The Synthetic Self-Esteem Movement

Updated: Nov 12, 2019



Americans rank lower than other people in alot of categories today. Except two: self-esteem and self-confidence. By far, the most confident people on earth are Americans.


Self-esteem is what you think about yourself. Confidence is how you feel about your abilities. In a healthy paradigm, self-esteem is rooted in abilities and achivements, but never spills over into haughtiness or entitlement. Confidence is the result of practice, study, training and discipline, not background, lineage, culture or your mom's empty praise.


The self-esteem movement began with Nathaniel Branden (disciple of Ayn Rand) in the 60's. His thesis: "I cannot think of a single psychological problem, from anxiety and depression to underachivement in school or at work...to spouse battering or child molestation...that is not traceable to the problem of low self-esteem."


By the 80's this idea had thoroughly penetrated doctors' offices, schools and suburban homes. "Virtually every social problem can be traced back to people's lack of self-love." It was decided that "self-esteem was the most important thing in the world, and that if you solved that, everything else would follow."


A lot of these points are disputed (e.g. most immigrant kids have less self-esteem but do way better), but the importance of self-esteem and self-love are not the contention here. In our aqida, self-love is actually the beginning of Divine love: "Love Allah because of the blessing He showered upon you."


The point of contention is *how* self-esteem is gained. The old school American psychologist William James got it right: accomplishments produce self-esteem. But in the new iteration, it's reversed: self-esteem is the cause; achievement is the result.


The American movement holds that self-esteem can be given with words (only partially true). Nobody should ever feel they are not good enough. Hence, a trophy for every kid, while sheltering them from disappointment and rejection.


Words only increase confidence in the way sugar gives energy, i.e. merely a temporary burst. The true basis of self-esteem is achievement. Achievement in turn, requires discipline. The study of discipline is fascinating. The greatest motivator of discipline is some form of uncertainty. Herein lies the problem with the American self-esteem movement. By ensuring kids that they are fine no matter what, it undermines uncertainty. If you are rewarded regardless of the result, your most critical motivator is taken away.


Synthetic self-esteem is a destroyer of people and nations. It causes entitlement and erodes impulse-control. When I used to visit Egypt, all their self-esteem was based the past. Or in Egypt's reputation in history. Nothing about today. No achievement in the here and now. So why no humility? It's because in order to have true humility, you need something to be humble about. All the boasting is just a cover to mask the failure (aka khaybitkum al-soda).

Sadly, we're seeing the signs of this backward psychology here in America. Moms with lavish praise for their kids who achieved nothing. It makes me sick. It's a cover to mask the failure. You get pride for the pride's sake, not because of any success. If you tell your kid you didn't do a good enough job, it's viewed as abuse. It's absurd. Notice something: people with that mentality always go into fields where there's no real objective measure (like science, math or law), because they can't handle coming up short.


Greatness cannot rest on shoulders shielded from disappointment like this. We all should focus more on achivement-producing factors like discipline, hard-work and impulse control. The self-esteem will come by itself after that.

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