Wednesday, December 12, 2012

It's Not this Simple, But...

Yet another mass shooting has occurred (although this time "only" two victims are dead, well, three, if you count the shooter).  This one at an Oregon mall strikes closer to home for me, closer to the home of my childhood. As I read about this story, one paragraph caught my eye. The story quoted "Former FBI agent and ABC news contributor Bob Garrett", according to this news article, as saying:  "The biggest thing for a mass shooter is the control and empowerment for the shooting," he said. "It isn't uncommon for shooter to wear a costume, or sometimes simply to dress in black. In this case, apparently, he wore a hockey mask. He went there being someone other than who he is in reality because it gives him power."

" gives him power". As I read those last words, something clicked in my brain. I know this is very oversimplified. I know that each person who goes berserk and shoots up a bunch of strangers is a different individual. But I have watched our society go from putting kids down: "Children should be seen and not heard; No, Uncle So-and-So couldn't have done anything to you; Get me this, get me that, or Do all these chores"; etc. to building kids up: "You can do anything you set your mind to; My kid is the best darn kid in the school; and My kid can beat your kid up".

And I would like to maintain that both of those attitudes are at opposite ends of a spectrum, not quite what our children need. I think we need to nurture the kids and teach them what maybe we ourselves are just beginning to learn: to nurture themselves. Oh, with guys, you might not want to use the word "nurture". But I think the Buddhists have something valuable here - that we can learn - when they teach "self-compassion".

The problem with the "self-esteem" teaching of the mid-to-late twentieth century lies in its misconstruction to  'I can do anything' and 'I am better' (or 'I am the best'). I'm not saying, by any means, that we shouldn't strive for better things and encourage our children to do so. But it's the emphasis, I think.

If little Johnny thinks he is loved and respected because he's a great Little League catcher, what happens if his arm goes out?  What happens if he finds himself in a league where he's smaller and younger? If Suzy is the most popular girl in her grade school and thinks that's her crowning glory, then what happens if she goes to middle school and all that changes?  Or if her family is forced to relocate?  I'm not saying there's anything wrong with sports or with being popular (and many of the people I have known who are popular are good at bringing people out and listening to them, so they are making a great contribution to society).  What I'm thinking of is how our children define themselves. And how we define ourselves (because they are watching us).

Am I "good" because I'm a writer? Is a mother good because she's a mother? But wait, what if her kids didn't turn out the way she thought they would? Is she no longer a good mother, then? Is she no longer "good", now?

Whether you want to look at it in a religious way or in a secular way, we are good because we "are". We were created by God. We are each unique, each special in our own way, yet each similar to the rest of mankind in some ways, too.  We each develop core values which usually don't change, even when we change our views. What if we were to teach our children that they are good at playing baseball and that's wonderful but they themselves are good because they "are"; because they are unique; because they are kind or thoughtful or helpful, or whatever virtues and core values they possess; because they are loved and they love.

If that's where we get our value, then it doesn't matter if we are no longer good at something, if we lose our ability to do something we used to do, or if we fall short of our expectations. We can dust ourselves off, comfort ourselves, and go on living in harmony with others because we live in harmony with ourselves.

What do you think? Would it hurt to take a little of the emphasis off of "self-esteem" and put a little more emphasis on "self-kindness"? 

We might not solve the shootings of the world but maybe we can help a few people, maybe our children, maybe even ourselves. 



MER said...

I agree totally with your post!
The self esteem "train" goes no where, and your thoughts about self kindness are spot on.

Margaret Mary Myers said...

Thank you so much for commenting! :)

Grace said...

So very true! Thanks for taking the time to write this timely reminder.:) Blessings & Happy Advent.

Margaret Mary Myers said...

Thank you, Grace! :) And Happy Advent to you and yours, too.