What did Booker T. Washington mean when he said if you want to lift up yourself lift up someone else?

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Lorraine Caplan | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Picture yourself as a person who has many problems, perhaps personal problems and/or problems society has created for you. These problems have made it difficult or impossible for you to be a success in any way, so you feel like a failure. In short, you have no self-esteem.  You want to lift yourself up, certainly, but what should you do?

You have a few choices.  You can do nothing and simply live with these failures. You can do something that, for whatever the reason, has little likelihood of success. Or you can do what Washington advocates, which is trying to help someone else.  

This might sound foolish to many people today, but Washington was exactly right!  To begin, true self-esteem is not based upon just feeling good about oneself. True self-esteem is based upon accomplishment. And no matter how down you are, no matter how few your resources may be, you can always help someone else. You might help someone with homework. You might take a homeless person to get oatmeal at McDonald's. You might give blood at a local blood drive. That is an accomplishment!  Not only is it an accomplishment, but also, it is an accomplishment that you can now build upon.  When we feel true self-esteem, it energizes us in a way that nothing else can. When we accomplish something, it enables us to go on to accomplish bigger and better things next time.  It builds up a kind of psychic power we can keep drawing upon. As Washington said, it lifts us up.  This quote is in keeping with Washington's entire life's work.  His central concern was lifting others, and in doing thus, he lifted himself.     

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