Have you ever had a moment where you read something that turns your way of looking at an idea or a concept completely on its head? It’s extremely powerful, right? It happened to me just this past week. Once again at the advice of my daughter, Wendy, I read an essay written by Joan Didion for Vogue Magazine in 1961 entitled “Self-respect: Its Source, Its Power.” This is the thing I love so much (and sometimes not so much) about Wendy. When I bring her a problem or a situation, she scans her vast collection of books, selects several, plops them down in front of me and says, “I’m assigning the following reading selections to you.” She will be quick to inform you that I don’t always complete said assignments, much to her great frustration, but this is one time when I’m so thankful that I did.
What does the idea of self-respect mean to you? In the essay, Didion describes the moment when her concept of it was challenged and she no longer saw it as being tied in any way to the approval of others. It is, in fact, linked to nothing external, but rather is a debate that is argued, and hopefully won, deep within ourselves. According to Didion, self-respect “has nothing to do with the face of things, but concerns instead a separate peace, a private reconciliation.” The term “a separate peace” actually has military origins, and refers to when one country has an alliance with another country, that is in turn threatened by a third. Even though we are allies, we may form “a separate peace” with that third country which will keep us out of the fray. You can apply this same idea to your personal life as well, and the way in which you might handle a similar conflict between friends. What Didion is saying here is that the only thing that brings us self-respect is to be at peace with our own reasons for doing the things we do, and to not take issue with what the outside world may think or say. Easier said than done, it involves having the kind of self-knowledge that has come from facing our mistakes and failures, appreciating what the cost was to us, and taking responsibility for the decisions we’ve made. By doing so, we abandon the notion that life happens to us, and we take back control of our own destiny. We know who and what we are, and where the boundaries need to be drawn. We know what to let in and what to keep out. Didion points to Jordan Baker from The Great Gatsby as an unlikely, but perfect example. Although many view her as self-centered, careless, and compulsively dishonest, Jordan Baker knew who she was and made no apologies for it. She had self-respect. According to Didion, “Jordan took her own measure, made her own peace, avoided threats to that peace.” How many of us need to have that tattooed on our forearms where we can read it every single day? I know that I do.
The idea of Jordan Baker as poster child does need to be tempered just a bit; after all, using self-respect as an excuse for bad behavior can cause it to quickly degenerate into self-indulgence. It’s the “I don’t care about anyone else” attitude. On the opposite end of the spectrum is self-abnegation, where we allow ourselves to be completely manipulated by others under the guise of believing that it reflects our endless capacity to give and our limitless ability to empathize. This is a shining display of the “I don’t care about myself” frame of mind. Somewhere in the middle of these two lies the healthy partnership of self-respect and self-awareness. If we choose to say no to an invitation, for example, are we setting a healthy boundary or simply being lazy? Conversely, if we accept that same invitation, is it because we fear the other person’s reaction if we say no, or because we really want to go? Didion takes this to the highest level by saying that “to have that sense of one’s intrinsic worth which, for better or worse, constitutes self-respect, is potentially to have everything: the power to discriminate, to love and to remain indifferent.” The ultimate gift that self-respect will give us is the ability to choose when to love and when not to. By taking our own measure, and by setting the right boundaries for ourselves, we will arrive in a place where we can love freely and fully, without panic, without desperation, and with every expectation that our love will be reciprocated. As it should be.
Today’s drink had to be an equal parts cocktail that was both boozy, smooth, and oh so tempting to down quickly. I decided to go with a riff on a Paper Plane, which uses a strong bourbon as its base. I had the perfect one for it from a small boutique distillery in Bardstown, Kentucky, given to me by my niece just yesterday. At 100 proof, it was just what I was looking for. I swapped out the traditional Aperol and replaced it with St. Germain for the sweet element of the drink, and used Suze instead of Amaro Nonino for the bitter. The flavors married perfectly and it required a significant amount of discipline to savor it. It required boundaries. Self-respect. Cheers, everyone. Happy Friday.
Take Your Own Measure
Add all the ingredients to a cocktail shaker filled with ice and shake vigorously until very cold. Double strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon peel. Enjoy!