Self-Esteem Isn't a Desirable Goal

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A team of researchers from Case Western Reserve University and the universities of Nebraska and Virginia has corroborated what I've been saying in this column for nigh unto 20 years: High self-esteem is a problem, not a solution to a problem.

Said researchers have discovered that people with high self-esteem tend to have low self-control. That makes sense, as only regard for the rights of others keeps one's nastier impulses in tether, and the more regard a person has for himself or herself, the less regard there is for the other guy. I often have said what I will now repeat: The desired goal should be self-respect, not self-esteem.

"Well, John," a fellow recently said, "I think you're mincing words. You're really talking about the same thing."

The fellow's challenge reflects the fact that our national obsession with attaining the supposed "cure-all" of high self-esteem (and making sure our children acquire it in abundance) has resulted in semantic confusion.

People tend to think self-confidence, self-respect and self-esteem are one and the same. Common also is the notion that "true" self-esteem is acquired not by being praised a lot, but through accomplishment. So let's examine these issues in whatever depth this column will allow.

To take the last first, if self-esteem truly is all about accomplishment, it is a decidedly un-American notion. Why? Because that means persons who by virtue of endowment are not capable of much in the way of accomplishment are not due a lot of self-esteem. The meritocracy of self-esteem should not appeal to anyone other than people with high self-esteem, who tend, so the research says, to delight in the notion that they are a cut above the rest of us.

As for self-esteem and self-confidence being one and the same, and speaking personally, I don't have a lot of confidence when it comes to certain things. …