By Jaime Torres
From an early age, I worked at presenting myself as confident, and received praise from my family and teachers about how mature I was for my age, how smart, and later how I could take control and get things done. But I was often uneasy; and as time passed I would go from "I’m certain this is the right way!" to feeling an hour later, "What was I thinking when I said that?!"
I told myself that having unsureness, and especially showing it, was weakness, humiliation: the best solution was to ride over it, come to a quick decision and act. This was not true confidence — it was arrogance, and so I felt increasingly ashamed and even more unsure.
Then in 1985 I met Aesthetic Realism and learned that confidence has a criterion: we will be confident in proportion to how fair we are to people and the world itself. And central to being fair is the desire to know, which includes the desire to question ourselves.
The Desire to Know
I grew up in Ciales, a small town in the mountains of Puerto Rico, in the midst of an extended family that included my parents, sister, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. As the first grandson, I got a lot of praise, and felt powerful when adults would compete for my attention. If my Aunt Carmen said, "How is my boy? Come and visit me this weekend," I would hear my Aunt Norma from the other room saying, "Nonsense — he’s coming to my house first!" I didn’t know it, but I was developing a false and hurtful sense of myself based on the erroneous conclusion that other people’s happiness was assured by my presence: all I had to do was show up. If persons outside my family didn’t treat me this way, they were mean and cold. It never occurred to me that I had an obligation to be interested in people’s lives.
Early in my study of Aesthetic Realism, my consultants asked: "Do you think you know your mother?" I answered, "Yes, like the palm of my hand." "So we come to our first disagreement," they said, and asked: "What was her favorite subject in school?" "I don’t know," I answered. Then they asked, "What did she want to be when she grew up?" and "Who were some of her friends in school?" "I don’t know." "What was her favorite book?" I had no clue! Then there was "something more recent — how did your parents meet?" When I answered yet again, "I don’t know," my consultants said with humor: "Dr. Torres, do you think your mother had a life before you were born; or do you think she was born in 1957, just to serve you?"
This consultation was a revelation to me and the beginning of a true self-questioning. I realized that for the most part, I wasn’t interested in who people were; I saw them primarily in relation to myself. That night, I called my parents in Puerto Rico and told them what I was learning, and they were so happy! Soon after, they began to study Aesthetic Realism themselves in phone consultations from Puerto Rico, and their lives have flourished.
Aesthetic Realism showed me — and I love this logic — that when we go after a false confidence by contemptuously feeling superior, we punish ourselves by feeling timid, inferior, unsure. Where I once observed people with a running commentary in my mind like, "How stupid! I could have done that better," "Where did he get that shirt?," "She’s always talking too much," I began to ask myself, "What can I learn from this person?," "What does he hope for?," "Are her feelings as deep as mine?" As I wanted to know people deeply, I experienced with relief and pleasure a growing feeling of true sureness.
Love and Confidence
When I met Donita Ellison, I had, as other men do, two contradictory ways of seeing: 1) I saw the world and people as adding to me; 2) I felt I needed only myself. Donita, originally from Missouri, is a high school art teacher who uses the Aesthetic Realism teaching method. I was affected by her excitement about teaching and the kind way she spoke about her students. She is also very pretty, and thoughtful; and she encouraged me to express my thoughts and feelings. I was swept by her; I wanted to be with her every day. But then I’d tell myself, "We’re not all that compatible."
As I described these feelings in a consultation, my consultants said: "It’s clear Ms. Ellison is having a good effect on you. Is she a threat to your big love affair?" "What do you mean?" I asked indignantly — "I’m not seeing anyone else!" "The love affair you’ve had with yourself," they said with such good nature.
They were right. And I realized that through caring for Donita, I was more the person I wanted to be. I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her. In 1994 we were married.
I saw myself as a modern man: we divided the household chores; I helped with the cooking; I even liked doing dishes! But behind this magnanimity, there persisted a way of seeing that was backward. I felt: We are married; things are settled; no questions, please; you should be happy with this modern husband! Donita was critical of the way I took her for granted; and I could feel unsure of myself and agitated. In an Aesthetic Realism class, Ellen Reiss enabled me to see my mistake.
She spoke about a noted character in Spanish literature: the hidalgo, which in English means "son of somebody," a man of aristocratic lineage. Ms. Reiss asked: "Do you think you have the hidalgo feeling?" "I think I do," I said. She continued: "Is Ms. Ellison the ‘daughter of nobody’? Have you felt in some way that you have done her a great favor being in her company at all?" I answered, "I think I have." And in relation to that answer, Ms. Reiss explained: "Does contempt hurt one? You can feel you are an hidalgo, but as a result you can have various unsurenesses."
This was true. Learning how to oppose my conceit and see the true value of people, including my wife, has given me honest confidence. Aesthetic Realism has enabled both of us to have a love and deep friendship that grows with every year!
Dr. Torres is in the Advisory Board of the National Hispanic Medical
Association and an Associate at the not-for-profit Aesthetic Realism Foundation
at 141 Greene Street, New York, NY 10012 (212) 777-4490. www.AestheticRealism.org