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How America is obsessed with raising self-esteem

Фото: Depositphotos

In 1991, the children's book “Cuties in the Kingdom of Self-Esteem” was published (The Lovables in the Kingdom of Self-Esteem). The work, released from the pen of Diana Lumans and illustrated by Kim Howard, carries a simple and at the same time powerful message: you, the kid, reading this book or listening to how you are read by adults, very special.

Under the cover we are greeted by this greeting:

I AM A CUTIE!

I AM A CUTIE!

I AM A CUTIE!

These magic words open the gates to the Kingdom of Self-esteem for readers of all ages. The kingdom is inhabited by the 24 animal - Cuties - each of which has some special quality. Monkey Mona is very cute. Owen Owen - capable kid. Beaver Buddy cares about the world. Goose Greta believes in herself.

"Cuties" were published on the wave of a fashionable cultural phenomenon that was rapidly conquering the whole of North America: insanity in self-esteem. In 1980-90, a special spirit reigned in society. The tasks of the school included not only learning, but also shaping the children’s sense of their own uniqueness and potential.

And it is not only about schoolchildren. In those days, almost each - from the CEO to the unemployed - it was suggested (by psychologists or other authoritative experts) that working on self-esteem can, using the terminology of “Cuties”, open the gates to even greater happiness, higher productivity and everything your heart desires. This argument served both personal and political goals: the political movement that originated in California argued that increasing self-esteem contributes to lower crime rates, fewer teenage pregnancies, and other social problems — even such as environmental pollution.

The long-term consequences of these statements are difficult to overestimate. Insanity to self-esteem has changed the management structure of countless organizations, changed the approach to education, used in the education of a whole generation - the so-called “generation Y”, or millennials - and this generation's perception of themselves (very positive).

However, the trend message that high self-esteem will solve a number of social problems turned out to be false. But it did not matter: for millions of people, such a concept seemed too convenient and suitable to bother with testing its effectiveness. Many people still They believe that increasing self-esteem is one of the most important life goals, the achievement of which is extremely important for harmonious mental development.

In fact, an eccentric politician, John Vasconcellos, who passed away in the 2014 year, started this wave. He has been a member of the California legislature for 38 years. However, first of all, he was a nonconformist: he grew his hair in the legislative assembly throughout his three-year term — and Californian notes were clearly heard in his non-conformism. Vasconcellos was an idealist, convinced that unrevealed greatness lurks in every person, but his idealism was in part caused by his own demons and the struggle that lasted all his life with outbursts of anger.

He was fond of the teachings of the Esalen Institute in Big Sur (a communal settlement on the west coast of California - Ed). There Vasconsellos stumbled upon the impressive size of the work of psychologists about the importance of self-esteem. According to those studies, people's reactions to various difficulties and manifestations of hostility varied depending on their self-esteem. As explained Science of Us Roy Baumeister, a social psychologist who specialized (including) in self-assessment, established a correlation between self-assessment indicators and the success of self-presentation of the subjects, as well as “what was their reaction when we said that they failed the first test of a long series tests.

This finding has determined the entire career of Vasconcellos. He was guided by simple logic: if low self-esteem is the root cause of inadequate reactions, poor performance and bad behavior, then, of course, an increase in self-esteem can bring countless positive consequences.

In 1986, Vasconsellos managed to convince the California Parliament to set up a commission to study the impact of self-esteem on the public and political situation in the state. The task of the working group was to study the effect of self-esteem on a wide range of social problems; The state allocated $ 245 000 per year to research. Naturally, the work of the group was led by Vasconsellos.

Many ridiculed the idea of ​​a California politician: for example, Harry Trudeau for three weeks ridiculed the idea in Dunsbury (a popular comic book - Ed.) (his frivolous protagonist Bupsy was assigned to a fictional version of the working group), but it was time for the members of the present working group to get to work in order to fulfill the naive promises given by Vasconcellos. The group was not homogeneous - it included, according to the materials of one of the articles devoted to the working group, “fundamentalist Christians, activists of the movement for the rights of sexual minorities, law enforcement officers, teachers, lawyers and supporters of the New Age religions”. The members of the working group were confident that their new project should bring extremely important results. For example, help states save budget money allocated to juvenile inspectors and maintaining prisons.

