The Low Self Esteem Myth

For years, social engineers have blamed low self esteem for the ills of modern society. Failure to achieve success, or worse, was thought to be due to the struggle of the individual over their low self esteem. Surprisingly, considerable public policy has been put into place without any scientific evidence to support this hypothesis whatsoever. In fact, much of the so-called class struggle boils down in the minds of these social engineers to the non-achieving group simply having lower self esteem than the achievers. If it was possible to raise that self esteem, the theory goes, then we could make achievers out of the non-achievers. Criminals, were widely viewed as individuals with low self esteem.

Recently, research from several sources has made it clear what a myth this has been. Unfortunately, it only took a very small amount of common sense to see this without the aegis of a scientific study. It seems that what Dr. Nicholas Emler, a social psychologist who conducted the study for the London School of Economics, has discovered is that the combination of high self esteem misplaced with low talent is the most dangerous combination for society. Individuals of low self esteem are most likely to do harm to themselves, while misplaced high self esteem leads to an individual full of resentment that winds up doing harm to others.

Young people with very high self-esteem are more likely than others to hold racist attitudes, reject social pressures from adults and peers, and engage in physically risky pursuits such as drink-driving or driving too fast, the study said. Interestingly, the study found that relatively low self-esteem was not a risk factor for delinquency, violence, drug use, alcohol abuse, educational under-attainment or racism. I can tell you from personal experience that some of the most competitive over-achievers I have ever known are people with deep seated insecurities about themselves. They're the ones that feel they have something to prove.

Everyone knows there is some kind of fundamental difference that made society somehow worse for the wear along about the Vietnam/Watergate era. Crime rates rose precipitously, and an overall discontent that has most recently manifested itself as the so called class war are just some of the symptoms. I believe that the problem that has infected our world is a lack of respect, which is the complementary mirror image to the whole self esteem issue. Vietnam and Watergate made disprespect for the establishment, in other words for the achievers, a legitimate pursuit for most right-thinking Americans. We're still trying to recover from that disaster, and indeed do not see it clearly as a problem even today. The problem is that the achievers had abused their power in the worst possible way, destroying not just their own credibility, but far more dangerously the mantle of credibility built for the offices.

Its a curiously American notion that is at once our greatest strength and our greatest weakness. It starts out with "all men are created equal", and moves on to "therefore all men are equal". We forget the distinction that accomplishments may bring, or that the rest of the thought is that all men are equal under the law, are entitled to equal protection, and so forth. We have forgotten respect for others who have accomplished more than us, in other words. Instead, it was replaced by a "Greed is good, even if I had to cheat to get it" mentality. The excesses of Wall Street have done little to aid this cause, because it represented another large institution, formerly respected, that now showed its ugly side and fueled the cry from the have nots that the only reason the haves got theirs was by cheating and luck.

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