Here are some previous thoughts on the subject of Self-confidence. When you have finished on this page, click Back to look at other topics.

Charlie, a chimp in the zoo at Bloemfontein, has been picking up cigarettes thrown to him by visitors and smoking them. "Baby chimps pick up habits by mimicking adults and we think he started mimicking smokers at his enclosure which probably led to smokers throwing him cigarettes," said spokesman Daryl Barnes. “Charlie’s already showing the signs of a true nicotine addict. He even acts like a naughty schoolboy by hiding the cigarette when staff approach the area," Barnes said, adding that the zoo was determined to help him quit.

Human beings too pick up habits, though often not so obviously. At work, in friendship groups, from the media, we absorb assumptions and value systems almost without realising it. We do this partly because it’s more comfortable if our behaviour is the same as everyone else’s. So like Charlie we also develop the habit of hiding what we’re doing if we think it won’t be approved of. Yet often who we are and the ways we would prefer to behave represent a more moral and generous lifestyle than the culture around us.

Jesus invited his followers not to hide their light under a bushel basket. Perhaps we could be stronger today in standing for the behaviour and attitudes we believe to be right. Others may then pick up some of their habits from us.

The British transport industry wants to get professional people back on the buses. So the StreetCar is painted lilac to appeal to female travellers; it has a futuristic snub nose and low-slung floor; it’s lit by spotlights, with shaded areas for those who want to snooze. There will be more single seats as well as lounge-style curved seating in the rear. It’ll have a device to turn traffic lights to green when it approaches and text messages will alert passengers when the service will arrive at their stop. Its operators will be banned from describing it as a ‘bus’; yet, for all its ostentatious dressing up, that is indubitably what it remains.

Jesus had little time for pomposity. He saw through religious or wealthy people who paraded their outward excellence but hid their real selves. He preferred the company of those who did not hide the reality of their lives – the tax gatherer, the prostitute, the religious outcast. He never surrounded himself with anything or anyone pretentious. He came to people with nothing more than who he was and died stripped of everything else.

Perhaps today we might be particularly conscious of the temptation to put on airs. Things we do for show are most often designed to boost our own confidence. We may feel we are not very exciting when we’re just being ourselves, or that we need to persuade people to like us. In the end, the most courageous thing, and the most effective, is to be ourselves. We can be proud of who we are without pretending to be someone different.

There are some places where we feel we have a right to be left to think our own thoughts. But in Amsterdam since last Thursday even such privacy is threatened. In a central Amsterdam café, a toilet has been installed which is fitted with sensors to detect exactly what visitors do and to pass comment if appropriate. "You might consider sitting down next time," the toilet told a male Reuters reporter politely in a female robot voice. Creator Leonard van Munster sees the project as an artistic venture. The toilet might remind you to wash your hands, ask you to lift the seat, or if you’re using the privacy for a quiet smoke, suddenly start coughing and warn you about the dangers of cigarettes.

The long term popularity of this new convenience remains to be seen but most people don’t need to go to an Amsterdam loo to hear an unbidden critical voice. In the privacy of our own minds, words are spoken which undermine our self-confidence; they suggest we ought to be doing things differently or fundamentally challenge our competence. Sometimes the phrases used remind us of authority figures from our past; sometimes their origin is less easily determined because their source is an amalgam of all those who in our lives have put us down in one way or another.

Let’s today treat such voices with the same amusement as we would a Dutch lavatorial interlocutor. Our minds might well offer us appropriate words of caution which should be taken seriously. But our inner critics are easily distinguishable from these because of their generally scornful attitude. They don’t deserve to be taken seriously and to greet their admonitions with a dismissive smile might be the best way of silencing them for ever.

In Tokyo, you can pop into a booth and have a picture taken of yourself which is then transformed into a sheet of stamps. At Post Offices elsewhere in the country you can take your own photo in, of yourself, your pets, your grandchildren, and that picture too can adorn the outside of an envelope.

Japanese culture emphasises the corporate, communal aspect of human life but in this way over 100,000 people have asserted their individuality since the scheme began in April. “This is me”, says the decision to put your own image or your choice of image on a stamp, a position normally occupied by the powerful and the famous.

We are all different and all of us are important. In western society, just as in Japan, it’s easy for us to feel insignificant, simply part of a large conglomerate. Here, we can’t use stamps to assert ourselves but it would be no bad thing if today we took the chance, in some appropriate way or other, to say to the world, “This is me!”