It took the members of the working group more than a year to develop a definition of self-esteem, which ultimately sounded like “awareness of one’s own value and importance, ability to take responsibility for one’s actions and act responsibly towards others.”

In an interview with the agency Associated Press A representative of the Republican Party, who was among the members of the working group, called the initiative to increase self-esteem as an alternative to the traditional method of “reckless spending in trying to plug new problems”: “We continue to spend money on countering crime and violence, on combating drugs”. According to his logic, if the state could develop cheap methods of increasing self-esteem, these expenses would no longer be necessary.

The growing popularity of the project was reinforced by the constant promotion of “research” conducted to confirm Vasconcellos theory, according to which self-esteem was the cause of many personal and social problems. However, many of the experiments conducted at that time were either a ridiculous heresy, or a hack. Vasconcellos Task Force also organized a series of activities throughout California where police, social workers, ex-offenders, etc., spoke about the importance of self-assessment. The group surprisingly successfully and quickly managed to win a place in the national discourse on the fight against drugs, crime and other social problems.

Baumeister oversaw the work of the working group with growing distrust. “With 84 – 85, I began to collect information contrary to the statements of the working group, and began to realize that not everything was as smooth as it seemed to me.” He feared that Californian "self-assessors" had missed a rather realistic opportunity: perhaps productivity was not the result of high self-esteem, but just the opposite; perhaps a higher self-esteem of more talented, smarter, or successful people is result these qualities and achievements.

In 1989, the working group published its most important work, the book The Social Importance of Self-Assessment. According to Baumeister, this publication also was not of high quality, like all of their research. He could not find no evidence that would support Vasconcellos’s claims about the miraculous properties of self-esteem, such as its obvious potential to reduce crime.

But the press had a different opinion on that. Despite the fact that initially the media were skeptical, but subsequently reports of a movement in support of the growth of self-esteem acquired a more benevolent tone. Criticism was less and less common, and more and more often, small, full of admiration news columns and endless unconfirmed comments from authoritative, but confused, self-evaluators. There was a substitution of concepts everywhere: the relationship was taken as a causal relationship, and vice versa. That is: it is not surprising, of course, that many criminals have low self-esteem - this is what happens, since offenders have a lot of bad things in life. But this does not prove that it was the self-esteem that pushed them to choose an outlaw life or that everything would have turned out differently if, in childhood, someone had inspired them that they should treat themselves better.

The press at that time was in solidarity with the movement for increasing self-esteem: they all took it for self-esteem ... Well ... A lot of things. For example, in a published Baltimore newspaper Offer The article described the following “San Jose timetable based on self-esteem principles”: “Standards applied to both schoolchildren and teachers meet the challenge of creating a sense of security, awareness of one’s identity, involvement in society, goals, and personal self-improvement . For example, a student who is lagging behind in geography may choose a comrade from the class, work with a high school student, a teacher, or attend additional classes. ”

However, providing assistance to lagging students does not contribute to the growth of their self-esteem - in any case, directly - these are just additional classes. Vasconcellos and his colleagues often urged any social programs to the goal of "increasing self-esteem," including even quite traditional examples of social and educational assistance, not directly aimed at the formation of higher self-esteem. This misunderstanding caused confusion: perhaps some of these programs did bring some results, but this was not necessarily due to the methods they used to improve self-esteem. However, amid general obsession, it was very hard to hear the voices of skeptics.

Ultimately, the topic of self-esteem has become extremely popular. It is difficult to estimate how much money was spent in this area - the more extensive self-help industry, part of which is self-assessment initiatives, brought $ 2015 billion a year to 10.

Of course, the most successful supporters of the theory of self-esteem have been enriched, with the mind taking advantage of another passion of the country. Jack Canfield, the founder of Los Angeles-based Self-Assessment Seminars, offered customers a seven-hour course in which they intended to use video, audio recordings and kinesiology techniques a flurry of sequels and books on a similar topic).

In some states, people receiving social benefits were given special exercise books to increase their self-esteem. In general, such an active promotion of ideas about the importance of high self-esteem did not allow anyone to be skeptical about this concept. And the matter is not only in the mountains of materials on this issue, but also in the school curriculum, and in the actions of the management of the enterprises, which by that moment had invested a decent amount in this idea.

