Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Self-Esteem

I am currently in an adult development course in college, and last night we were discussing self-esteem, both in children and adults. Most of the class, if not all, agreed that self-esteem was important. We differed, however, on from where we got it. I recall a comment made by Dr. Laura several years ago. She commented that children today have too much self-esteem - they feel entitled and are spoiled due to our intense attempts to build them up - trying to eliminate negativity or pressure on bad performance in school and sports, buying them material goods over and beyond what they need, not disciplining children with any severity, if disciplining them at all. One student last night suggested that what these children are feeling is not necessarily self-esteem in its truest sense: she said they were experiencing false self-esteem. She defined these feelings as self-esteem based on things, rather than their own self-concept. As I listened, and took part, of the discussion, I realized once again just how sad a state we are in. To me, self-esteem is a dichotomy. On one hand, we have many material goods in the United States, and many of us feel entitled to have these things. We may not be able to afford them, and then we go into debt over them, but having that shiny new convertible or brand new Prada bag does wonders for our social self-concepts. We see ourselves as "cool" or "in-style," either in line with those we envy or perhaps even above them. However, these expensive entitlements come with an expensive price tag, and my generation and younger have not been raised with a good work ethic. Some of us have it, but many do not. So now we have all this social self-esteem, but we have to work our butts off to afford it - and many young workers haven't worked long enough in one job to be able to make enough money to afford their own tastes. College educations are now a-dime-a-dozen, and without seniority or advanced training, high-paying jobs are hard to come by. It can overwhelm a person, leaving him or her feeling down on themselves and their reality. Perhaps I am romanticizing the past, but it seems as though my parent's generation laid their self-esteem not only in the "things" they acquired, but also in the careers they established. Their careers might not have been impressive - perhaps working in industry or farming - but their long-standing employment ensured them a nice retirement and the ability to make some decent money because of their loyalty to the company. We are so materialistic, so disinterested in the person and character, we seem to have lost the very things that can enhance our true self-esteem and leave us with satisfaction in our life. Aside: one of the exercises we had in class was to define ourselves with the question "Who am I?" We have to answer that question 20 times. Next, we had to take ten slips of paper and list our characteristics on them. Then we were told to subtract a certain number of slips of paper, a few at a time, until we were left with four characteristics. Of course, we were left with our better, positive traits. Then we were told to add two back into the group. I added (some of) my flaws back in. Without them, the very characteristics that shape who I am would not exist. The professor then asked us if this was a difficult exercise, or if we included negative characteristics of our personality. Several students said that is was a tough exercise, and who wants to face their negative characteristics? I disagreed. This was an easy exercise - if you are willing to be honest with yourself and admit your short-comings. I hate looking like a fool, but the reality is, I often make a fool out of myself. I can accept the fact that I'm stubborn, impatient, and difficult at times. Perhaps that is part of what makes up our self-esteem, come to think of it. Rather than basing it on how we appear to others, we are supposed to base it on how we appear to ourselves - if we view ourselves a little more honestly, our short-coming might not seem so dire, and what we do successfully - even if it is just being a good toilet-bowl cleaner - will hold more value. Just a thought.