523. Someone to Be Better Than

We all need to feel as if we’re lovable and capable. If you feel that way, and you’re secure about it, you don’t have to prove anything. If you know you’re loved, you don’t have to win any popularity contests. And if you’re great at needlepoint or basketball, it may not matter to you so much that you’re not so good at singing or croquet. Someone else can be good at those things, and that’s okay. And someone else can even be good at needlepoint or basketball; that doesn’t have to threaten you. I, personally, don’t mind finding out that other people teach or write well, and while neither skill can really be measured according to any universal rating system, it’s all right with me anyway if someone teaches or writes “better” than I do; I still know I do both well, and that’s good enough for me.
But not everyone thinks that way. I’ve met both adults and children who don’t think they’re good at anything, and some of them nevertheless work hard to prove that they are – to prove it to themselves and to others. I think the need to prove oneself is fairly widespread, and is responsible for both constructive and destructive things that get done. Some people develop skills and/or do good work as they attempt to prove themselves, and we’re all better off because of their efforts. But some attempt to prove how great they are by trying to prove how great other people aren’t. They look for people’s weaknesses, and when they find them, they’re merciless.
When I first started working with children, I reacted to the ones who put down other children by trying to put the focus on their own weaknesses. I thought they’d be more sensitive to the problems of others if they were more aware of their own problems. Wrong. Children who have trouble learning or doing what other children learn and do more easily usually know that they’re having trouble, and that other children aren’t. They tend not to need to be enlightened or reminded about that. In fact, I think I knew that, and was acting out my own hostility by attacking attackers.
Now, my approach is to try to help all children develop healthy self-esteem – even the ones who are working against this effort. A child who puts down another child is having trouble. Yes, he/she must be stopped; children shouldn’t have to put up with that kind of treatment. But all children need to feel worthwhile. Including, and often especially, the ones who work against their peers’ self-esteem. Once they truly believe that they are lovable and capable, they won’t have to go around trying to prove that other children aren’t.

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