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I remember hearing something on CBC radio a couple of weeks ago, about or from a teacher, who said that marking students' work is fraught with conflict and difficulty because they feel entitled to get good marks from the institution their parents support with their dollars. The school, in an unregulated capitalist society is a commodity, and the teacher is a servant. Following this idea another comment claimed that self-esteem is something to be earned - that it was not a right or an entitlement.

So in this brief discussion where I cannot remember the program or cite the source, and for which I apologize, it seemed that entitlement and high self-esteem were linked. Maybe just by me, but the thought has remained even though the source has been forgotten.

Does high self-esteem threaten the quality of education and other social institutions? Certainly billions of dollars are spent in entertainment and advertising that tell us we are special and we deserve the best. And we are surrounded by devices–little genies that pop out of laptops, cell phones and electronic games, whose purpose in their short lives, is to please us. We learn how to press the  buttons to win. Millions of imaginations in the western world can easily believe, in the privacy of their small rooms, that they are in control. Millions of egos who watch endless examples on TV, internet, and game-boys, of how to succeed, without ever having to deal with other people, may think they already have all the answers.

Civil society is under threat from many things but I don’t think self-esteem is the biggest.

Do those who have the drive to lead others always have high self-esteem? Do those who have learned the tricks to get ahead, to come out on top, who are well groomed and good looking, have high self-esteem? Do celebrities have high self-esteem? In short, do the people we hold up as good examples of success have a grounded sense of their worth beyond beauty, money and status, so that when they wake at four in the morning, they feel satisfied?

It seems to me that the drive for material success is more an instinct of survival, in a hierarchical society that marginalises those who don’t play the win or lose game. No room on this planet for the ones who don’t consume. Who refuse, as Reggie Perrin says, to hand their balls over to the corporation. Even the meagre shelters that enable these souls a bed and a toilet at night are closing down for lack of funding.

Commodities really are a cosmetic application to self-esteem that is continually under threat from the competition. Self-esteem has to arise from a sense of worth that comes from being loved and wanted as a child, to loving as an adult, and belonging to community.

It’s poor self-esteem that is destructive. The inner voice that abuses the conscience after any achievement. The bully who endlessly looks for someone to hurt because she is unable to acknowledge the abuse received when she looked for love. The addict who keeps looking for his chosen fix because he can’t find that permanent intrinsic worth.

In reality, the commercial world assigns no intrinsic value to us. In the hierarchical, political realm  there is no esteem for the self because life has no value. No more than a global virus, we serve or die alone.

Self-esteem doesn’t exist outside of the self’s participation in a community that is radical enough to love life more than power and profit.


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