True respect for oneself must include the presence of a humility that tempers the temptation inherent in all forms of self-evaluation; otherwise, what we call respect for ourselves is really just a form of secret self-admiration: a false, fearful state that has as much in common with real self-respect as does a postcard picture of a rugged coastline with the towering cliffs and surging waves that it depicts.
To see the truth of this, consider the deep respect we may feel towards those others whom we know have gone before us, daring what they must to become the instrument of something divine, whatever their chosen endeavor. We know and sense without having to think about it that these individuals have attained a relationship with something greater, wiser, than we have.
There is a natural respect for anyone who has transcended their limitations and, for this sacrifice, has ascended to realize a wisdom, compassion, capacity, or contentment that surpasses our own. And in this reverence we find a true sense of humility that moves us in two ways—but in one direction.
First comes the recognition of a quality, character, patience, or skill greater than anything we have yet known; and, at the same time, the tangible presence of such a possibility beckons us upward and onward so that we aspire to reach and realize those same heights, if not higher. Of course, some form of painful comparison may try to corrupt this newly awakened need. But, fortunately for us, any real spiritual need is protected by the same intelligence that seeds it in us. In this case, the gravity of our gratitude outweighs these petty concerns. After all, who in his or her right mind resents a towering mountain peak because it radiates a timeless majesty? The wise wish, naturally, to gain this viewpoint whatever the cost, which leads us to this last revelation:
True respect for oneself is the realization of one’s immortal Self; it never can be won any more than one can win the innocence of a child. It is an awakening, a simultaneous glimpse of one’s low estate from on high; as such, it includes the quiet humility born of seeing, at once, our highest possibilities and the present level of self that stands beneath them, looking up at them.