How to Learn to Stand Up for Yourself

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that one mode of physico-ethical toughness is standing up… (e.g., standing up for oneself, standing up for what one believes, standing up to oppression) as opposed to backing down (e.g., backing down from one’s opponent). So, there would be situations in which the right thing to do would be to stand up for oneself in lieu of backing down from the enemy. Happily, standing up for oneself can occur just as much in physical scenarios as in one’s mental life, as when one stands up in lieu of backing down in the face of something about oneself that one fears.

How, then, would one learn to stand up…? Intuitively, I think the first thing would be to pay mind to what it is you fear, observing how the object of fear seems to be pushing you to back down. What is it that it pushing you to back down? How is this fear to be described?

Next, I reckon, you would want to really notice how backing down feels, is feeling, would feel were you to give into it. Are you crouching, crumpling up? Is it like withering? Do you feel small–indeed very small?

Next, perhaps, imagine the effects of backing down in this scenario, effectively assenting to the force of the other. What are the effects on you? What ramifications would backing down have for others who would also be affected by your backing down? Can we, in brief, consider the ‘sphere of influence’ following from your backing down?

Next, imagine–again, a hypothetical–what kind of person you’re becoming the more you back down. Not backing down once but over and over again. You are becoming a backing-down person: worse, you are training yourself to be a backing-down person. Think of this, and allow yourself to feel the repugnance, the humiliation, the degradation, the sheer pathetic sense you have when you know that you’re a weak person. This should sting.

This first exercise, as I conceive it, reveals the powerful effects that giving into fear and backing down have on our character: we become detestable in our own eyes.

Now we can ask, ‘How do we avoid the fate of becoming detestable in our own eyes, not to mention also in the eyes of others?’ We must come back to standing up and run through a similar set of thought experiments:

  • We pay mind not so much to the fear, which would still be present, but rather to the good–that is to say, to that which goes beyond fear, that reason we should have for acting rightly.
  • Next, we imagine how acting by standing up would enhance our powers, our vitality as well as, perhaps, the vitality, the vital powers, of others.
  • Next, we conceive of ourselves as the kind of persons who always, in the right circumstances, stands up for ourselves. How glorious that would be!

This second exercise is meant to rally the animal spirits, giving us the fire we need or the smooth and alert power to act in the right way in the face of fear.

(More, I think, would need to be said about how one actually begins acting by standing up, e.g., for what is right, for oneself, etc. in real life scenarios. Something further too would need to be added in–and perhaps early on–about the physical postures one adopts, about the ‘constitutive feel’ of standing up for oneself. Perhaps.)