Book Review – The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem

If I had known this book was written by a former lover of Ayn Rand, would I have still read it?

Chances are pretty good. I’ve tried to hold to an ideal that I picked up from Stranger in a Strange Land for a long time. Specifically – “Successful city political bosses held open court all through the twentieth century, leaving wide their office doors and listening to any gandy dancer or bindlestiff who came in. “

While I’ve never aspired to political office, the principle of information acquisition being beneficial holds across professions, I think – even if one is, as I, an autodidactic wanderer of no fixed employment. Perhaps even especially then – I think it is a reasonable belief that any adult human (and many younger ones), especially those with backstories that significantly differ from yours, know at least one thing that is:
a) Something that you do not know.
b) Something that it would be useful for you to know.

This does not always mean that said information is necessarily accessible to you – for example, someone who would look at my backstory and refuse to communicate with me is not going to share their useful information with me, clearly. At least not without a great deal of work.

Still, this does mean that if someone tries to communicate with you, there’s a decent amount of expected value to be had from hearing people out. There are counterexamples to be made to this general statement, but I think it makes more sense to take, “listen to people, for they have data” over, “do not listen to people, because they have nothing to teach me” as an axiom, and rule out some people in specific cases, as merited.

In any case, I did read The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem, authored by Nathaniel Branden. Not only did I read it, I quoted it repeatedly in a discord I am in, and at least one quote from it ended up in my random quote library, the ones that display on each page here. Pillars contains many useful ideas, enough that I would have no trouble filling my usual review length with nothing but quotes, and still have some left over.

It’s laid out in three parts, covering (in Nathaniel’s view of) the basic principles of self-esteem, internal sources of self-esteem, and external influences. The chapters within each relate well to their third, and contain, in my view, thorough coverage of the areas they claim. Each contains some number of “stems” – sentence starters intended to be completed by the reader as an exercise in self-knowledge. Writing full sentences from these stems about myself was enlightening, and not nearly always in a way that fed my pride. Bringing light to the dark corners of ones psyche is neither pleasant work, nor uplifting, in and of itself.

Instead, it is in some ways like the housecleaning I helped with in New Brighton – there is an immense amount of shit, in the unexamined mind, and it’s lousy to have to deal with, but once it’s all gone you can actually make something decent out of the place. Until you do, though, you’ll be living in all that filth, unaware, because the constant exposure has dulled your sense of smell.

I don’t think I’ve managed to clear out nearly everything yet, but I’m making progress, and Pillars helped me on my way. I suspect some of the stems relating to consciousness and addiction helped me break a couple of ugly habits I’ve held to for a long time, and reminded me that I want to live consciously, that there are things in this world that I care about, and that I can’t save anyone if I’m off in the corner giggling to myself and waiting for someone to rescue me.

The one direct quote I am going to leave you with from the book is rather representative of the whole – not exactly pleasant to contemplate, but if you care, or think you want to care, about the state of the world, you’d do well to think on it well and deeply:

Some years ago, in my group therapy room, we hung on the wall a number of sayings that I often found useful in the course of my work. A client made me a gift of several of these sayings done in needlepoint, each with its own frame. One of these was “It isn’t what they think; it’s what you know.” Another was “No one is coming.”
One day a group member with a sense of humor challenged me about “No one is coming.”
“Nathaniel, it’s not true,” he said. “You came.”
“Correct,” I admitted, “but I came to say that no one is coming.”

No one is coming, and we have to save ourselves. If you want to do so, you could do worse than to read The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem.

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