VIEW VIDEO  One of humanity’s biggest problems is that people who think they’re wonderful often aren’t, and people who are wonderful seldom believe they are. It’s nearly impossible to persuade a narcissist of his need to grow. And similarly, it’s incredibly hard to convince someone with poor self-esteem of their worth and value. If self-perception were a globe, with narcissism on one pole and self-hatred on the other, we would say that living on the equator would be most healthy. Living on the equator, between the poles of those extremes, would enable us to acknowledge and celebrate our virtues, while also being aware of our limitations.

We’ve been talking about depression, and you’ll remember that we’ve said the place to start when you are depressed is to visit your doctor to discern if your depression has biological causes, which I did two weeks ago. I’ve been on an anti-depressant for ten years now, but in the past several months my depression has grown worse, so I did what I’ve been telling you to do, and visited my doctor, who tweaked my medication, and now the sun is rising a bit higher in the sky. It was the Roman poet, Horace, in 65 B.C., who likened depression to a black dog, but some days I think a more fitting metaphor for depression might be a vulture, circling in the sky, looking for its next weakened victim. Don’t you be that victim! Get help.

Once we’ve addressed the biological causes of depression, we have recognized the importance of cultivating specific habits and practices to elevate and enrich our lives, one of which is this: you have to like who you see in the mirror. Not like Narcissus, the young man in Greek mythology who loved no one until he saw his own reflection, then grieved because the reflection could not love him back and pined away until he died. When I say you have to like who you see in the mirror, I don’t mean it that way. I mean you must respect the human being you are becoming, lest you descend into self-loathing and the vulture picks you off.

I was up on the town square this week, out for a walk on one of the warmer days and walking down an alleyway the town has spruced up with lights and tables and a mural to make it look vaguely Parisian. It’s where all the juniors and seniors go to have their prom pictures taken by professional photographers. Fancy. Back when I was a teenager, your prom picture was taken with a Polaroid by your mother standing in your front yard. You could see the picture right then, and hold it in your hand, a miracle of technology.

I went to my junior prom, skipped my senior prom, then the year after I graduated, and prom time rolled around, our phone rang. (Kids, this was back in the old days when everyone in the family shared the same phone, which hung on the kitchen wall.) It was a girl I knew who was kind-hearted but unattractive and was calling to ask if I could take her to her high school prom.

Being 19, and caring too much what others thought of me, I lied and told her I was busy the night of her prom, that I couldn’t take her. She thanked me anyway and said goodbye and we hung up. My father was seated at the kitchen table and asked me who had called. I told him it was a girl asking me to her prom, but that I didn’t want to go with her because she wasn’t pretty.

He said, “I heard you tell her you had plans. What are your plans?”

I said, “I don’t know yet, but I’ll find something.”

Dad didn’t say anything. He just looked at me with one of those parental looks that said, “We raised you better than that.” You know the look. Dad didn’t do that often, but when he did, I knew I had screwed up. I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I didn’t like how I felt about myself, but was angry at the girl, blaming her for asking me, rather than blaming myself for lying. For the next week, whenever I thought about it, I felt guilty, so I phoned her. (Kids, this was back in the old days when everyone’s phone number was in a big book that was left on your front porch once a year.) I told her my calendar had opened up and I could take her to her prom after all, and she was so excited, not realizing what a rat I was. But I knew a rat when I saw one, and I was a rat, a 5’11’’, 115-pound rat who should have been honored to go to the prom with anyone. The irony is that while I was worrying about her being unattractive, I was being ugly.

Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to feel good about anything, about life, about relationships, about anything, when you don’t feel good about yourself? Central to our happiness is liking who we see in the mirror. You have to respect that person. The only way to do this is to make sure the person you’ve become is worthy of respect. Self-esteem doesn’t come cheap. It must be earned. While it isn’t healthy to perpetually not like yourself, not liking yourself in the right circumstances can be valuable. Sometimes self-loathing can be beneficial and even transformative. This is why we should pay attention to our feelings of self-loathing. When you don’t like yourself, it might be because you have learned something about yourself that needs to change.

Do you think Judas felt good about himself when handed the thirty pieces of silver? Do you think he said, “I did a good thing today.” No, his shame was so deep, he took his life.

Do you think Paul felt good about himself after holding the coats at the stoning of Stephen? Do you think he said, “I did a good thing today.” No, his shame was eventually so deep, he was driven to repentance.

Pay attention to your feelings of self-loathing.

I knew a man who took a job in accounting at a company that made designed and manufactured bombs. The pay was good, and he was happy, until one night he had a dream of children being killed by the bombs his company made, and he plunged into such a deep depression, such a state of self-loathing, that he could barely function until he quit that job and found a job that didn’t cause parents to weep at the graves of their children.

Friends, pay attention to your feelings of self-loathing. When you don’t like yourself, when you don’t like life itself, it might be because you have learned something about yourself that needs to change. Face it squarely. Work always to be the best you, you can be.