By David Joel Miller.
Is self-esteem making us sick?
We have reached the point, in much of this world, where everyone needs to be above average. What this means for us and for our future is yet to be determined. But it is possible that this constantly forced diet of having more self-esteem is starting to make us all sick.
First, we need to figure out what above-average means. Average used to be a mathematical concept, take scores, add them up and divide by the number of people. We also had mathematic concepts for the most common score and the score in the middle.
I have never heard any individual referred to as being a “modal” or “median” person. But lots of people get referred to as “average” and this is customarily used in a derogatory manner as if being average was somehow to be less than acceptable.
There are some huge consequences of this “everyone needs to be above average” theorem.
First, we need to lower the standards till at least half of us can get above that score. So it has become common practice for some years now that everyone in a class needs to get an A. Anyone who did not get an A is now considered a failure. That requirement for perfection has resulted in a culture of giving out lots of A’s. Everyone gets an A now.
Now when I was in school a perfect GPA was a 4.0. If anyone was getting a grade better than that, they never told us. Yes, some really smart kids when over to the college for a few classes the last year in High school but they might get a B or even a C in that college class and we will all very impressed that they were taking college classes.
Today I hear that kids are taking AP classes in high school. This has been going on for a while now. So the good colleges now will not look at a student with a 4.0 GPA which used to be a perfect score. Now you need a 4.2 or 4.3 to get considered.
The result, more kids get A’s but the “average” kid can’t read or write and they get their education from watching television.
We are in fact distorting things so that reality is no longer real. Everyone is above average and anyone who is not perfect is a failure. Life has become a virtual adventure. Homes include virtual pets and virtual parents.
Thank god for prisons. Because the prisons are our great housing project for people who are not above average. Many prison inmates are in fact illiterate. So we are close to making being below average a qualification for being a permanent member of the incarcerated class.
Now if you are above average always, even if they have had to lower the bar so you can always be above it, you might come to think of yourself as better than average, superior, even entitled. We used to call this narcissistic. We have stopped thinking of people who feel superior as narcissistic and we now evaluate them as either “average” or a political candidate. Those who have refined narcissism to a science get to lose other people’s money on Wall Street.
Now if you are above average, and everyone is above average and to be below average means you are a worthless failure, what do you do when you fail to be above average at something.
Why you get angry, very, very angry. You blame the test, the teacher and the whole school system. And if no one agrees with us that being less than average is not fair then we could sue or get violent.
This whole need to be better than others to be OK is at the root of a lot of this world’s problem. My religion needs to be more correct than yours otherwise I may be wrong and less right than you and that would mean that I am defective somehow. So if you do not believe like I do I need to kill you to make me more religiously correct. See how this whole need to always be better than others and more correct can be a rabbit hole down which society may disappear to never be seen again.
Mr. Ellis liked to remind us, I kind of miss that guy these days, that the problem was not low self-esteem. The problem is this whole notion of rating ourselves as if our whole life were some sort of televised bowl game and we needed to die with the highest score.
Rather than this whole truckload of self-esteem and how we need to be better than everyone else, we need to be talking about how to be more accepting, of ourselves and those who are different from us in so many ways.
Higher levels of compassion are desperately needed and the place that most needs an increase in compassion is right in our own homes. Start by having more compassion for yourself and those around you and then when you have some excesses of compassion spread that around. Unlike self-esteem where you dare not give it away or you will run out, compassion has a much better flow rate. You can spread compassion around and it seems to go on forever.
Want a healthier world? Switch from a high self-esteem diet to a high compassion diet.
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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books