Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Commenting on yesterdays post, fellow blogger Evan08 said:

"Since you threw guilt into the mix, you could also take this post to a sociological level. Self-esteem and guilt serve more than a psychological role. They also help people fall in line with social expectations, like preventing theft, murder incest and so forth.

And then we could go on for days about how predatory-types gain perverse joy from manipulating people's guilt and self esteem.

But you're absolutely right. People need to learn how to lose. They need to learn that feeling bad can motivate positive actions. We, as a society, are a bunch of marshmallow-soft, victim-mentality, pussies. We need to grow a pair and get over ourselves."

Well, that's something I've talked about before, and I think this is the perfect opportunity to expand on Evan's point a little:

I think the most misunderstood thing is that we're not born with a sense of right and wrong or 'good' or 'bad'. People tend to think of good and bad as concrete concepts when they're entirely invented by society. It's the way we are raised and our societal norms that calibrate our ideas of what is acceptable and what isn't acceptable.

(This is why countries in the middle east consider things like stoning to be acceptable and consider us 'decadent and evil' for reasons like women wearing makeup or short skirts. We have completely different societal norms and ideas of right and wrong.)

If we're raised right, we're praised for being good and punished for being bad. As adults we tend to do the right thing because of a lifetime of conditioning through positive reinforcement (You helped your brother with his homework? Have a cookie) and fear of punishment if we do wrong. Add to this a healthy dose of empathy (I know how I'd feel if my wallet was stolen, so I won't take that guy's) and you have a well adjusted member of society.

This is where we hit on the whole guilt/self esteem issue:

If a kid fails a spelling test and comes in lowest in the class, he gets upset and feels bad about himself. It affects his self esteem. This is very unpleasant for the kid, so the next time a spelling test is comes up, he works and studies harder to avoid coming last again and feeling bad about himself. When he works harder and does better than the last test, he gets a feeling of achievement and is rewarded for his efforts…which he wants more of, so he works even harder.

If that same kid steals some cash from his mother's purse, even if he doesn't get caught, he feels guilty about it. Again, if he was raised properly, the feelings of guilt will override any joy he gets from what he's stolen…and he feels bad about himself and he doesn't want to do it again.

Now let's talk about today.

As I mentioned in previous posts, people saw that the kids who did well in school had high self esteem …so they decided that 'high self-esteem' = 'success' rather than the other way around. So, they reasoned, the way to raise a generation of achievers is to make sure they all have really high self esteem no matter what.

So a kid doesn't study very hard and fails his spelling test, but he's told this doesn't matter because he's very special and gets a smiley face sticker on his test and told he gets an A for effort. Not only does this remove any motivation to improve, the kid who came first in the class has no reason to keep working hard because he's not rewarded any more than the kid who came last.

What this leads to is a whole generation of kids growing up with an over-blow sense of entitlement, that they deserve the best of everything without having to earn it or work for it.

Basically we're making sure people are feeling great about themselves when they've done absolutely nothing to deserve it, while also making sure people can act like selfish assholes and not feel even the slightest twinge of guilt. In short, people's mental processes tend to default to 'I'm awesome, so I deserve it."…and that's a very powerful and dangerous thing. It's circular logic that can justify just about anything.

Steal someone's car? It's wrong, but I deserve it, so that's okay. Waitress messed up your order? Scream at her, demand your meal be comped or get her fired, because you're awesome and deserve the very best. Eat too much and end up with heart disease? Well, you're basically infallible, so it's someone else's fault…sue McDonalds.

Basically, this push towards making sure everyone always feels great about themselves is a massive mistake. All it's doing is removing the rewards for doing good and the consequences for doing bad.


No comments: