Genuine self-esteem is the result of an intricate conspiracy between what we think about ourselves, how those we love think and feel about us, and how we live our lives. Previous generations did not believe that esteeming the “self was all that necessary. On the contrary, one’s actions were of utmost importance. In other words, what one “did was infinitely more important than how one felt about him or herself.Those who succeeded in fulfilling their personal, social and moral obligations were generally held in high regard by their families and friends, which increased the likelihood that they would respect, and even like themselves.
The Self-Esteem Movement
The self-esteem movement of the 1970’s that spilled into the classrooms in the 1980’s and 1990’s is based on the faulty premise that self-esteem is a psychological commodity that can be passively bestowed on kids. For example, in the name of self-esteem members of most little league teams are awarded trophies even when they fail to win a single game. The assumption being that individual success or the outcome of fair competition is not nearly as important as assuring that every child feels praised and good about his or her participation. As a result individuals or teams that do not practice, or adequately prepare for competition are equally rewarded, and therefore, as “esteemed as those who commit to hard work and discipline to achieve excellence. Similarly, some school districts have gone so far as to replace traditional letter grades with a less competitive, egalitarian system of measuring academic performance. This is done to ensure that children who do not perform academically won’t feel bad about themselves. The result of this high minded exercise is that academic mediocrity is “esteemed”. Which begs the question? Do contrived accolades for mediocrity or even failure, no matter how well intentioned, really elevate esteem in children? They do not.
In truth, what has resulted from the self-esteem movement is not really self-esteem at all. To divorce recognition and reward from actual accomplishment produces a crippling, pseudo-esteem that crumbles like a house of cards under the pressures of real world competition where performance ultimately matters. This pseudo esteem was recently showcased on the television program American Idol when a young singer confidently assured the audience during a back stage interview that he would be chosen as a finalist. This young man simply oozed self-esteem. Interviews with his family confirmed that he possessed the attitude and confidence to not only advance in the competition, but to become the next American Idol. As it turned out the only thing this self-esteemed young man lacked was any real talent. When he was not chosen to advance he was devastated.
At its core, true self-esteem is the way we view and value ourselves, and our relationships to those who matter most to us. Self-esteem takes root in childhood when we learn that our parents and others love us unconditionally, in spite of our faults and failures, and at the same time push us to perform at our best. As children grow into adulthood, those with genuine self esteem live their lives closely aligned with their goals, values and morals. When they stray from this path, as everyone does, their self-esteem suffers. The resulting feelings of failure, remorse and guilt are healthy, but painful reminders that serve to correct wrong actions, seek forgiveness and strive to do better. Accepting our God given value along with our failures and limitations while at the same time striving to improve is the wonderful paradox of healthy self-esteem.
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