96. Self-Esteem

I think I’m wonderful, and have thought so pretty consistently for the past five years. Before that, I thought so many times, but not as consistently. Many friends, family members, teachers, and one psychotherapist seemed to want me to feel good about myself, and whatever they did worked. I could elaborate, but I don’t want to be obnoxious about it. Suffice it to say that what I used to think were my delusions of grandeur turn out not to have been delusions.
Probably some of you are annoyed by my first paragraph. Most people are taught either not to think they’re so great, or if they do, not to let on that they think so. As I’ve worked with children, I’ve tried to help them see how admirable they are; I’m not the only one I consider wonderful. If I were, I’d be arrogant, and that wouldn’t be wonderful.
I’m not like Will Rogers; there are people I don’t like. None of them are children; children haven’t had time to develop the traits I don’t like. As a teacher and parent, I’ve tried to help them develop into likable, capable adults.
Counting this sentence, I’ve used forms of the first person singular pronoun twenty times so far in this article. The rest of this article will not contain any forms of that pronoun. Using it too much can start to seem egocentric. This mental exercise is challenging, but it will help direct the focus toward people who need help developing self-esteem.
If we want to teach children to value themselves, we need to learn to enhance our tendency to respond positively to them, and to rethink our responses to signs of self-esteem. We have to redefine “bragging,” or do away with the use of the word altogether. The only kind of self-appreciation that is destructive is the kind that hurts others, either by putting them down, or by perpetuating some antisocial behavior.
Our culture and most of our religions teach the virtue of humility. But isn’t humility the belief in our fallibility? If we are fallible, it’s hard to fault other people for being fallible. And if we’re all fallible, then fallibility doesn’t seem so bad. And if people are able to overcome whatever guilt or shame they’ve come to feel because of their fallibility, good for them, and good for the people who helped them in the struggle.

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