The time, place and culture we grow up in affects everything we experience going forward.
For those who came of age when obedience ranked supreme – when “what do you know, you’re just a kid” was a given, when harsh external censors (that subsequently became our own internal censors) destroyed one’s self-confidence — the self-esteem movement was welcomed as a breath of fresh air.
Imagine how liberating it would be for a boy, who grew up constantly being berated, to now be told that he was “special” and that he should believe in himself. Imagine how liberating it would be for a girl, who grew up being told “don’t be too smart or the boys won’t like you,” to now be encouraged to think for herself, to go for what she wants.
The women’s liberation movement changed not only women’s roles, but also the educational system. The mission of education expanded. Parents and teachers were there not only to teach kids about important subjects. They were also there to boost kids’ self-esteem. If kids felt good about themselves, it was reasoned, they would be open to learning. Praising and rewarding a child was in; degrading and humiliating a child was out.
It all sounds good. Unfortunately, even the best ideas, once put into practice, create unanticipated problems.
“Good job,” — “excellent work” — trophies for showing up — elaborate pre-K graduation ceremonies are now part of our culture. So is, “have a great day” — “you deserve the best” — “live your life to the fullest.”
So what’s wrong with that? Nothing; if you keep it in perspective and you realize that there are other people to consider as you go about your day. Note that none of these catchphrases say anything about “we,” “us,” or “others.”
So, can you have too much self-esteem? If your self-esteem embraces others as well as yourself, the answer is no. If it focuses solely on “you,” well, Houston, we have a problem.
Kids, and the adults they become, can develop an unwarranted sense of entitlement and a false sense of self-worth. They are “special.” Hence, they expect, they demand, they are indignant when they don’t get what they want. They lash out if they’re “deprived” of a toy, a top grade, an expensive artifact.
Since they are “special,” they don’t look inward to blame. Didn’t get a good grade, teacher was biased; didn’t get that summer job, the system stinks; got laid off, the boss sucks. When self-esteem is based on false entitlement, one’s emotional stability is easily shattered when faced with the inevitable frustrations of life.
Self-esteem, as a concept, has become so eroded that we must now stop to ponder the question: since everyone’s “special,” what is one entitled to?
To basic human rights; to be treated with dignity — certainly. To the best grades, to get into the best colleges, to get what you want no matter how you act or what you do — no! Our children need to recognize that there are many things one is entitled to only because one has earned them, and even then, they may not come your way. C’est la vie!