Nowhere is this insanity in self-esteem manifested more clearly than in American schools. Together with these ideas, all sorts of new exercises began to penetrate into the classes. One of them - a very common in the lower grades - a ball game. The child throws the ball to the neighbor and comes up with a compliment: "I like your shirt." Then the ball is passed to the next child, and a new praise sounds: “You play great football.” Warm feelings travel along with the ball around the class: back and forth, back and forth. This is similar to that described in 1990 on the site. Globe and Mail The Magic Circle game, which was common in Toronto schools.

9: 30 in the morning in the classroom №6 in the Winchester private school play "Magic Circle".

Ten third-graders and their teacher, Oksana Gogol, sit in Turkish on the old carpet. Miss Gogol welcomes every child. Today’s topic, she announces, “is how I did something nice for a friend.”

Children ponder a few minutes. Lydia puts her hands together, indicating that she wants to say something. “Other kids teased my girlfriend, so I hugged her tight,” the girl says.

The rest describe similar good deeds. They praise each other. Oksana - all children call her simply by name - thanks each student, and later asks what exactly they like in the “Circle”.

Someone says, "I like sharing what I feel."

In other schools, teachers stopped using red pens, as it was believed that a child’s self-esteem could suffer if he saw many corrections in red in his spelling test. In some schools there were mirrors with inscriptions like “Now you are looking at one of the most special people in the whole world!”. Perhaps the most vivid image of self-esteem I personally had in junior school. During some exercise, we were told that self-esteem was like a balloon that inflated and deflated depending on what happened to us during the day. When it is inflated, which means that your self-esteem is high, only good things happen to you - your grades get better, and decisions are wiser, you get more friends. If the ball is blown away, you become so vulnerable! Your performance is getting worse, and it's much more difficult for you to “just say no” if you are asked to try drugs. This image and the whole idea crashed into my memory, because such a complex concept with such diverse consequences was simplified to a balloon.

According to Steve Salerno, the author of the book “Cheating: How the self-help movement made America helpless,” the movement to work on self-esteem grew out of ideas that existed back in the 1960 and 1970 years. Already from one title of his book it becomes clear that he is far from delighted with the idea of ​​self-help. “Education based on maintaining self-esteem is the fruit of the theory of victimization, which was promoted in books like“ I'm fine - you're fine, ”and despite the life-affirming title, the real message of such literature was: you're not at all fine, you're broken need help, ”explains the writer.

There was a lot in common between those who bought all the books like “I'm fine - you're fine” and those who joined the general insanity in self-esteem. By the time this mania began to gain momentum, readers were well aware of the idea that it was the problems in the idea of ​​their own self that prevented them from developing and that this could be fixed. And encouraging work on self-esteem in schools was “a reaction to the idea that every child who comes to school carries one vice — he feels like a victim. And if you look at the problem from such an angle, the reason for poor performance is that children are simply not confident enough, ”explains Salerno.

According to Salerno, in many places in the country, these ideas have completely changed education. And it manifested itself not only in the “Circle of Magic” game in the classroom or in the plain-looking inscriptions on the mirrors: in many schools, the ideas about severity with regard to academic performance, and the connection between teacher and student, changed. At that time, they basically considered: “Do not let the children get upset, because if they get upset, their academic performance will be bad,” says Salerno. Self-esteem has also become one of the main issues in a lengthy discussion about social inequality. “Everyone understood that poor areas are lagging behind the rest, and special emphasis was placed on the fact that black children do worse in school. And there was a perception that this was due to their low self-esteem, ”continues Salerno.

