Below is a brief extract from the Chapter on “Respect”:
Understand Self-Respect vs. Self-Esteem
My kids enjoy playing soccer. They started at an early age, and I remember taking them to their first local matches in our town. What surprised me though, was this concept of “mercy rules,” where a team in the lead by a certain number of goals did not attempt to score any more just to make the losing team feel less bad about their loss. Then there were school competitions, and the concept of “everyone’s a winner.” I was wondering who came up with these ideas. When I grew up, you won or you lost. You failed or you passed; yes, we had grades that went A, B, C, D, E and F, and F was Fail! There was none of this “make everyone feel good” stuff going on. I also saw friends of mine getting involved in their kids school applications—there were even stories of some parents wanting to physically sit in on the actual college interviews with their kids! Even at our local school, parents seem to be taking control and dictating which class their kid should be in, seemingly interfering with the process. This instead just led to problems and that was one of the reasons we took our kids out of the school. Parents have been micromanaging their children’s lives, pumping them full of false confidence, all because they thought that this would enhance their children’s self-esteem and position them better in life. What got lost however, was our children’s self-respect. And herein lies a big problem.
When I went onto Amazon to search for books on self-respect, the first book that came up was How to Raise Your Self-Esteem. In fact, many books on self-esteem were listed. The problem though, is that there is a big difference between self-esteem and self-respect.
Ellen J. Langer, PhD, a professor of psychology at Harvard University, states the two concepts seem very similar but the differences between them are crucial. Langer says “To esteem anything is to evaluate it positively and hold it in high regard, but evaluation gets us into trouble because while we sometimes win, we also sometimes lose. To respect something, on the other hand, is to accept it.”
Langer goes on to say that “The person with self-respect simply likes her- or himself. This self-respect is not contingent on success because there are always failures to contend with. Neither is it a result of comparing ourselves with others because there is always someone better. These are tactics usually employed to increase self-esteem. Self-respect, however, is a given. We simply like ourselves or we don’t. With self-respect, we like ourselves because of who we are and not because of what we can or cannot do.”
Now let’s think back to some of our problems over the past decades. A mortgage crisis because people borrowed more than they could afford because they believed they should have it anyway; Lance Armstrong and other sports stars accused of taking performance enhancing drugs to win, even if it meant cheating; the Bernie Madoff multi-billion dollar ponzi scheme; and a general sense of un-fulfillment and entitlement in our society. This is the aftermath of self-esteem creating several generations of narcissists. Constant praise by parents; kids “never losing” even when they really did; parents taking over their kids’ lives and spoiling them has led to a generation of children who cannot cope, struggle to understand who they are, and who fail at life.
Now consider this from Jill Rigby, author of Raising Respectful Children in a Disrespectful World. Rigby asserts that the quest for self-esteem has turned the world upside-down, and that shifting the objective to self-respect will turn the world right-side up again. Rigby explains that “…kids with self-respect put others ahead of themselves. They feel an obligation to others and a responsibility to society. Bullies cannot rock their foundation, because kids who have self-respect know who they are and what they stand for. They have a balanced view of the world. Their confidence is balanced with humility. They exhibit humble confidence.”
The key then is to stop comparing ourselves to everyone else and stop measuring our self-esteem by our success in life. We can’t all win, all of the time. Also, before we can truly respect others, we have to be able to respect ourselves. Let’s cast aside the idea of self-esteem and instead, focus on building self-respect in ourselves and our children. That means simply liking yourself for who you are and not making it contingent on success; there will always be failures to contend with.