When I asked my youngest granddaughter who is seventeen and spending a week with me, what she would like advice on in a blog, she said, "How to feel confident." A tall, beautiful blond with long legs and a lovely smile I wondered why she would need advice of this kind. So bright and beautiful, she should stride, her head held high through her young life, surely. Perhaps the answer is intelligence, which she possesses in spades, and leads her perhaps to question her judgement, to query her opinions, and to wonder if she has done the right thing.
So often, or so it seems to me, people who hold forth with great confidence on difficult matters who are terribly convinced of their own truths, are perhaps not those who know the most . To maintain absolute truths with great conviction, often expresses the opposite: a basic insecurity. Doubt cannot be envisaged or the whole edifice would crumble. To express doubt is not a lack of confidence, but on the contrary, surely, a natural and normal human condition. What can we know for sure? What can we proclaim with great certitude? To question all is surely the basis of learning. Modesty in all things, admitting that we do not know all, is a good way to actually acquire authority.
Perhaps, at the same time though, we need to remember St. Ambrose who said that God created man in his own likeness and that his formation was that of a masterpiece one who exercises dominion over all living creatures and is, as it were, the crown of the universe and the supreme beauty of every created being. Whether one believes in God or not, surely one can consider each life precious and worthy of respect wherever we come from and whatever our race or creed, our beauty or intelligence. We all have a story to tell and a right to our opinions whatever they may be particularly if we voice them with awareness and openness to the truths of others. We all have the right to confidence.
Often too confidence comes from expressing our own limited truths, whatever they may be, the way one sees the world, defending one's legitimate rights to expression. Having just written a memoir, "Once we were sisters" telling truths that have been silenced in my family for so long, I have come in for some anger and hatred expressed by some of the members of the family. Did I then have the right to expose these people to my story, to the way I have perceived the truths of my sister's life and love, to my own perceptions and convictions? Learning to speak up, protecting one's own property, body, and what one believes to be right, and the absolute right to express one's own albeit limited point of view is one way to gain confidence. Action, engagement with others, standing up for one's own rights, awareness of the value of others can only lead to confidence.
Sheila Kohler is the author of thirteen books of fiction including "Love Child" "Cracks" and "Becoming Jane Eyre" and most recently a memoir, "Once we were sisters" published by Penguin in American and Canongate in England
St. Ambrose, His Life and Times and Teaching.