THE PURSUIT OF SELF-ESTEEM
Implications for Good and Evil
SHAWNA J. LEE
LORA E. PARK
North Americans generally view self-esteem as an unmitigated good, integral to a meaningful, satisfying, and fulfilling life. From a young age, parents, teachers, and popular culture teach us that feeling good about ourselves is a high priority (Miller, 2001). Thousands of self-help books, child-rearing guides, and television shows hail the benefits of increasing self-esteem. The self-esteem movement, based on the assumption that high self-esteem leads to positive outcomes (Benson, Galbraith, & Espeland, 1998; Glennon, 1999; Miller, 2001), aimed to raise children's self-esteem to combat social problems, such as academic underachievement, high dropout rates, crime, teenage pregnancy, eating disorders, drug and alcohol abuse, and interpersonal aggression (Branden, 1994; Dawes, 1994; McElherner & Lisovskis, 1998; Mecca, Smelser, & Vasconcellos, 1989; Seligman, 1998).
Underlying this cultural concern with self-esteem is the belief that feelings of worthlessness and low self-esteem lead people to do things that are harmful and destructive to themselves and to others; in other words, low self-esteem is one source of evil. The belief in the costs/disadvantages of low self-esteem and the benefits of high self-esteem seem so pervasive that many psychologists have assumed that self-esteem is a universal