Some Notes On Self Esteem

snoseSince criminals have high self-esteem, it isn’t surprising that our government has made the distribution of self-esteem to everyone a matter of national urgency. The result: Even as the old welfare state passes away, a new karmic state is coming into existence. Instead of giving money to poor people, we will ensure that every American suffering from even minor bummage gets his or her fair share of self-esteem. Everybody wants to feel good.

The last time I felt good, I was hitting 80 in a 65 with “Born to Run” on the stereo. The subsequent encounter session with a trooper cost me $150. It was mean-spirited and it made me feel bad. So maybe the esteemers are right: Maybe feeling good ought to be a kind of psychic entitlement, like food stamps for the soul.

If it feels good, esteem it. This is certainly consistent with the worldview of my peers. We spent decades feeling groovy and it changed everything for us, and now for you, too, dear lads. Before Boomer enlightenment, guys used to ask themselves, “Is this the right thing to do?” They asked that question every time they had to make a decision about some big deal in their lives or in the life of their community or nation. It must have been hellish to make all those calls, trying to decide right from wrong and all that. My Boomer tribespeople came up with a superior methodology: We measured our decisions on the feel-good/ feel-bad axis. That’s still the way many people make their highly nuanced judgments and fine moral distinctions. Self-esteem fits in perfectly with this sensibility, because self-esteem always feels good. And if something feels good, you know what to do next.

Esteem-peddling capitalists have moved into this market, too. When people want a lot of something, private enterprise always picks up where government stops. So thanks to the free market, you don’t have to settle for the one-size-fits-all esteem the government gives you. You can dial in the exact kind of self-esteem you want. If you’re a housewife feeling low esteem because your friends are all swanking it up downtown, you can get your esteem boosted faster than they can get their faces lifted. Salesman? Loosen that sweaty collar. You’ve got everybody from Dale Carnegie on down telling you not to take all those rejections so personally. Telemarketers, repo men, collection-agency dunners–they all have esteem-builders out there waiting to lend them applause. A friend of mine calls this stuff 12-step programs for the terminally modest.

You don’t have to buy esteem. You can make your own. Because esteem is based on increasing your perception of your worth without actually increasing your value, there are risks associated with this strategy. But to feel good about yourself, isn’t it worth it?

nasa* Blackmail your boss. Tell him NASA wants to hire you as a rocket scientist. To keep you around, he’ll up your pay and be nice to you for a week.

* Date an ugly woman. She’ll adore you, and there’s nothing like a little adoration to fill a man’s head with esteem.

* Forgive somebody. Call a woman you dated once and then dumped. Tell her you forgive her.

* Advertise. Make sure your friends always know when you’ve done something to help them. Remind them until they thank you.

* Announce your holiness. A bumper sticker that tells the world you’re in favor of peace is a sign of very high self-esteem.

Easy does it better. The great thing about self-esteem is that it replaces actual accomplishment. It’s a BarcaLounger’s dream. Kick off your shoes, lean back, and tell Uncle Sam to bring you a big, cold mug of respect, pronto. With self-esteem, you get to feel good about what you could do if you really felt like it, or if the evil bastards weren’t oppressing you, or if you weren’t a girl. As a government ambition, it’s a perfect leveler. Instead of a redistribution of wealth, we can have a redistribution of self-worth. That way, if I get to feeling too good about myself, you can tell me it’s damaging your self-esteem and I can then tone it down a little, making you feel better and me worse. This, by the way, is how we hope to reeducate jocks in America.

The confidence game. Maybe what little schoolgirls and all the others suffering from esteem-deficit syndrome need isn’t more self-esteem at all. It’s self-confidence.

There’s a big difference between the two. Self-esteem is what you feel. Self-confidence is what you earn. To gain self-confidence, you have to demonstrate, even if it’s only to yourself, real proficiency at something. The better you are at it, the more self-confidence you earn. When that happens, the worthless respect you gain from government statutes about workplace civility and all that becomes as worthless as it truly is. It’s replaced, however, by the respect you’ve gone out and bought with your sore fingers or your weary back.

Trading self-confidence for self-esteem is a big mistake. A person getting by on self-esteem without any real basis for self-confidence is out of whack. It’s like a chemical imbalance or something. The result is usually irrational behavior. Take Madeline Albright. For those with no confidence, loss of face is everything. That don’t-dis-me sentiment is one familiar to every boy in every ‘hood.

The best way to gather some self-confidence? Cultivate a little self-loathing. Look at the job you’re doing right now. You have two choices: You can either hate the job because it doesn’t give you enough self-esteem, or you can be disgusted with the crappy work you’re doing and do it well enough to merit a little self-confidence.

My favorite self-confidence artist is my blind donkey, Jack. Jack lives in a pasture with a very irritable mare. Every now and then, Jack entertains a dirty idea and follows his nose to trouble, and sure enough, whack, Jack gets it between his useless eyes. But once a year or so, Jack gets lucky (and we get a little mule). It’s not a big reward, maybe, and Jack doesn’t get much respect. But once a year he accomplishes enough to give him sufficient self-confidence to take another year of head-kicking. He just doesn’t care.

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