If you understand your self-esteem, the gaps in knowledge will close by themselves. And the nice bonus of this theory, as noted by Salerno, was that it did not require a global revision of the education system - it seemed the simplest solution to the problem. And in many cases, its adherents paid special attention to self-esteem instead of offering “to hire the best teachers, to allocate more money to school development and staff training. It was a substitute for all that could really benefit. ”

As it turned out, the fact that in the 1980-x and 1990-s many problems associated with self-esteem, it was almost unfounded. This can be said with confidence thanks to psychologists who, at the beginning of the new millennium, decided to study the concept on which the whole theory was based more carefully. The American Psychological Association suggested that Baumeister and three other scientists conduct a comprehensive study of the literature on this issue in order to find out whether self-esteem “worked” in the way it was considered. In 2005 year in the magazine Scientific American an article was published, and in the publication Psychological Science and the Public Interest - more scientific research. They brought sad news: in published scientific papers there is practically no confirmation of Vasconsello's theory. And in some of them, high self-esteem was associated at all with worse behavior: as it turned out, some criminals considered themselves quite pleasant people.

Other sources confirmed the suspicions of Baumeister: dependence is not equal to a causal relationship. For example, in the 1986 study reviewed by scientists, it was found that "the level of self-esteem in the 10 grade is a very weak basis for judging the performance in 12." By success in school, by contrast, one could judge about self-esteem. Successful people are more likely to have high self-esteem precisely because they are successful, and not vice versa.

Baumeister and his colleagues did not overly condemn all those psychologists who had made their contribution to insanity in self-esteem. “Was it wise to promote an idea of ​​the importance of self-esteem before all the data were collected? Maybe. We know that many practicing psychologists have to face certain problems even before the necessary studies are carried out, ”the researchers wrote in one of their works.

In fact, this is quite common in the social sciences. Here is a pile of works, the authors of which point to a dependency, which can have real important consequences if you take some things as given. But it takes time to understand whether this is true. In the meantime, you are doing research, other people who, unlike the luminaries of the social sciences, may not even consider scientific accuracy to be something so important, or those who have to solve problems in real life and do not have the luxury of waiting for new ones to be published. authoritative research may decide to apply the theory in practice, without waiting for its confirmation.

It seems that this is how it was. Despite the lack of evidence for a causal link between self-esteem and positive change, the story sounded so convincing that, in terms of an impressionable politician like Vasconcelos, the evidence contained therein enough, to take the initiative and begin its implementation. That is why a simple and extremely infectious conclusion - increasing self-esteem can significantly improve productivity and living conditions - was able to take root in the minds of people: he offered a simple and understandable solution to the tangle of complex problems. The proposed hypothesis was perceived by people as a simple solution, since the nuances that should have been subjected to the most careful study were passed by politicians - many of them mistakenly understood the essence of the discoveries made (and not made) by authoritative experts.

The fact that self-esteem turned out to be such a popular topic for discussion in both parties, which was actively supported by both liberals and conservatives (despite minor disagreements), reduced to zero the possibility of a consolidated opposition - although, of course, skeptical voices were heard from time to time ( mostly, of course, ignored). They included conservative public figures, for example, Charles Krauthammer and “Dr. Laura” Schlessinger, who considered the movement to increase self-esteem a new manifestation of “help yourself”, which, in their opinion, destroyed the very foundations of America.

Maybe the movement for increasing self-esteem has not fulfilled the task set for itself to resolve all existing social problems, but this does not mean that it has not yielded results. Let the increased emphasis on self-esteem and not make children 1980-x and 1990-s born smarter, more successful or more diligent, he, according to Jean Twain, a psychologist from the University of San Diego and author of the book “Generation I: Why modern young Americans are more confident in themselves, more privileged and more miserable than ever, most likely, they still managed to influence them in the long run. "The movement for increasing self-esteem is at least one of the factors explaining why the millennial self-esteem is higher than before, why they often consider themselves to be extraordinary individuals and, in most cases, treat themselves more favorably than their ancestors did age, ”she explained.

“I also believe that this is precisely what explains their higher results on the basis of testing for compliance with the narcissistic personality type.” Twainj stressed that it is important to avoid simplifications in assessing what is happening. She explained that she was sometimes not understood: many accused her of exaggerating the role of the movement for increasing self-esteem in the occurrence of a personal gap between generations. However, the available data suggest that the movement for increasing self-esteem has played a role. “Of course, the Millennial generation was most sensitive to the idea that self-esteem is the key to success,” she added. “They also became a generation convinced that we should increase the self-esteem of our children: either at home or at school, using various methods and techniques.”

