...Apparently, I'm supposed to have a problem with this.
Top news story on the radio during my (extended) drive into work today: Huge 25-year-long survey supposedly proves that kids today are more narcissistic and brattier than ever before, and this is the fault of telling kids "you're special" as well as self-esteem programs in school.
I am... not quite okay with the conclusions of this study. While I'm certainly in favor of kids being less bratty and more well-behaved, I am apprehensive that these findings could be twisted very easily into another line of cultural bullying.
This is pretty vague and ill-defined for me right now, but... it seems to me that the idea of "you're not special / you have to EARN your self-esteem" is what's been used for the last fifteen or twenty years to oppose things like feminism, or minority or GLBT rights. (I wish I could provide concrete examples instead of being all vague and hand-wavey about this, but I see signs of this sort of attitude in things like letters to the editor, in overheard conversations, on Internet messageboards... the sense that people who are "different" have to earn the respect of others, have to earn the right to be treated like human beings, rather than deserving human respect and dignity by... well, by virtue of being human.)
And I think it might be very easy for people to see this study and have the following thought process: "Self-esteem programs make kids more self-centered. Therefore, self-esteem is bad. Therefore, anything that degrades self-esteem is good." And that might lead to teachers or school administrators refusing to step in and stop bullying, saying "Hey, learn to fight back yourself!" ... which is all well and good, unless you're the kind of person who wants to go to school to learn things, not take place in a fucking gladitorial combat every fucking day. And hear this now: If kids are pushed around by their peers and they can't turn to adults to stand up for them, then things like Columbine happen. And when things like Columbine happen, it's the misfits who end up hurting the most.
...I think what I might be trying to get at is this. We, as human beings, have an absolute obligation to treat other human beings with courtesy, dignity, respect, and compassion. Not because they have "earned" it, not because they have passed some test we've set up for them, but because they are human beings. (This is what that whole "we hold these truths to be self-evident" line is all about.) And when I hear things like this, I see it as an attempt to negotiate loopholes in that obligation-- to say "These people over here are deserving, but those people over there are not."