Monday, July 7, 2014

The Dark Side of Self Esteem

-At the Desert Retreat House-

Today I have been thinking about an article I read a while back about the "almost obsessive" emphasis on building student self-esteem in elementary schools nowadays. Some schools have stopped singling out individual students for athletic or academic achievement, fearing that those who do not receive these honors will think less of themselves. Other schools have developed programs where every single student in the school gets some sort of award so that everyone will be able to "think highly" of themselves. 

I think it's probably a good idea to help children develop a sense of positive regard, but I also think there is a fine line between "self esteem" and "narcissism." 

If you grow up without ever having to face failure, you may actually come to believe that you aren't supposed to make mistakes and that everything you do is worthy of an honor. I know plenty of narcissists who think very highly of themselves. In fact, all they ever do is think about themselves. A narcissist lives within the walls of a self important ego and sees everything and everyone from that vantage point - having a constant need to be held in high esteem by other people in order to survive.  

Last Saturday evening I had a wonderful opportunity to go to a concert given by the once very popular Art Garfunkel of  "Simon and Garfunkel" fame.  In some circles, he is still pretty well-known today but for the most part he has lost much of his former "star-power." Simon and Garfunkel were once the "rock stars" of their generation (my generation).  Simon and Garfunkel were the idols of my youth. In their time they performed all over the world- in front of hundreds and thousands of fans and admirers,   at Lincoln Center, London, Paris, Rome, in stadiums, theaters and auditoriums all across the globe.

Art Garfunkel is now 72 years old and he has lost most of his hair. Last Saturday's concert was  performed in local venue not much bigger than a high school auditorium. Garfunkel was alone on stage, sitting on a stool accompanied by a single guitarist; and yet this was perhaps the best version of Art Garfunkel I have ever seen before. 

Saturday's concert felt like we were all sitting in someone's living room having a genuine "heart to heart" conversation and sharing some music. The idol of my youth was, in fact, an ordinary person just like me. And because of that I now respect him even more than I ever did before. 

During the concert, Mr. Garfunkel read some heartfelt poems he had written abut his life. He talked about the joys he had experienced in his days of heady fame and word-wide success. He also humbly shared his many disappointments and failures over the span of his years.  He literally lost his voice a few years back- he thought his singing days were over.  But through hard work and discipline his voice is coming back, and now every day he is grateful for the gift of being able to do what he loves most- make music. And, thats precisely what he did last Saturday, he made beautiful music that truly lifted the spirits of each and every one of us. 

Then, when the songs were finished, he faded off the stage - into whatever is coming next.

I've been thinking about my experiences last Saturday. I went to see an idol of my youth and I was taught an unexpected lesson about walking the spiritual path. The glib praise of others and being held in high esteem is far too prized in this life. No one of us is a rock star or an untouchable celebrity in anything we ever do over the span of our years.  Each and every one of us searches for meaning. We walk up mountain peaks and down through valleys of darkness, failure and disappointment.  And through it all we do our very best make our lives into beautiful music. 

Then, when the songs are finished, we fade off the stage - into whatever is coming next.  

1 comment:

  1. I like this one and agree about finding a balance. There is something key, for me, in that the narcissist cannot help others to value themselves because of their inability to see the beauty and goodness in others, while those who genuinely know their own value as children of God, see the beauty in each individual and reflect back to everyone the love with which God beholds them.