One of the interesting ways to assess the extent of insanity in self-esteem is to study the discourse that has developed around this issue. Take, for example, a study conducted by Twenge and her colleagues on the frequency of using “laudatory” phrases in English-language literature — sentences of the form “Believe in yourself and everything will be possible” и "To love someone, you need to love yourself first". “We use these phrases when we need to give advice to adolescents and adults,” explains Twainge, “but they are very modern. At least for literature: before 1980 they are extremely rare, and then sharply gaining popularity. They sound very individualistic, their meaning is concentrated on the person, but they are also very deceptive. "Believe in yourself, and everything is possible?". No, this is rubbish. ”

In subsequent years, many factors appeared in society over and over again that determined self-assessment insanity — simple, motivating messages, a huge amount of un-very-carefully-conducted research, prejudice of confirmation (the tendency of a person to confirm information that corresponds to his convictions or prejudices, regardless from their truth, - Ed.), the emergence of relevant goods and services. They took the form of amateur psychology, which won the attention of the masses and enjoyed access to unlimited resources (it suffices to recall such ideas as the posture of confidence and the implicit associative test). But none of these ideas changed culture to the same extent that the race for high self-esteem. Today, millions of Americans firmly believe that of course, the growth of self-esteem gives results. Countless books on this subject claim the same.

If you do not find fault, there is something in it. In the so-called type of thinking study, initiated by Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford University, it is hypothesized that one of the ways to increase students' diligence is to create a type of thinking aimed at “growth” rather than “frozen” - in other words, confidence that they possess the necessary skills to learn and improve, and not that their intellectual abilities are somehow limited. No one will be surprised by the idea that one of the means of increasing productivity is Vera in that you can achieve better results.

But isn't everything always happening? There are some truth clues in the concept of “power poses” and in the implicit associative test - almost no one doubts that your posture influences how others perceive you, and almost certainly implicit bias influences the outcome of many events. Problems arise when some ideas, which are based on the correct promises, begin to live their own lives, turning into Great Innovative Ideas, which eventually appear on the market as new approaches to solving fundamental problems. Self-esteem is one of the best examples of such a transformation, since it clearly demonstrates how infectious the “psychology of self-help” can be. If successful, these ideas can really change society and culture. And the impression is that self-esteem has paved the way for many other simple and understandable ideas; that scientists are increasingly selling - often on stage, thanks to performances in TED Talk - simple, two- and three-line observations of human nature under the guise of a panacea for solving problems that have existed for decades, centuries, or even millennia. Most of these ideas do not take root as well as the idea of ​​self-assessment succeeded in their time, but many are quite successful, and it seems that there will be more such ideas, and that most of them have become much less skeptical and modest in their work.

Largely for the same reasons that are so hard to calculate the exact cost of movement for improving self-esteem in dollar terms, it is so hard for us to find evidence of its decline. It seems that this is the case, given that many types of out-of-school activity have been abolished, and corporate managers have abandoned insanity in self-esteem and switched to other methods - power poses! - in order to increase potential profits. In general, this movement achieved such success that it managed to enter the national culture as the truth - and now it will never sink into oblivion: of courseIt is very important for children to have adequate self-esteem. Of course, you can't love someone if you don't love yourself.

Или: of courseSimplified observations of human nature have magical appeal.

Today, attitudes toward the social sciences have changed - people treat them a bit more critically than during the heyday of self-esteem. Not to mention TED TalksPeople better understand why a particular scientific method can be deceptive, create false ideas about human nature and behavior. So it would be nice to think that now something like a general insanity in self-esteem would not have happened, and we would not have bought it.

But if you look at the hype that has arisen around perseverance, it will seem to you that you've already heard it all somewhere.

