Reality Check: Esteem Essentials

Can you raise someone’s self-esteem? Perhaps more to the point, can you (or anyone) lower someone’s self-esteem?

The choice theory view is that we can’t make anyone (other than ourselves) happy, sad, angry, or anything else; each of us does that for ourselves. For example, you might praise my work, but I can choose to take that as genuine praise, as sarcasm, or even as implied criticism.

So, if I can’t “make” you happy or sad, then it’s unlikely that I could “make” you raise your self-esteem, either!

When you esteem someone, you hold them in high regard. Self-esteem relates to self, so high self-esteem means you respect yourself and view yourself favourably.

Low self-esteem is associated with having a generally negative view of who you are and what you can do. It makes it difficult to approach situations with confidence or even to speak with assurance. Low self-esteem makes life difficult.

So, reasonably high self-esteem brings with it more happiness, satisfaction, and the confidence to try new things, to learn, to achieve, and to contribute.

Recently, a school announced the elimination of its academic awards (the honour roll), suggesting that such awards hurt the self-esteem of students who don’t get them.  How does that correspond to your perception of reality?

For fun, let’s take this further. Without awards, there are no Olympic medals. In fact, sports as we know it would disappear; do you think stadiums will fill with fans cheering, “We’re all the same, we’re all the same!”? So long to Hollywood award shows, including People’s Choice awards!  Sayonara, Nobel Prize. Bye, bye Booker. We’d even have to kiss good-bye the Maritimer of the Week!

Are such awards bribes? Or encouragements?

Each of us has basic needs; among them is the need for power or recognition. Some folks have higher levels of this need than others; they are highly motivated to excel and to be recognized for their achievements.

The difference between recognizing an accomplishment and dangling a carrot as a reward is whether the behaviour is “bribing to control.” One of the deadly habits, bribing is manipulative: “I control you and can make you do what I want.” An example of bribing to control would be, “If you get on the honour roll, you can have a puppy.”

However, a child (or anyone) who struggles, studies, works, and then achieves a grade, a qualification, or even an award, gets a tremendous self-esteem boost.

What is self-esteem again? It’s seeing oneself as being worthy of esteem. And accomplishment is a wonderfully objective source of self-esteem, whether it’s a young’un tying their shoes or an older one’s completed trig problem. Self-esteem comes from the genuine recognition of, “I can do it!”

Saying, “Good job” to the toddler who’s mastered shoe tying doesn’t lower the self-esteem of their twin who hasn’t yet mastered the skill.  It might even encourage the other to persist, to work harder, to achieve their potential. So, go ahead…encourage! Award! Recognize!

Now, back to the question of the honour roll: Does acknowledging one person’s achievement diminish someone else? What do you think?

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