Less Than

Written by: Tammy Hopper, Chief Strategic Initiatives Officer, National Safe Place Network

Have you ever felt “less than”? It is difficult to explain the feeling but there are times when you can be in a room by yourself and feel “less than”. Your life isn’t what you wanted. You didn’t meet the expectations of others and worse, you didn’t meet the ones you set for yourself. Sometimes you can be on crowded public transportation, face focused outward because looking at the walls of a tunnel are more comforting than looking into the eyes of fellow passengers. The thoughts are persistent – am I “less than” these other passengers because of how I dress, the way I look, the amount of money I have with me, where I am going? Sometimes you can be in a classroom or office and feel secure in who you are and what you know and still feel “less than” your peers or colleagues. Why do they get the interesting opportunities, or feedback, or acceptance?

“Less than” makes people do strange, hurtful, and, sometimes dangerous things. The bully feels “less than” and so will reach out in anger to ensure some sense of control and superiority. The driver with road rage reaches a boiling point and is committed to saying no –  you are in my way, you are slowing me down, you are not better than me – I am not “less than.” The shooter who enters a building and takes the lives of others may even feel that any life, especially his or her own, is not worth living. They may believe there is no value placed on life because lives lived in fear, anger, poverty, mental health crisis, abuse, substance addiction  -  may be perceived as lives of value “less than” others.

So, who defines “less than”? Is there an absolute scale by which we can measure success – measure happiness – measure security – measure self worth? If self esteem is defined as “confidence in one’s own worth or abilities,” how do we build that confidence in ourselves and others? How do we help others with an extraordinary sense of self-confidence know they need not target others to maintain a sense of self-worth?

The fear of difference within ourselves and of others make it easy to feel “less than” and to target others simply to gain a foothold on the sometimes crushing sense of worthlessness. Although this feeling can be disguised as false bravado, arrogance, judgment, cruelty, and narcissism – at the end of the day – these are simply masks to hide our “less thanness”. 

I have an opinion. I will share it with full understanding that the value of an opinion is equally established by those reading it. I am not “less than”. The size of my body, my accent, my political affiliation, the tone of my skin, my spiritual beliefs, my marital status, the size of my house, the amount of money I do not have – none of these make me “less than.” They make me “different than”. They make me unique. All that I am, think, feel, believe, and possess have come together to make me – me. Everything that you think, feel, believe, and possess make you – you.

When you look in the mirror – smile at your uniqueness and drown out any voice, including your own, which does not celebrate your existence in this time and place. When you are in public – make eye contact with others and acknowledge the connection of two beings facing their respective journeys with courage regardless of where those journeys take you. When you are in school or in the office – know that every minute is a chance for you to start again and to learn more and then to share that learning with others.

It is a wonderful, terrifying, challenging, and uplifting thing to be different. Embrace it and don’t let “less than” stop you from what’s next.

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