I believe that all of the efforts we make in our school systems and homes, to build a child’s self esteem, by constant praise, will ultimately make our children less happy. Someone once said to me “If you are focused on yourself, you will be lonely.” This sounded more like a promise to me than an “if-then” statement. “You want to be lonely and unhappy, just keep focusing on your own wants, rather than the needs of those around you.”
When I was a 19-year old sophomore at Brigham Young University, I found myself completely engaged in the lives of other people. I wrote letters for Amnesty International, I dated, organized activities and service projects. But when I didn’t come home the next summer to earn and save money for the following school year, I ran out of savings and decided to fly home to Pennsylvania in the fall. There, I attended Elizabethtown College where my dad worked, and I waited tables in the evening. My life was work: class, and study. I didn’t talk to anyone, I didn’t even try. I was so miserable.
One night at dinner I complained about how rotten my life was and my dad said, “Kristen, I think you are being selfish.”
“Don’t you think I know that?” I said, and stomped out the door, in tears.
It was raining. I walked through the woods and along the Susquehanna River, praying for some answer. How could I lift myself from the darkness that was my life? My answer came, but not in a pillar of light or a voice from heaven. Instead, it came in the form of a Beatle’s song. George Harrison would not leave my head for days; he said, “When you see beyond yourself, then you will find peace of mind is waiting there.” I decided to become a missionary and I was sent to Japan. I spent sixty hours of service each week in a country and with a language I didn’t know, in freezing temperatures, and much rejection. I’d never felt happier. I found myself in the process of losing my “self”.
My mom once told me about a young girl who knocked another kid over in the process of turning a cartwheel. The mother of the gymnast, rather than showing concern for the injured party, ran to her daughter and said, “It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. That would have been a beautiful cartwheel!” It was as though she was willing to risk crippling her daughter’s potential to be a good person, in order to protect her self-esteem.
Today, it seems, that empathy, charity, duty, obedience, etiquette, and patience all take a back seat to patting yourself on the back and telling yourself how special you are, no matter how low the performance. It’s a dangerous message. If we truly care about our children, we will ask more from them.
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