Readers who have become familiar with my writings over the past few months may have noticed a very prevalent theme – that of the individual and their own personal response to the world around them. Examples can be found in Do You HAVE Character, or ARE You a Character, Freedom OF Thought or Freedom FROM Thought, and Libertarianism = Personal Responsibility. This post also goes rather hand in hand I think with Quincy’s post on Humble equality vs. haughty equality.
The reasons that I am so enamoured of subjects pertaining to the character is that I clearly see that ONLY by cultivation of positive traits in the individual can we hope to ever engender a change in society.
I’ve titled this piece Self Respect (is greater than) Self Esteem, because I feel that a distinction needs to be made in how we have been and are being educated in our public schools and how that focus should make a shift to promote positive self-image through self-respect (not self-esteem) .
For many years, our schools, psychologists, psychiatrists, parents, etc. have pushed the notions that self-esteem is the absolute pinnacle upon which success or failure in life rests – that without self-esteem, we are unable to survive this world.
In fact, the evidence over the years has shown just the opposite – overinflated egos and grandiose impressions of self-worth abound. Parents allowing children to “do their own thing” for fear of stunting their growth as persons coupled with the ideas of “you’re as good as (with the implication being that you’re really better than) anyone else” being promoted in the public school system are ruining our youth, and have already had disasterous effects on our country.
Some young people are introspective enough to realize that something is amiss. The teen rates of suicide, anorexia, self-mutiliation, etc. have skyrocketed in the last 50 years. I believe there is a direct correlation of the self-abuse rate and the changes in what our children are being taught both at school and at home. Those Teens and even young children who have not been jaded by an over inflated self-esteem realize that there are others who are prettier, more handsome, taller, shorter, thinner, more muscular, etc. They know their own hearts and can see that all is not beautiful and lovely inside. It leads to poor self-image and hatred – depending on other factors – of either self or everyone else. Such hatred is what leads to anorexia, self-mutilation – and situations like Columbine.
Self-respect is what should be stressed to our children rather than self-esteem. It is self-respect that teaches children that the company of those who look down on them is not acceptable or desired. Within self-respect teaching is room for humility, and that’s a good thing. Gifts bestowed on some may be more readily apparent (physical attractiveness or sterling intellect) but if encouraged to seek out those less apparent gifts, young people can learn to not base their self worth on self-image or an inflated self-esteem.
My sister and I were chatting over the cooking of our family Thanksgiving Dinner yesterday, and this was one of the things we were talking about. We both have and have had friends, who allowed themselves to be treated like doormats by boyfriends or spouses. Thanks to the strong upbringing we had from parents who cherished us and were diligent to correct the misconceptions taught in public school, we both learned self-respect at an early age. As such, it’s hard for us to imagine giving up our self-respect to be treated as we see them allowing themselves to be treated. It’s important to teach children from a young age that if they’re mistreated by someone within their peer-group that they need not feel pressure to fit in or appease them – it’s best to just move on. No one should ever desire to be where they’re not wanted – because that leads only to heartache, frustration, and compromised values. And self-respect teaches children to move out and move on.
As an example – we were out a few months ago at a small public event where a group of folks we knew (and many we didn’t) were sitting around in lawn chairs. Our daughters (then 8 & 10) were playing and invited another little girl (unknown to them) and her sister to sit and play with them. The younger quickly accepted the invitation but her sister (probably about 13) responded “I don’t play with children”. One of my daughters spoke up and said to her “My sister and I play with anyone we want to play with, regardless of age.” I didn’t get to hear about the comment first hand – but heard about it later through a third party. It really tickled me, and I wondered if the 13 year old had the sense to comprehend the stinging rebuke issued her by a child she considered beneath her. It pleased me as a mother to hear that perhaps my teachings are not falling on deaf ears.
One of the maxims that my family hears me repeat fairly often is “there should always be some thing that you’re NOT willing to do for money”. We’ve never watched reality TV shows because, first off, they bear no resemblance to reality, and second, we have better things to do with our time. But it was when I first saw some of the teaser commercials for “Fear Factor” that I first issued that proclamation to my family – and I still feel strongly about it. Eating some kind of hideous or horrendous concoction is not something I would ever do for money. To keep from starving, perhaps – but not for money. And even if starving, there are some things I wouldn’t do – and cannibalism would be one of the boundaries I don’t think I could ever cross. There are things worse than death. You see, self respect would not allow it, as I don’t think I could live with myself if I crossed that boundary.
Self-respect is also important in the working world. It allows one to take responsibility for ones mistakes – and sometimes to concede if there is a question. It does not, however, lead to accepting responsibility carte-blanche. I’ve been in situations where I found I had to stand up for myself on principal and have done so. Sometimes to be promoted for it, other times to be chastised – but always to know within heart and mind that I’d done right. It’s a much better way to live – and easier to live with yourself when you’ve got self-respect. I’ll take it any day over an inflated self esteem.