Self-Esteem or Self-love
Since the early sixties, the time of ‘flower-power’ and the ‘love generation’ phrases like ‘developing self-esteem’ have been in the forefront of education discussions. It was the time when we put away the rod and, while not spoiling the child we understood the benefits of a child having a healthy sense of themselves. During my early years of teaching we were conscious of building each child’s self-esteem. This goal is still prevalent although different phrases come into and out of fashion. Now the most important trait we should develop is resilience. I would argue that whatever the current phrase is at the heart of all this is the importance of nurturing self-esteem or resilience in our children. However, I would like to place my version of this need to enhance the lives of our children by describing what I call self-love.
Scott Peck, a well-know psychiatrist from the United States relates some research undertaken when he was working with the US Defense Forces. The military hierarchy wanted to understand why some recruits quickly advanced through the ranks to become officers well before their expected time so that they could improve their training. And so they selected the top twenty officers and subjected them to a battery of tests.
One of the tests required these young recruits to list the four most important things in their life. Remarkably they all agreed on the single most important thing in their life and that was their-self. Items two, three and four varied usually citing career, family, children etc. but they all placed them-selves as the most important.
Years later Peck found himself working in the prison system with the most hardened of criminals. He had the opportunity to run the same test with these inmates. Unlike the successful population, there was no clear pattern of what they thought was important to them but the one thing that most identifies within the first four was their self-image. The prisoners were conscious of the importance of what others thought of them, what their reputation was like.
The difference is stark. It seems that successful people are driven by internal motives, what is good for them while unsuccessful ones are concerned by external factors like what will people think about them. This difference explains their behaviour. Ineffective people seek their happiness from external sources; a new car, a big house, people who love them and if they can’t get these things legitimately they take them in the belief they will be happy. A quick analysis of any crime will conclude that the perpetrator took something or someone against the other’s will for their own benefit.
Before I make the case for encouraging teachers to foster self-love in their students I will clarify one thing. Self-love is not about self-obsession the driving force of narcissism. In a previous Newsletter I discussed the modern phenomena of over-indulged children and you often hear others making comments like ‘he/she loves his or her-self’. This is not what I describe as self-love. Self-love is the virtue of compassion, kindness and affection towards one’s self.
I advocate for the necessity to ‘teach’ the property of self-love to our students. But this cannot be done through ‘direct-instruction’; formal lessons will have limited impact on a child’s sense of self but we can provide the conditions where self-love can emerge from the conditions in our classrooms. This is achieved by the school and all the staff modeling the following values and while supporting practices that will lead to the students developing these standards. The school should also abstain from the practices that undermine self-love.
So to the values we should live by:
1. Live Consciously
At the core of self-love is the acceptance of your-self.We have to acknowledge differences to others we have both externally, in our physical world and understand our internal feelings and beliefs are ours.It is our right to keep these to ourselves or share them.This belief includes the acceptance of our values and our right to defend these or modify them if we choose.
Most importantly we consider our-self to be equal to others in our right for dignity and respect.We do not consider that right to worthiness to be better than or worse than any others, we are all worthy.However, we do accept that others may have more talent or prestige in some areas that we will acknowledge without jealousy.
We live in a community that lives by certain social rules and we understand we accept this.We will not profit at the expense of others and claim no special rights or privileges.If we disagree with others we will address the issue with dignity and with compassion towards others however we will not be exploited.We have the right to be received with respect as well as the responsibility to practice that respect to others.We can resist manipulation and collaborate only when it is appropriate and desirable.
We don’t fret agonize over past event nor are we overly concerned about possible future happening.We focus on what is our task now and complete that with a view for future rewards.That is we have the capacity to delay gratification.
Finally we have self-respect, confident in the way we live our lives.We know we are worthy of love and friendship and we can expect to achieve success and happiness in our lives.
We know we can learn new skills and make appropriate choices and we are assured in our judgment and confident in our capacity to solve problems.
Some schools equate making their students feel good with building their self-esteem. It is obvious that providing the conditions that develop self-love are far from ‘making the kids feel happy’, these qualities are tough to live by and hard to maintain and just maybe self-love comes from us providing tough-love for all our kids.