Over the past few years, a group of researchers led by Angela Duckworth of the University of Pennsylvania put forward the theory that this personality characteristic, defined as “perseverance and focus on long-term tasks,” lays the foundation for school - and, it turns out, career and life - success more than that or else. “My team found that this indicator is shutting down the IQ belt, exam results, physical fitness and billions of other indicators. It helps us determine in advance which of the subjects will be most successful in a given situation, ”said Duckworth. She also stated that “a characteristic has been established that has become a significant harbinger of success. And I'm not talking about social intelligence. Not about appearance, physical form or IQ. I mean perseverance. ”

It would be difficult to overestimate the commotion that arose after these statements — adherents of perseverance spoke of it as the very secret of success. This statement was advertised in Duckworth's The Hardness of Character: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. She also received a MacArthur grant "for geniuses" to continue research on this topic. The Ministry of Education recommended the introduction of “hardness” methodologies into the national education system, and the “Knowledge is Power” network, which includes 200 schools with their own charter throughout the country, included character strength in the list of 7 fundamental character traits that they seek to develop in their students . And, because of the strength of character, corresponds to the “recent reform of the federal law on education, according to which states must introduce at least one non-academic component in the process of assessing school performance.” Many other schools are exploring the possibility of introducing assessment and initiatives on the formation of character in their curriculum.

So surprisingly, there is still no evidence to support Duckworth’s assertion that character is the most unique and powerful tool for predicting future success — and even less evidence that external intervention can increase this figure. According to the most successful studies to predict future results, the hardness of character is almost identical to the good faith of the well-known Big Five (a psychological model that describes the structure of a person’s personality through five common, relatively independent features - Ed.), and also significantly inferior to such less attractive indicators as learning.

A meta-analysis published last year by researchers Markus Creda, Michael Tinan and Peter Harms suggested that methods of forming character’s hardness have little or no effect on academic results and subsequent success, and that “constructive certainty” of character’s hardness - or, in other words, how much this concept is useful from the point of view of psychology and how much it relates to real results is questionable. Moreover, Creed and his colleagues discovered that Duckworth made a number of statistical errors in the early stages of character research — “elementary” errors, as Creed put it in his e-mail — that led to what he and his colleagues called a bloated assessment of the importance of hardness. character The errors that were not corrected still remain in the research documents, although Duckworth promised to check all the inaccuracies.

Duckworth, to her credit, criticized people who, in her opinion, prematurely trumpeted the importance of the concept for real results. In her e-mail she shared a link to the document where she is working on the response to the Creed meta-analysis team and other critics of her work (she said she plans to publish it, but the document is not ready yet). She also denies accusations of popularizing her character: “To be honest, I cannot understand exactly where in my book, in articles I have published, or even in my public speeches, I could say that character is the only or best way to predetermine success.”

However, regardless of what anyone thinks about her interview in Timesin the words of speeches with TED Talks or considers the statistical errors found by Creda to be serious, in fact many people really overestimate the importance of character - or at least run ahead of the locomotive, without waiting for the publication of any convincing evidence.

Despite the fact that the strength of character has not yet reached the same peaks as self-esteem - partly because it remains a relatively new subject of study - other striking areas of similarity can be traced. Hardness of character, like self-esteem, can be reduced to a simple message that resonates in the society where this concept originated. Thus, if self-actualization was extremely popular among middle-class consumers of popular psychology in 60 and 70, the period of Vasconcellos activity, then today the situation has become a bit ... harder. Society has become more individualistic, more divided and more focused on achieving its goals.

So, although the extremely simplistic message “If we can increase self-esteem, we can solve many problems” and “fit” with 1980, the idea in 2017 is “If we can teach children to work more and demonstrate more perseverance, they can achieve success” has great potential. However, the structure remained unchanged: like self-esteem, the hardness of character erases a huge amount of difficulties and inequalities in the distribution of advantages, determining winners and losers, replacing all this confusion with a clear and understandable scheme that can be reduced to two sentences. And yes, the proponents of character may insist that, of course, there are other factors that are not yet determined, but this does not at all contribute to reducing the popularity of this concept.

Perhaps the most serious problem in discussing an obsolete self-esteem insurrection or a burgeoning obsession with character strength is people's conviction that the discoveries of behavioral science can solve problems related to education, the justice system or other areas of social life where inequality exists. None of the problems that attract the attention of scientists, can not be solved by development, leaving their laboratories. The situation is always more complicated than the algorithm "If we could only make people be more than X, then, of course, we could immediately solve the problem Y". In short, the social sciences should be perceived as part of an extremely complex process of solving global problems of society, and not as a source of revolutionary Simple Solutions.

Translation: New

Miscellaneous psychology school Educational program self-esteem

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