Your first bookstore success, more than twenty years ago, already focused on self-esteem. Why are you coming back?
I don’t think I’ve said everything! (He smiles.) And new scientific work has appeared since. They teach us that people who appreciate themselves lucidly, without overestimating or devaluing themselves, are not navel-gazing. They are much more interested in others and the world around them. This teaching seems valuable to me.
What are the foundations of good self-esteem?
I distinguish three criteria: judge oneself lucidly, without complacency but with kindness; treat yourself correctly, comforting yourself despite failure, without accusing anyone or forgetting what you owe to others in the event of success; maintain an honest relationship with oneself, relieved of the fear of the gaze of one’s peers.
Why should we cultivate this right view of ourselves?
Self-esteem transforms the world by changing the relationships between people. When we suffer too much, “encumbered” by a lack of confidence, by a perpetual preoccupation with what others think, we have difficulty reaching out to others. Self-esteem has, in my opinion, no other purpose than forgetting it. It is like health: a necessary tool to live the life you want, but which should not become an obsession. A path that allows you to focus your attention on the wonders of the outside.
So meeting others is the goal?
Fully! (He’s laughing.) I even believe that you should not wait until you are completely well to engage in the world.
Isn’t it more complicated today?
The times worry us. Uncertainty creeps in everywhere, we have the feeling of no longer understanding our time, of no longer having control over it. This becomes not only unpredictable but unreadable. We see that the societies in which our grandparents, our parents and ourselves grew up are changing enormously. In this regard, our burden is undoubtedly a little heavier than that of our ancestors. The latter could live in the illusion that the world of tomorrow would resemble theirs.
But, despite this, I do not think that our century is worse than previous ones – except in terms of global warming. Rather, we are much more anxious. Today’s wars, as atrocious as they are, are no worse than those of Antiquity or the Middle Ages. Our time simply produces a lot of bitterness and disappointment, because we sincerely believed, in recent decades in the West, that the planet was going to be pacified, that we were going to find solutions to live in peace.
Our troubled times don’t make you pessimistic?
A little bit, on the days when I’m not in good shape. But I say to myself, wait… the human species is intelligent, it will find solutions. And then I made this thought from Primo Levi my own: “I cannot give any justification for this confidence in the future of the man who lives within me. It is possible that it is not rational, but despair is irrational: it does not solve any problems, it even creates new ones. Humans need each other anyway.
Even in the middle of wars?
More than ever. Connections are vital to man, because he cannot survive alone. No human being can exist or flourish if he or she is isolated. I deeply believe that we are made for love rather than hatred, for peace rather than war. When we behave altruistically, our brain activates a gratification system that makes us feel good. So even if some want to lead us to distrust or selfishness, this brain system reminds us that we are predisposed to helping each other.
Where to start ?
Instead of complaining about how bad people are, let’s add kindness to the world. Rather than getting angry when something goes wrong, let’s act close to home, to invent antidotes to what revolts us. Let’s do our best to make the positive happen. I believe in everyday actions: around us, there are a multitude of people with altruistic and generous gestures often carried out in the shadows. I call them “benevolent people”, these people who do not make noise but who do good, these human beings who practice – within families, businesses, associations – these virtues of compassion and gentleness.
In your book, you advocate kindness, humility… Do you really believe in them in a world that no longer seems to value them?
On the contrary, we need this love, with a small “a”, more than ever. It seems very important to me to share the beauty and kindness that make this world livable. One day, seeing a group of children in the street, I was overcome by an upheaval as I watched a little girl pass by, suffering from a handicap, but radiating grace. That day, I put my little concerns aside. We can train ourselves not to get caught up in our daily worries. Each time a worry enters our mind, let us observe how it obscures our horizon and our movement towards others. Let’s make the effort to open ourselves to something other than ourselves in order to rejoice in what life offers.
You have experienced upsetting events. How did you get through them?
After the announcement of my cancer, in 2015, I retired from Sainte-Anne hospital in Paris, where I had been a psychiatrist for forty years. I was a little shaken… I realized that my dominant emotion was not the fear of dying, but the sadness that this existence that I loved could end. The test is an encounter with a dimension larger and stronger than us.
Including on a spiritual level?
I started praying a lot again. Prayers of gratitude and thanks for what I had experienced. I remember a moment of intense prayer in the hospital chapel on the day I was going to be operated on, I repeated to God: “Thank you, thank you, thank you…” The ordeal of the illness pushed me to new towards this necessity of faith. My faith, which until then had been a little lazy and “crazy”, but real and sincere, was of immense help. Just like meditation and love from those close to me. I have never felt abandoned by God. Every morning, my ten minutes of meditation are now more and more stripped down, more and more silent, in a sitting and complete abandonment to those greater than me…