My wife and I belong to a small discussion group. We are studying a small book, The Freedom of Forgetfulness by Timothy Keller. It’s only 44 pages but dispels some big myths. I’ve been hearing for decades that low self-esteem is a big problem in our society. Keller argues the opposite is true. It’s people with high self-esteem who cause the most trouble.
As parents in the 1980’s, raising our kids’ self-esteem was our number one goal. This was the era when we started giving out sports trophies just for showing up. Everyone from first place to last place was honored with the same medal.
Besides receiving awards, regardless of merit, children were showered with parental praise. Frankly, positive words didn’t raise the self-confidence of our kids. Empty awards also didn’t work. The only thing that improved their self-image was when they accomplished something on their own.
This rampant positivity, though, apparently caused many kids to develop a feeling of entitlement. People today seem increasingly self-centered. They have inflated opinions of themselves. I’ve especially learned this in journalism. People who think they are interesting are not. Those who are humble about their accomplishments can be fascinating.
Besides being boring, the self-centered people I know tend to be very unhappy. If they could just shift the spotlight to the problems of other people, they might feel better. I know this on a small scale. If I go to a social gathering with the intention of telling my riveting stories, I not only don’t have fun, I feel empty on the way home. If I go to ask questions and hear stories, I usually have a blast.
When it comes to this problem of inflated egos, social media just feeds the monster. We show-off our lives on-line. We post selfies. And it’s not just a problem in cyberspace. I see the Bean as a monument to egotism. Most visitors, myself included, walk toward it to check out our reflection. It was called “Cloud Gate” to reflect the sky, not our faces.
So hubris, that fatal flaw of the ancient Greeks, is on the rise. False pride means we are no longer allowed to correct a stranger about their careless behavior. I was at a school at dismissal time. The school bus was parked in front and the sidewalk was teeming with students. With total disregard for safety and total focus on his own convenience, a driver ignored the bus’ stop sign and whipped around to park in front of it. When a school official called him out for breaking several laws, the driver poured out a stream of profanity. Classy.
We can’t control the rude behavior around us but we can find personal happiness by caring about others and helping when we can. I know that sounds simplistic but I see many Forest Parkers who have this selfless spirit. Seeking the freedom of self-forgetfulness is worthwhile. Because, as the book points out, the bigger our ego, the more easily it can be bruised.
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.