"Parents need to fill a child's bucket of self-esteem so high that the rest of the world can't poke enough holes to drain it dry."
— Alvin Price
Self-esteem is important. It's essential. But are we doing it right? Are we pumping our kids up with good stuff or are we inflating them with the superficial?
We all know that unless we love ourselves and like ourselves we will hold ourselves back from finding out what we are capable of and influencing the world with what we have to offer. But yet, we know so many people struggle with self-esteem, it almost seems like a moving target we are trying to aim at. And then there are others who seem to be able to maintain a positive perspective no matter their situation in life. Why is that?
Consider these two definitions of self-esteem:
One is realistic - meaning we understand that we like ourselves and understand we deserve respect, yet other other suggests that we think more highly of ourselves than we should. That's a big difference in meanings.
Now, consider the definition of self-respect:
1. proper esteem or regard for the dignity of one's character.
Respect is valued in relation to dignity, while esteem can be valued in relation to the impression or perception of what is important.
So what is the difference between respect and esteem?
True or false:
A person who is very attractive, intelligent, and athletically talent, for example, may have a high sense of self-esteem because of these qualities, can they not? And likewise, people can have low self-esteem because they wish they were in better shape, or had different facial features, or a talent that made them 'special'. But a person that has self-respect knows that dignity is not based on appearance, knows that they don't need people to like them or have impressive skills, to like themselves and understand they are just as deserving of respect as anyone else.
And of course, even those who are attractive, intelligent, and/or talented can have low self-esteem as well. From the outside the may seem to have 'everything' - but perhaps that's only because we've been sold on the idea that 'everything' isn't what truly fulfills us and makes us truly happy. Popular kids have breakdowns or worse, commit suicide all the time. We have to ask, is it because of the pressures to strive for these superficial forms of perfection? Or perhaps they're missing meaningful connections with people who truly love them and appreciate them for who they really are, not necessarily who they're supposed to be.
Self esteem is often related to how we compare to other people - popularity, intelligence, how much money we make or how successful we are by societal standards. Self respect, however, is related to how we compare to a set of moral standards - are we honest, loyal, respectful, compassionate? It could be argued that self-esteem can be affected by things out of our control, while self-respect is rooted in only what we can control - our thoughts and actions.
At the end of the day, are we happy with ourselves because we feel like we fit in, or are we happy because we feel that we are living a dignified life and don't care if we fit in?
Society and media tell us - be beautiful, be sexy, be smart, be in shape, be wealthy, be popular, own this, wear this brand, listen to this music, do what the in-crowd is doing and you will be happy. That is society dictating to it's own constructs of what self-esteem should be based off of.
Dignity tells us - be honest, be trustworthy, be honorable, be dependable, be appreciative, be reflective, be respectful, be gracious, be patient, be loving, be forgiving, be gentle, be yourself for you are worthy and deserve happiness no matter what.
It's not something we want to accept, but there are a lot of abusers out in the world, full of self-esteem based off of superficial values. But, if they spent time exercising true soul-searching self-reflection, they would not qualify as being self-respecting individuals. They either don't know or don't care, because they are not even considering the values of morality. And why should they when society at large has, in many ways, turned it's back on morality. We are entertained by violence and motivated by the profitability in 'sex sells'. We say it's wrong, but then it's in movies, video games, music, TV, and commercials. We have to train teachers in schools to prepare for armed assailants - often minors. Girls are given birth control and boys are given condoms way before they are even allowed to watch R-rated movies, not because they're involved in meaningful, romantic relationships - but because they're living in a childhood where sexual objectification of yourself and others is 'normal.'
So the question is are we feeding the right form of self-esteem?
Are we saying to our children:
"You are beautiful. You are strong. You are smart. You are funny. You are likable." Important things for children to hear. But equally and arguably more important yet less spoken:
"You are caring. You are generous. You are thoughtful. You tell the truth - even when it's hard. You strive to do the right thing. You are a good person."
We all know society and media are pushing their version of self-esteem. And it's, arguably, setting our children up for a lifetime of struggle trying to fit in and keep up with the 'machine' that is pumping out the newest and latest trends and standards. But, it's up to us to promote the rewards of self-esteem based off of honor, morality, and compassion. It is through those characteristics that we are capable of forming meaningful connections with ourselves, with others, and with the world.
We leave you now with two quotes from Helen Keller, who was left blind and deaf after an illness during her infancy, but persevered and has earned her place among some of the most inspirational people that have influenced and inspired the world.