“Nobody likes me.”
Who hasn’t felt like this at some point? The words echo Nietzsche’s self-pity, but a dying man, filled with disappointment, did not speak them. A six-year old girl did. The words sum up every fundamental need found in humans. We all need to feel significant: that is the driving force in our lives. Only self-pity or fear can get in the way of realizing our own worth.
“Even my parents hate me.”
Who was I to argue with her? I wasn’t a psychologist and I wasn’t her mother. I was just her babysitter, charged with taking care of her the best way I knew how. Did that include psychoanalysis and love? Perhaps.
But at that moment, I couldn’t think of anything to say. How could I tell her she was wrong without denying the validity of her feelings? I didn’t want to be just one more person who didn’t have time for a little girl. I saw first-hand how they ignored her, how they didn’t see her frustration. I knew her lack of confidence could be improved with a little understanding. Nevertheless, I sat there wondering: What do you say to someone who thinks they are all alone?
“Do you want the truth?”
There was a slight motion of the head – possibly a nod.
“The truth is that you won’t always feel loved. It is far more important that you love yourself, because only by loving yourself will you have the ability to love in return. You have to be able to wake up every morning, look in the mirror, and love yourself for who you are. You have to be able to honor the choices you make, for they create the person you will become.
“There are many reasons why we love someone, or something. For example, look at a tree. We don’t love a tree solely for it’s fruit; we love it for all the little things that make it a tree, like how we feel in its branches, or reading in its shade. A tree is beautiful because it never tries to be anything it isn’t. Trees don’t hide their strengths and gifts, and neither should you. You must be true to yourself if you want to be happy. Trust me on this one, kid. The people who love you the most – your friends, your family – will always love you. ”
Her smile conveyed more clearly than any words that she had understood my meaning. The worthiness that everyone wants to feel can only come from the self – and there is now one more little girl who knows that.
What you have just read is the college essay I wrote over this past summer. It communicates more clearly than anything else the way I feel about the world. You see, the essay was based on a true experience I had while babysitting, and is paraphrased from the actual conversation between a young girl and I. Ever since that day I have spent my life trying to fill everyone around me with a sense of self-worth.
I have one goal that eclipses all others: I want to be able to look back on my life and realize that I have made a difference, that I have made the world a better place, and that each person with whom I have had a connection has benefited. Therefore, you can view my life as a process that continuously forces me to stretch myself and discover more about the world. This goal was formed largely because of my experience as a caretaker of young children; however, the importance of making an impact on the world has always been something my family has stressed.
I could tell you stories about my Great Grandfather’s friend, who went to Palestine in 1923 to live on a kibbutz and help settle what would soon become the country of Israel. The reason I know of him is simple. Cherpl made a difference. He influenced my great-grandfather, who was only a young man in Halbershadt, Germany, when they met, he participated in building a country, and he told my grandmother stories of Russia. Cherpl is the reason that my grandmother knows how to knit, a skill she passed on to her daughters and to me. The hats we have knit for the homeless over the years have made a difference to people who desperately needed some warmth in their lives. All this can be traced back to one man. He wasn’t an unusual man, and he can’t be found in any history book. But I know of him, and my children will know of him, just like they will know of everyone who makes a difference in this world.
It all comes down to potential. We all have the potential to make a difference. We all have the spirit in us necessary to change the world, to make it a better place. There is so much that needs doing! Just look around you. There is trash in our streets. There are children who are abused in homes that are supposed to be a place of security. Disease is spreading in Africa while the world watches. How can I not be affected by the suffering around me, and what could be more important than solving some of these problems?
Here’s the most important question: How can we change the world if we don’t love ourselves? The answer is an easy one. We can’t do anything unless we start at home. It is impossible for me to show someone what a great person they are if I don’t believe in myself first. We all need to feel loved. We all need to feel as if we make a difference.
What makes me different is the fact that I share this information with others. I don’t tell people to go save the rainforest. I’m a talker more than a doer. I talk about everything (including old family friends), even when what I’m talking about may not seem to make much sense the first time around. But listen to my words, and listen to my message. Go back and read it again. What am I saying? What am I telling you?
I am saying that you don’t need to save a rainforest single-handedly to make a difference. You don’t need to do anything alone. It is your interactions with others, especially with the next generation, that make you so special. Your contribution to the world is not found in how much money you make. It’s discovered in how you talk to the tired woman who sits at the reception desk of your doctor’s office. It’s the way you make that woman feel when you smile and say “Good morning! What a beautiful blouse.” That little effort may be enough to give her the energy to help her young son learn to read that night. And that young boy may just discover the cure for cancer. All because you told his mother that she had a nice blouse when you could have just said nothing.
Like I said, I’m a talker. Sometimes, words are all you need to change someone else’s life. It’s the little things, not the big ones, which make a difference. That’s what Cherpl taught me. That’s what I taught the young girl whom I babysat. That’s what she will share with everyone else she meets.
Robert Byrne was right. The purpose of life really is to have “a life of purpose.” My purpose is to influence those around me. My purpose is to give meaning to the lives of those around me. My purpose is to make a difference. And I will succeed, because I know that I already have.