The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing -- Edmund Burke

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In Praise of Low Self-Esteem

Michael R. Bowen, MD

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Michael R. Bowen, MD

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"Egotist:  a person more interested in himself than in me."
-- Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914), American newspaper columnist, satirist (The Devil's Dictionary), essayist, short-story writer and novelist.

September 2, 2003


Esteem is a response to a stimulus.  It doesn't exist by itself.  It's something you feel about something or someone, and it cannot exist, high or low, without some quality already being present.  It's a result; a byproduct.  To try and inculcate self-esteem in a child is therefore nonsense; there must be something to be proud of.  If you want a child to be proud of his academic achievement, you must evoke academic achievement and the self-esteem will follow.  One would expect that modern educators, being educated, would understand this and knuckle down to the hard work of teaching the ABCs.

One would assume too much in that case.  You can't open a newspaper today without finding a story about a teacher, principal, or even Superintendent who can't pass the proficiency test required of the pupils.  That's probably because the schools of education are teaching ... you guessed it:  high self-esteem, not the science of teaching.  Not even the subjects they are to teach.

If the ruling idea is to avoid all bruising of egos, there can be no success.  If no score is ever kept, no one can ever be a winner.  If no one ever tells you when you've done a lousy job, then praise means nothing.  Don't expect children to study hard for the same praise the dullards get.  Don't expect them to take pride in their work when they know they'll get the same praise for sloppy work.  Like all socialist concepts, the self-esteem movement is the enemy of that which it claims to cherish, and it is the destroyer of achievement, for it puts the cart before the horse.

What children need (and what we all need) is the odd kick in the pants.  We need to feel disappointed, dissatisfied, ashamed of our performance.  In a word, we need a little low self-esteem.

For the man with the low self-esteem is the realist.  He's not floating on a pink cloud of self-deception; instead he's in touch with the unpleasant facts of his own weaknesses.  And it doesn't necessarily follow that the man with low self-esteem feels inferior to others.  Clear-eyed criticism of self is founded on acknowledgment of the frailty of human nature, and it must overcome self-love, that most powerful of human urges.  From that first acknowledgment follows the knowledge that others are no better.  There are those who claim to believe that human nature is good, but just watch them when they are criticized for a moral failing.  What is their cry?  "Give me a break!  I'm only human!"

And there are two implications in that cry:  not just that I'm a fallible human, but also that you are no better, and have no business rebuking me.  The man with low self-esteem who is considerate of his fellows is the most humane of men, for he extends them charity and tolerance with full knowledge of their failings.  He is thus more kind to them than any teacher pushing self-esteem.  He's also more honest to them, having been honest with himself.  Unearned praise is trouble, because the man who will lie for you will sooner or later lie to you.

Low self-esteem brings hope.  To know what is deficient in you requires that you know what you should be.  If you know what you should be, you have a goal.  It's like the 12 step programs for addiction:  step No. 1 is the acknowledgment that you have a problem, and without step No. 1 there is no future.  If I'm OK and you're OK, why bother?  There's nothing but blankness ahead and nothing to strive for.  Low self-esteem makes it possible to get out of bed in the morning.

So let's hear it for low self-esteem.  Let's all give ourselves a good swift kick and leave off patting ourselves on the back.  We need to feel badly about ourselves if we're ever going to feel good.

Have a crummy day.  And straighten up.

 

Copyright Copyright 2020 by Michael R. Bowen, MD & America's Voices, Inc.  All rights reserved.
Dr. Michael Bowen, a former Naval officer, has a private medical practice in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire.  He writes the weekly column
"The Basics" and the occasional guest column "Mixed Reviews" for America's Voices, a conservative political opinion and educational web site.  His columns also appear in other popular Internet sites, including Opinionet.com and Enterstageright.com.  E-mail Dr. Bowen at mbowen@americasvoices.org.

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