I don’t get this whole movement against self-esteem and telling young people they’re special. It seems to revel in the idea that life is a bloodsport where everyone isn’t going to win, many will lose and losing comes specifically from thinking positively.
I get that you don’t want someone to develop an inflated sense of self-importance or otherwise feel like the world owes them the universe. Selfishness is what drives greed and, consequently, the reckless behavior that shoulders a lot of the blame for our nation’s woes. (And inspires insufferable Ayn Rand disciples.) But I don’t think those repellent attributes arise from encouraging a kid. In fact, they seem to coexist with the same competitive, winner-loser mindset that worries about them in the first place.
There’s a difference between rightfully curbing arrogance and beating down an individual. This is a staple of many religions: that you’re insignificant and must not think otherwise for the good of the whole. It’s also true in the military and many tougher workplaces, where workers grovel to please (or not piss off) the big, stern boss. There are times when a hierarchy is essential to function. But insisting that we need to treat students this way is mean.
There has to be a middle ground where a kid can feel confident about themselves, while understanding their place in the vastness of the world around them.
Whenever I hear someone bemoan participation trophies or complain about possession of specialness with intent to distribute, the word that usually comes to my mind is “pushy.” These are the people who want to be No. 1 for its own sake. Their happiness is predicated on how high they (or their kids) can rise above the competition. So when they win a trophy, they don’t want anyone else to have one. If everyone else is happy, they are not. When they win the Olympic gold, it burns their asses that others have silver and bronze on their walls. Even when it comes to graduations and other non-competitive achievements, they want to be able to come out on top. It’s not about being the best one can be; it’s about being the best to shove it in others’ faces. It speaks to a profound insecurity.
I don’t think it’s coddling someone to show them support. Most people, children and adults alike, are naturally critical of themselves. Encouragement from others can make all the difference in how confident they become to pursue their potential. Negative influences abound, because it’s easier to tear someone down than it is to bring them up. We need all of the counteracting forces we can muster to marginalize that negativity.
Whenever someone says, “You’re not special,” what they really mean is, “Give up on your unique hopes and dreams. Either you’re Bill Gates or you’re working for him. There is a workaday world out there and it won’t work itself. Get in line, pay your dues and wait your turn.” It’s no surprise that these are the same people who ask Liberal Arts graduates what they plan to do with their degrees. And the same people who relish in telling all graduates, “You’re on your own, cog. I got mine. Life is hard. Enjoy this economy.”
That’s the last thing creative people ever want or need to hear. Because that workaday world is always going to be there. Despite the high unemployment rate, it’s harder to avoid getting sucked in than it is to get in. It will always be there. Your special opportunity might not be. So if that describes you, go for it. Don’t feel like you have to concede right away. Bitterness is a bitch.
Yes, you’re special. Don’t let people who aren’t bring you down.