On Self Esteem

On Self-Esteem

It is commonplace to think that this generation has too much self-esteem and a quick Google shows that there is data to back up this belief. My students, honor students, often think they know more than they do.

They have piles of medals, many meritless, and stacks of certificates.

And yet most of my students struggle more with self-loathing than the other form of pride.

Could it be that our culture is so toxic to our self-worth that our prizes and proclamations that everybody can be a Disney princess is a futile attempt at compensation?

I think so.

We justly are worried about bullying and teen suicide. No Christian can support bullying anyone and any suicide is horrible, but it is worth nothing that some much less sensitive cultures had and have less suicide. My read of the statistics shows that it was rarer in the less tolerant and sensitive nineteen-fifties than now.


Nobody sane wants to go back to the fifties, but it does give pause to inclinations to select causes for our present problems.

I have no easy answers, but wonder if the cause is not “worldview” failure. If a person was raised in a coherent system, say Roman Catholicism, wasn’t it easier for him or her to later reject the system? Most students I meet, even religious ones, have selected an incoherent blend of ideas and cannot live consistently with them, because the ideas are not consistent.

They are confused, censorious about an odd list of things picked up from movies, and libertarian about others. They judge and sermonize, but also loath judging and sermonizing.

Having said all of that, I know I am too often describing myself.

It is hard to like yourself or know when you are making progress in virtue when you have no coherent view of virtue. We try to substitute trivial accomplishments and say they count as progress. I don’t litter, my generation had that pounded into us, but it is hard to feel good about self based on my failure to throw garbage on the ground.

At the same time, does anyone think being employee of the month is going to build genuine self-worth?

And so I turn to philosophy and theology and realize that it is arrogant to think I can construct a worldview on the fly. I would be wisest to buy a package, whether a thoughtful form of secularism or a thoughtful form of Christianity or something else coherent and then react to it.

I might be able to see problems in a view I cannot create.

Best reason and best experience has made me a traditional, indeed an Evangelical and Orthodox Christian, but I must be humble in adopting that pose. First, I might be wrong given limits in my reasoning and my experience. Second, I fall short of the standards of my own movement.

Still having chosen a worldview and submitted myself to it, I am able to “keep score.” I must be careful not to reject my worldview just at the place where it rubs the most against my desires . . . since the risk, at least for me, is always greater that I will condone my own sin.

As I grow in Christ, I am humbled, but can also appreciate what He is doing in me. In some of my best friends, better Christians than I, this can lead to healthy self love or false humility.

I pray again as I think of the complexities in all of this, “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”

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