With self esteem being the most aggressively touted attribute in modern society, why do we still have so many people who hate themselves? Remember when Madonna published a book filled with pornographic pictures, in which she was the star? A well known psychologist (whom I respect) looked at that book and said that it showed an extreme depth of self-hatred. What makes a famous performer with great talent hate herself, and why would she expose her troubled personality so blatantly?
Where does it start? Are the parents at fault? If so, why do three children in one family like and respect themselves, and one hate and abuse himself? It happens all the time, and everyone knows it. There is usually one child in a family whose character and behavior patterns are more constructive than the rest, and one whose patterns are more destructive. Why? No one knows all the answers to this tough question, but it helps to realize that each of these four children has a distinct personality and behavior patterns. They have their parents and home in common, but everything else is separate. Every attribute they bring to their parents and home is different than that brought by their siblings. Some bring overwhelmingly positive attributes and others overwhelmingly negative attributes, and the parents have to try to make sense out of this crazy quilt of personalities, character patterns, talents and weaknesses.
And guess what? The parents bring their own personalities, character patterns, talents and weaknesses to this wondrous collection. Depending on your own personality, it's enough to give you either a headache or a sense of wonder and awe. To quote the kids, it's awesome!
How did good American families of a century or two ago keep most of their kids flying right? And contrary to the vehement denials of modern thinkers, they did. For one thing, each family member knew what his job was and usually had to work very hard, in order for the family to have enough to eat. A youngster who rises before dawn and works hard all day, after which he spends a considerable amount of time cleaning and sharpening his tools for tomorrow, has little time or energy left for either making or getting into trouble. Daughters worked just as hard as sons, but primarily under Mother's tutelage. Dad was in charge, and he kept the kids in line. More to the point, it was his job to keep the kids in line, and if he didn't, he was a poor parent, and everyone knew it. The training an 1796 father received was exactly the opposite of the training a 1996 father receives.
Today's fathers and mothers aren't supposed to be too firmly in charge, because such parents are labeled controllers; that's supposed to be bad for the kid's emotional health. So, too many modern parents, confused about how much controlling is too much, don't control enough; they let their kids rule the roost. That's bad for both their kids' and society's health.
Another fact: Until the last few decades, families tended to remain intact; single parent families were almost always the result of death, rather than divorce. The children in such a family didn't have to contend with battles between divorced parents, as do so many of today's kids. Kids can't be expected to handle such conflict very well, especially if one or both parents tell them that the other parent is unfit, or even coach them to accuse the other parent of abuse.
Another extremely disturbing problem is modern parental abandonment of children to the school or the "village." Schools don't do a good job of rearing kids. They do some educating, depending on the skill, commitment and philosophy of the teachers and administration, and they do some indoctrinating, again, depending on the philosophy of the teachers and administration, but they don't make good parents of someone else's children. More to the point, they shouldn't have to be parents to other's children. As Abraham Lincoln said (slightly paraphrased), "It's a teacher's job to learn 'em," and while it is a teacher's job to "learn 'em," it is not a teacher's job to parent them.
Another peculiar thing in modern American culture is the deliberate baiting of kids to defy authority, especially parental authority. This is being done by our culture, in general, and segments of our entertainment industry, in particular. For about three decades, the words to teen's songs have encouraged rebellion and defiance, and the themes of teen's movies deify rebels and encourage violence. Partying, with drugs, booze and sex, is represented as the ultimate in enjoyable activities.
There is an over-riding theme to all of these self-destructive activities, which is that having fun should be at the top of everyone's list, because life is short, and when it's over, it's over. Work all week, if necessary, in order to collect the means to have fun all weekend; in a nutshell, eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die, and if we die of an overdose, it doesn't matter, because everyone has to die of something. There are no consequences, and the only reason people don't indulge in these activities is because they are too old or too fearful, and, therefore, deserving of nothing but contempt.
To those parents who doubt: This is the message your youth receive, on a daily basis. Is it any wonder they foul up their lives with drugs and disease? We harp constantly on self esteem, while neglecting to tell our kids that self-esteem has a price. Though its secondary price is, indeed, accomplishment, its primary price is adherence to one's own code of honor, which is really nothing more than a bone-deep knowledge of right and wrong. Even if we hate that code and do everything we can to prove that we have rejected it, it can and will extract its pound of flesh in selfhatred, as it has with any number of celebrities across the globe.
Until next time,