Self esteem

I’m Gen-X and so grew up in the curriculum of self-esteem, which seems at once admirable to work for and yet very suspicious. There is something fishy and hollow about just trying to promote self-worth, while at the same time it’s impossible to argue that a sense of real self-worth is a crucial aspect of any education. Why?

Some ideas:

1.) It should be a by-product and not a goal. Just as Aristotle argued that to seek happiness ends up giving both happiness and pleasure while to seek pleasure ends up losing both of them, seeking real accomplishments will give us a sense of self-esteem while seeking self-esteem will cause us to lose both real accomplishments and self-esteem. The reason seems to be tied up with…

2.) The moral licensing effect. People seem to have a finite desire for self-esteem, and after that they simply quit looking for things to fill it up. The difficulty is that this finite desire can be totally satisfied with nothing but positive feelings and good intentions, leaving one with no desire to do anything that is actually good. More problematically, we can use our good intentions to justify not doing good things.

1 Comment

  1. PG said,

    May 22, 2014 at 11:13 am

    Even more problematic, to my eye, is that the self-esteem conferred by #2 is an extremely fragile, easily damaged sort of self-esteem. Contact with a perceived instance of a more solid self-esteem tends to actively damage our own when it is built on so little. Often, rage is the result.


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