What does it mean to have self-respect?

The Weighing of the Heart from the Book of the Dead of Ani (circa 1300BCE).
British Museum [Public domain] via Wikimedia.

Kitty Flanagan's recent comedy skit on The Weekly got me thinking about the idea of the "residue" we accumulate from our interactions with others, and how to deal with it. For example, checkout staff have been copping abuse from consumers as a result of the self-imposed ban on free plastic shopping bags at Woolworths and Coles stores in New South Wales.

In the skit, Flanagan pokes fun at angry consumers:
I don't believe that anyone is really that angry about plastic bags; I think people are angry about their lives.
While effective approaches to dealing with "high conflict individuals" are accessible, there is an assumed level of calmness and patience of those dealing with angry people. It does not explain, however, why even self-reflective individuals might feel the after-effects of dealing with these angry people.

The same residue might also remain from those who are hyper-critical, judgemental, or just plain rude. No matter how much we exercise pity or compassion, the residue doesn't remove itself. It requires practice, and, I believe, the practise of self-respect.

One of the major issues I have with terms like self-respect is the lack of a definition. I have found the same with self-esteem.

Self-esteem is often regarded as "the way we think about ourselves and the value we place on ourselves". I take issue with this definition as it assumes that we can perceive that value accurately.

So what if our evaluation is wrong?

In my leadership classes, I ask students to consider self-esteem from a different perspective: our self-esteem is greater the closer our self-image is to our actual self.

So, self-confidence is not the same as self-esteem. Indeed, it is possible to be over-confident while suffering from low self-esteem, or even to appear confident while being incompetent.

And self-esteem is not the same thing as self-respect. To simplify, self-esteem is evaluative, while self-respect is a matter of liking oneself.

Again, the problem with this definition is the presupposition that we can simply like ourselves.

Joan Didion, in an essay on self-respect that appeared in Vogue magazine in 1961, provided a clearer definition. (Her essay was added at the last moment as a previous author had failed to deliver on the same topic. To fit the space available, Didion wrote her essay to a precise character count.)

Didion wrote that self-respect is not a mythical charm that protects us from harm, it "concerns instead a separate peace, a private reconciliation". This reconciliation enables us to deal with the residue of high conflict individuals:
To do without self-respect,... is to be an unwilling audience of one to an interminable home movie that documents one's failings, both real and imagined, with fresh footage spliced in for each screening. There’s the glass you broke in anger, there's the hurt on X's face; watch now, this next scene, the night Y came back from Houston, see how you muff this one. To live without self-respect is to lie awake some night, beyond the reach of warm milk, phenobarbital, and the sleeping hand on the coverlet, counting up the sins of commission and omission, the trusts betrayed, the promises subtly broken, the gifts irrevocably wasted through sloth or cowardice or carelessness. However long we postpone it, we eventually lie down alone in that notoriously uncomfortable bed, the one we make ourselves. Whether or not we sleep in it depends, of course, on whether or not we respect ourselves.
Didion does not assume that we can simply like ourselves. Rather, we develop self-respect through practice - deliberately - and forever. It is:
...a discipline, a habit of mind that can never be faked but can be developed, trained, coaxed forth.
Self-respect, then, is part of our character:
[C]haracter - the willingness to accept responsibility for one's own life—is the source from which self-respect springs.
Much like experience, self-respect does not come without its cost: 
...it is a question of recognizing that anything worth having has its price.
So why bother? For Didion, it is the price we pay for a peaceful life:
Without [self-respect], one eventually discovers the final turn of the screw: one runs away to find oneself, and finds no one at home.
And self-respect is not just something for the present moment. It has a clear temporal dimension. Didion makes this clear in her essay, On Keeping a Notebook:
I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends.
But how does one develop and practise self-respect?

I have found it requires daily reflection through journalling. I notice others' emotional residue most first thing in the morning. Without the practice of journalling, I know my mood would spiral out of control if left to its own devices. Journalling, then, is a process of emotional self-cleansing.

But journalling has its own dangers. For Virginia Woolf, we tend to censure our own private writing. Woolf also wrote about her past and present self to her future self, so there is also a temporal aspect to the journalling process.

Woolf wrote that her journal was a private affair:
The habit of writing thus for my own eye only is good practice. It loosens the ligaments.
At the same time, she was wary of her ability to bend the truth, even in her private reflection:
I want to appear a success even to myself.
Two lessons are clear. First, self-respect is more than just liking oneself, it is an active process of reconciling our inner selves to the society we experience on a daily basis. It is a habit of the mind, and not an innate ability.

Second, self-respect doesn't just materialise. It requires a desire to have self-respect, and the price to be paid is to be self-aware, and act in accordance with our sense of virtues. (Note that Didion did not approve of Aristotles' golden mean of virtue.)

Morning Coffee - Wake Up is a Spotify playlist I have been listening to each morning. The first piece is Mt Wolf's Burgs. Over time, the lyrics have grown on me:
I, I think if I could get you to do one thing
I would say that when you get to the point that you...
Really feel, highly motivated, to, just, towards keeping your virtue...
Then you'll you'll discover quite quickly how extraordinary a life was meant to be, could be
And it's, it's just we get so messy, it's not that we are doing lots of wrong things, our mind is so messy
We don't keep it simple
And we end up making the life that we are living, so in-ordinarily complicated
Completely unnecessarily, and it's such a shame to end up feeling, in a real muddle, while actually, you ought to be having the time of your lives.

This reminds me of the Delphic maxim, Know Thyself. It would appear that self-respect begins with living the virtuous life.

We can never be perfect, but it is the striving that counts. And while Rousseau thought experience was "dearly bought and hardly worth the cost", I daresay the cost of self-respect is worth every penny.