The generation brought up on self-esteem is struggling

Apr 15, 2017 by

by Simon Smart, Sydney Morning Herald:

The self-esteem movement has failed us. Maybe the Easter story can still help.

[…] The reasons for this are complex, but many psychologists believe our prioritising of self-esteem based on the validation of others has taken a toll.

Could it be that our focus has been misplaced? New York Times columnist David Brooks, in his provocative 2015 book The Road to Character, says so. He identifies a shift from a society that once encouraged humility to one where people are urged to think of themselves as the centre of the universe.

“As I looked around the popular culture,” he writes, “I kept finding the same messages everywhere: You are special. Trust yourself. Be true to yourself. Movies from Pixar and Disney are constantly telling children how wonderful they are … this is the gospel of self-trust.”

The whole schema, as David Brooks laments, begins with the self and ends with the self, which is necessarily limiting and ultimately inadequate. Without facing our divided selves, our weaknesses and limitations as well as our strengths, we will have missed something profoundly important.

The story of Easter is increasingly out of sync with our culture. This is no light bedtime tale for the kids. It’s an account of betrayal, brutality, death and political scandal. It’s about the darkness of the human heart and the bad news that we are all implicated in that darkness. It says that, contra the self-help and actualisation movement, sometimes we feel guilty because we are guilty.

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