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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Affirmation can be misdirected

In a previous post, I argued that modern society does not affirm people and things as much as it should. I also quoted from the Bible, two verses which indicated that we should affirm -- praise, try to imitate, think about -- what is good.

But there's another side to this. Affirmation can be misdirected.

One type of misdirected affirmation was (and probably still is) a movement to try to increase the self-esteem of elementary school students. (Surely you have been in towns where half the automobile bumpers seem to proclaim some child or other as an honor student?) As the Wikipedia article that the previous link points to indicates, there is no solid evidence that acting so as to increase a child's self-esteem makes for better academic achievement.

It is a terrible mistake to act and speak so as to attack a person's self-esteem, particularly that of a child. But it is also a terrible mistake to lead a child to believe that he or she is a budding genius, athlete, or artist of some sort, when they are not, and show no evidence of ability and ambition toward such a goal. Telling a child who can't read at their grade level, and who does not seem to have any desire to, that she is going to become a lawyer or a doctor is a mistake. Telling a college Junior who barely gets Cs that he should expect to become a dentist is an error.

What should be put up for admiration and esteem is excellence. If the child shows evidence of working hard toward some sort of excellence, then that, too, should be affirmed, but misbehavior and laziness should not.

The same thing is true of adults. In Matthew 22:34-39, Jesus, quoting the Old Testament, tells us that we should love our neighbors as we love ourselves. We should have proper self-esteem -- a realistic view of our failings, and also of our likeness to Christ, which latter should be affirmed. Not publicly, not boastfully, but recognized and encouraged. Our goal should be to have an ambition to become more like Christ. All Christians have such ability. Would that I acted on it more.

Thanks for reading.


Weekend Fisher said...

"Our goal should be to have an ambition to become more like Christ."


Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Weekend Fisher.

Upon reading your comment, I see that what you quoted might have been said better, as in "Our ambition should be to become more like Christ." But I'll let it stand.