Wednesday, July 11

You're (not) Special!

Struggling this past week to find a good topic to write on, I've stumbled into an idea that seems to be picking up steam in the US. The fact that coddling youngsters' self-esteem may not be in their best interest.

Besides the obvious implications for stuck-up suburbanites who bestow their little princes and princesses with titles like "Gifted" and "Accelerated" - the coming generations are in for the same mighty shock I faced upon entering the workforce. The cut-throat world of American capitalism cares little for titles, and even less for unfounded claims of genius.

Fox News is pointing the finger at Mr. Rogers and his "you're special, no matter what" feel-good brand of entertainment. While the laughable circularity of one dumbed-down television show pointing fingers at another brain-deadening TV slot is entertaining to us cynics, this time Fox may be on to something.

A Personal Story: After showing exemplary scores on the standardized tests issued to youngsters (The Iowa fill-in-the-bubble type), myself and a small coterie of classmates were elevated to "gifted" status. This meant that once a week we'd be removed from regular classes with our unintelligent peers for an hour of mind-stimulating games and activities with specialists in the "mobile unit" (a trailer parked out back of the elementary school). My participation waned once my grades dropped precipitously from the effects of bullying and extreme levels of stress at home. I was quickly shuffled from a "Gifted" program, to a tutoring program whose instructors eventually gave up on 'rehabilitating' me - failing to see that a horrid home-life, when coupled with ineffectual anti-bullying techniques led to a complete disinterest in what I was being taught. As such, the rest of my educational career was fraught with complaints about my "failure to achieve" in the face of "stunning potential" that followed nearly every review of my accomplishments.

What part did being labeled "Gifted" play in my own tragic history of youthful existential depression and eventual rejection of my pre-ordained path through college, careers and more?

I'll never be able to say for sure. After years of internalizing every bully's attack on me, and taking my failures to live up to 'potential' as personal faults I've merely grown cynical, apathetic and unwilling to exert effort towards any goal. Perhaps this was Mr. Roger's sinister goal all along, to turn potential leaders and inventors into malleable adults, fraught with uncertainty and the emotional trauma that comes from being told you're worth so much more than you are.

Self-esteem may feel good, but just as reverence to icons of perfection turns humans away from bettering themselves, the good feeling that comes from loving yourself comes at a cost - namely the feeling that comes from accomplishing what you thought was impossible. The costs may be even more extreme as my generation of "feel-gooders" shies away from the initiative that will be required to tackle this world's greatest problems.

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