“On Self-Respect” by Joan Didion

There’s a lot to learn from this Joan Didion. Her famous essay on self-respect is well-known for good reason. It describes, in much better terms, something which many people have tried (and continue to try) to articulate, to varying degrees of success: that self-respect is, first and foremost, about loving and being comfortable enough with who you are to confront yourself. A lack of self-respect results in what Didion refers to as an “alienation from self:” we concern ourselves so much with the opinions of others that we lose any sense of identity. Without self-respect, we have nothing to base ourselves upon and so seek the validation of others.

I can’t help but to feel a connection between the thesis in this essay and some of Jean-Paul Sartre’s work, especially his play No Exit and his idea about the look. There are similar themes about the futility of living for other people and about recognizing your existence as beginning with you, the subject, rather than you, the object. To respect oneself is to stop justifying your existence to other people and being comfortable with being uncomfortable. It is not easy to achieve, but the discipline and fortitude required is a small price to pay when you consider the alternative.