Thursday 21 September 2023

Self-Help For Cynics #4: Respect Yourself

If you're walking 'round think'n that the world owes you something 'cause you're here
You goin' out the world backwards like you did when you first come here 

If you haven't watched The Bear, you're missing the best show on TV at the moment. I don't care if you haven't got Disney+ - get the trial offer and binge-watch the first two series. Do it now. Well, after you've finished reading this post anyway. 

The Bear is about a chef who inherits the management of a busy Chicago sandwich shop after his brother commits suicide. He decides to turn it into an up-market restaurant, using the same staff who worked in the sandwich shop. It's a very tense show - it really gives you a feel for what it's like to work in a fast-paced food service environment (lots of shouting) - but it's also very funny. Lots of big name actors want to appear in it - Jamie Lee Curtis, Olivia Coleman, Will Poulter and Bob Odenkirk all pop up in Season 2 - clearly recognising the strength of the scripts. But something occurred to me while I was watching the most recent episodes... one of the show's main themes is mental health.

All the characters in The Bear are damaged in one way or another. Jeremy Allen White, who plays lead chef Carmen Berzatto, is an expert at showing inner turmoil with little more than a twitch of his brow. But the real star of the show for me is Ebon Moss-Bachrach who plays Carmy's cousin Ritchie, a character who quickly begins to feel out of his depth as his workplace transforms around him. Ritchie is full of bluster, but it masks a deep, deep insecurity. I have a lot of time for Ritchie, out of all the great characters in The Bear, he's the one I relate to the most.

I looked in the mirror, and what did I see?
A brand new image of the same old me
Oh, but now I wonder why should I be surprised
I like the things about me that I once despised

The episode that really brought this home came midway through the second series. Sensing Ritchie's disquiet, Carmy sends him to work for a week in one of the top restaurants in the country. He starts by cleaning forks, a job he thinks beneath him, but by the end of the week, he's virtually running the restaurant floor. It's never explicitly stated in the script, but what happens over the course of that episode is that Ritchie learns to respect himself, and in doing so earns the respect of his colleagues. A grumpy, middle-aged man singing along to a Taylor Swift song has never sounded so sweet... 

It's not a complete transformation: he's still Ritchie at heart. He just likes himself a little more, and finds a purpose and value in what he's doing. He commits to a change and he feels better because of it. A number of things in my life triggered this blog series, but I honestly think that this episode of The Bear was an epiphany. It made me realise I can't just sit around waiting for the world to change to make me happier. Instead, I have to change the way I see the world. If that sounds like bollocks, then yeah... I'd have thought the same thing a few months back. And maybe I still do, deep down. But I'm trying not to. And that's a start.

I've always been content to take the pieces
That I've been given
Make a mess with the results
Justify it all

Everybody's using all their breath telling everyone else
What to do with their own breath
I can't believe it, I never was the type
To worry that much about everybody else

It's okay if you fall
You stumble, you get up
That's all
Believe in yourself for a while

Why do I have low self-esteem? 

That's the million dollar question, isn't it?

The Better Health Channel tells me...

Some of the many causes of low self-esteem may include: Unhappy childhood where parents (or other significant people such as teachers) were extremely critical. Poor academic performance in school resulting in a lack of confidence. Ongoing stressful life event such as relationship breakdown or financial trouble.

But I look at those potential explanations and I can't see any that fit me. My childhood, in particular, I remember as a mostly very happy time. I grew up in a loving home and while I didn't have loads of friends, I was OK with the ones I had. There was a recurring bullying situation in my early teens which left some emotional scars, but no worse than a lot of people. So why do I have such a downer on myself? Maybe the why doesn't matter, just that I'm finally trying to do something about it.

You're not helping, Kurt.

Mind offers all kinds of tips for improving self-esteem, though they are keen to stress that "different things work for different people at different times. Only try what you feel comfortable with."

I think I'll skip past this one...

Say positive things to yourself. Some people like to do this in front of a mirror. It can feel strange at first, but you may feel more comfortable the more you do it.

If only it was as easy as Whitney and George make it seem...

Everybody's searching for a hero;
People need someone to look up to.
I never found anyone who fulfilled my need.
A lonely place to be, and so I learned to depend on me.

I decided long ago never to walk in anyone's shadow.
If I fail, if I succeed.
At least I lived as I believe.
No matter what they take from me,
They can't take away my dignity.

Because the greatest love of all is happening to me.
I found the greatest love of all inside of me.
The greatest love of all is easy to achieve.
Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all.

But you listen to those lyrics and you realise that the reason they find The Greatest Love Of All "easy to achieve" is because they already respect themselves. What about the rest of us?

Relationship coach Kemi Sogunle tells me... 

If you don't love yourself, you won't be happy with yourself. If you can't love yourself, you can't love anyone else. You can't make anyone love you without loving yourself first.

But where I come from, Kemi, there's nothing worse than someone who loves themselves. We call that arrogance, egomania... or being just like Kevin.

Girls try to attract his attention
But what a shame, it's in vain, total rejection
He will never be left on the shelf
'Cause Kevin, he's in love with himself

The Undertones - My Perfect Cousin

In my head, loving yourself goes hand in hand with not giving a shit about anyone else. And I've spent my whole life fighting against people like that. Or at least getting exceedingly pissed off by them.  

The Legend! - Arrogant Bastards

How then to find the right balance? Well, much as I would like someone to send me to work in a top restaurant for a week so that I can learn how to like myself, it's probably not going to happen. Mind says, "Try to avoid comparing yourself to others." So I'll put Cousin Ritchie out of my mind.

The Big Sound Authority - Be True To Yourself

I started this post with the original version of Respect Yourself by The Staple Singers. It's a fine song. A classic. But you know what? The 1987 cover version by Bruce Willis means much more to me. As I've mentioned before, it was the first 7" single I ever bought. Many people are ashamed by their first record purchase and make excuses for it, saying things like, "I was really young and I hadn't developed my musical taste..." I could say the same... but honestly, I listen to this now and it still makes me smile the way it did when I was 15. And I guess I respect myself at least enough to admit that to you.


  1. Maybe the key, even before respecting one's self, is to accept yourself? Or maybe I'm just subconsciously trying to shoe-horn a song reference in...

    1. Maybe that's step one. And keep shoe-horning the songs in, that's how I get away with still calling myself a music blogger.

  2. I admire you for working through this aloud Rol (and obviously for all of the songs)

    Richie is my favourite character in The Bear - I kinda want this shirt from the new Wilco album -



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