is true. If there is a God (and Heaven and everything is true as well) then the best thing to do would be to live in compliance with religious principles so that we may get into heaven. This may involve a lot of abstaining from life’s pleasures but ultimately leads to eternal bliss.

On the other hand if there is no God then the best thing to do would be to live as best we can here. Since there is nothing to look forward to other than this life. However if we do everything we want to do and live an awesome life then we might not get into Heaven.

Thus we have a choice. Do we decide to live as if there is a vengeful God or as if there isn’t one. Pascal argued that it was always better to choose the possible eternal bliss. This is because it’s infinitely greater than the trade-off of a lifetime of religious adherence. If we choose pleasure in this life then that’s a much smaller payoff if we’re correct.

He said that even if there’s an infinitesimal chance of eternal life being true it would always be better to take that chance. I can see how mathematically this makes sense but it still doesn’t make me want to devote my life to religion. Perhaps that’s because I value life too highly?

The main argument to Pascal’s wager was that it was a false dichotomy. In truth we have a lot more than two choices. There are many religions and many variations of religions. The guest’s advise about what conclusions we could make was to think and research (and be wise about what you choose to think and research). I guess that’s pretty common for people that love learning and it seems almost intuitive to me, but I guess not everyone does it so maybe they could benefit much more greatly from this than me.

I believe that from listening and writing these concepts, a new understanding has formed in my brain which by itself is academic and not useful – but I feel that on the whole, it’s abstract conceptual purity has added to my wisdom in general. It may be best to start learning earlier philosophy since later philosophy appears to be based on many esoteric premises.