So there’s a display of student art work in the local Starbucks and inscribed on one of these pieces is the following: “Love of self is the answer to all problems.” That, my friends, is a lie. And not just any lie. It’s a damn lie.
“Love of self is the answer to all problems.” If only the slaves had known! If only the Jews in Germany had known. A few positive mental affirmations and it would have all gone away. Problem solved! Imagine me doing a Chris Rock impersonation when I say, “love of self” doesn’t answer shit. You know what answers problems a lot of times, though? Despite what you read on Volvo bumpers? War!
The only problem love of self answers is the following: “I’m horny and no one will sleep with me.”
This sort of muddled thinking really sets me off. It’s bad enough when a bunch of puddingheaded adults are wrapping themselves in positive affirmations. But I think those who shovel this down the throats of kids should be arrested for child endangerment.
I understand that it’s well meaning. I understand that we don’t want to raise kids with inferiority complexes and we should protect girls in particular from feeling substandard because they’re fed a constant stream of anorexic celebrities (and celebrity skanks) as role models.
But guess what, kids. Life isn’t fair. Self-esteem gets you nowhere and neither that nor dreams is a substitute for skills and connections. If a dream and self-esteem were all it took, we’d all be brain-surgeon novelists who flew fighter jets to our modeling gigs on the weekends.
Think about all the self-loathing young white girls who go to posh schools and know the right people and get great jobs. Now think of all the self-esteem having inner-city kids who go to crap schools and don’t know anyone. They might feel great about their inner (and outer) beauty, but without a proper education, they’re gonna be broke doing it.
It’s been a long-standing joke that life ain’t little league and you don’t get trophies just for showing up. We’ve raised a generation of kids to think otherwise. What’s worse is that we’ve told them that feeling strongly and trying hard should more than compensate for a lack of skill. Back when I taught college classes, I saw it all the time. “But Mr. Wheaton, I tried my best.” “Guess what. When you’re 19 years old and in college and you don’t know the difference between a noun and a verb is, your best isn’t good enough. And neither your tears, nor your parents, nor their money will convince me otherwise. And don’t even try to come on to me because that ne… Oh. I. … well … yes, I have been working out… Well, maybe extra credit could be… Oh, THAT kind of e…” Wait. Where was I?
And you see it on reality shows. This becomes most clear on cooking shows. “I know I brought my A game. I did it with passion. I tried my hardest. I really cooked with love.” Yeah, well you also cooked with too much salt, not enough oil and you served up shit on a shingle. You can’t eat love and you can’t taste effort if there isn’t a matching set of skills to go with them.
The fact of the matter is, if I’m hiring for a job, the last thing I ask is “Do you have a positive self image?” As if. “You know. You can’t spell. You can’t add. You’re asking for twice the money as everyone else, but dang it, you just have so much self-esteem! And while that other dude could work circles around you, he was a total self-loather. Job’s yours.”
Sure, we should praise our kids. But the praise should come as a result of something they did. It shouldn’t be hollow–“Oh my god. You breathe so well, Timmy. You’re the best breather in the world.” And it shouldn’t be false–“I know you have two black eyes and a broken nose just from working with the punching bag, but you’re the best kid in your karate class.” Love them always, praise them when they do something right and try to ease them into reality as they get older. (Because if you don’t some jerk like me will when they enter the work force!)
But no, love of self is not the answer. It’s masturbation. And according to the original Boy Scouts manual, masturbation makes you blind. (And your palms hairy, but that’s not really germane to this conversation.)