Countless researchers have definitively debunked the self-esteemist ideology that has been sweeping through America’s schools and homes.
And yet, like a preternatural blob self-esteemism continues apace. It almost seems unkillable.
Unfortunately, this is easily explained. Those who believe in self-esteem, who believe that children should be praised and encouraged regardless of their achievements, do not believe in reality checks. They do not believe that self-esteem should be accorded on the basis of facts that can be verified objectively.
It makes sense that they apply this rule to themselves. By inflating their own self-esteem to the point where they never fail, they can remain impervious to the consequences of their policies.
After all, their hearts are pure. They are surely a lot purer than yours or mine. You see, self-esteemists see themselves promoting mental health. They believe that if they give everyone trophies, regardless of their merit, they are producing better mental health.
After all, success feels good; failure feels bad. We do not want anyone to feel bad because that is a sign of mental illness. Anyone who enjoys high self-esteem will naturally flourish.
Of course, this rests on a logical fallacy. If you notice that people who succeed have a high level of confidence then you might believe that if you can artificially produce a high level of confidence in people who have not succeeded they will be more likely to succeed.
But if they are old enough to know the difference between success and failure and will end up believing that you are patronizing them. Besides, those whose success has produced high self-esteem will cease to strive. Why work to succeed when failure is rewarded as richly as success.
Modern psychology seems to have originated in a study of psychopathology. It has worked to develop ways to cure injured or deranged or traumatized psyches. It has assumed that once you remove the internal impediments to full psychic flourishing the mind will naturally know what to do, when to do it, how to do it, with whom to do it.
Perhaps it’s not quite the same as Plato’s idea of innate ideas, but the theory is suggesting that the mind knows how to do this or that innately and will accomplish all tasks successfully, if only it is healed of its lack of confidence.
One understands that Freud himself aimed much lower. He believed that the best he could do was to turn misery into everyday unhappiness. Yet, his followers and most psycho professionals have happily kept open the promise of mental health and glorious flourishing.
If they hadn’t they would have put themselves out of business.
Seeing the psyche in terms of disease and health produced two flaws. I will leave it to you to decide whether or not they are fatal.
By seeing human behavior as an expression of a healthy or sick psyche the theory ignores the fact that behavior is more often a function of experience.
To accomplish a task you need to develop a skill. Remove the psychic impediments that are preventing you from playing golf or riding a bicycle and you will not be one step closer to playing golf or riding a bicycle.
In truth, what you see as a psychic impediment may simply be a function of inexperience or inadequate instruction. One overcomes one’s fear of bicycles by getting on a bicycle and riding it. Surely, the experience will involve a few falls and a few scraped elbows, but, the problem cannot be solved by convincing yourself that you are the world’s most talented cyclist when you have never ridden a bike.
If you can be that good without getting on a bike, why bother to get on a bike. You would have nowhere to go but down.
Second, the mental health based view of human psychology fails to deal with questions of motivation and leadership. Knowing how to get other people to do what is needed is one of the thorniest psychological problems. Those who practice therapy deal with the problem all the time. In some cases they avoid it by saying that their job is not to give advice, but this only makes their bias more flagrant. They do not see human beings functioning society. They see them as monadic units, radical individuals.
If you are a leader how do you motivate your staff to do their best work? Do you submit them all to sensitivity training sessions where they learn that they are the best? Do you point out their failings and flaws, the better to help them to overcome them? Is it better to give pep talks or to allow people to find their own way? If it is, are there better or worse ways of doing it?
In its own warped way the self-esteem movements has shed some light on these questions. At the least, it shows how not to motivate children. It has shown, clearly and definitively, that if you give everyone a trophy no will bother to try, no one will bother to excel, no one will bother to work to improve.
People are motivated when they compete. When they compete some people do better than others. Some achieve more than others. Some acquire more goods than others.
To the self-esteemists, it’s all unjust. They are opposed to competition, whether it involves spelling bees or dodge ball. Obviously, they have no use for the free enterprise system.
If all men and women are created equal it is unfair and unjust for competition to give some more than others. Those who have more must have cheated, or, more benignly, must have exerted unfair privileges.
Increasingly, we are reconstructing our nation on the concept that success should be penalized and that failure should be rewarded.
By age 4 or 5, children aren’t fooled by all the trophies. They are surprisingly accurate in identifying who excels and who struggles. Those who are outperformed know it and give up, while those who do well feel cheated when they aren’t recognized for their accomplishments. They, too, may give up.
It turns out that, once kids have some proficiency in a task, the excitement and uncertainty of real competition may become the activity’s very appeal.
If children know they will automatically get an award, what is the impetus for improvement? Why bother learning problem-solving skills, when there are never obstacles to begin with?
In college, those who’ve grown up receiving endless awards do the requisite work, but don’t see the need to do it well. In the office, they still believe that attendance is all it takes to get a promotion.
The moral of the story: self-esteemism is child abuse.