Two ideas here that I feel might form a matrix. They might explain a lot. I’ve already mentioned that increasing self-esteem increases violence in violent people. Somewhere in the soup of reasons and justifications that leads to violence, the simple belief “I am more worthy than you” plays a part. It not only makes sense, it’s demonstrable.
In the upcoming book (available for pre-order, BTW) I talk about 'othering'. The more different you can convince yourself an enemy is, the easier it is to hurt or kill. That’s the basis of war propaganda. It is also important to note that in people raised tribally (my tribe are real people, everyone else is not) not only are the levels of violence between tribes sometimes horrific, but there seems to be no PTSD associated with such violence (See “Machete Season”).
Raise the self-esteem and you raise the perceived value and increase the perceived differences between people. Is it any wonder that it makes violent people more violent?
There is another factor, though. In Conflict Communications, one of the things that we noticed is that insecurity, especially in leaders, also correlates with violence. It’s one of those stupid monkey things: a leader is in a leadership position. When he starts losing respect or personal authority, he becomes more aggressive. Maybe he just gets louder. Maybe he beats one of his lieutenants to death at a dinner party (Al Capone, anyone?)
It is almost universal- it is almost like the monkey brain demands it- even though, from the audience point of view, it is a loser. You get a boss screaming and acting out you KNOW he is on the way down. We call this ‘losing it’ for a reason.
Despite the fact that we know acting out decreases our audience's belief in our authority, we still do it. Why? Because the emotional brain doesn’t distinguish between signs of submission. You’re doing a good job and people follow your orders and say, “Yes sir!” and salute, your monkey brain feels secure. You act like an ass and people start scurrying and not meeting your eyes and saying, “Yes sir!”… your monkey brain feels secure.
So here’s the interaction between self-esteem and insecurity if I am reading this right—and why some of the modern philosophies will backfire.
If you raise the self-esteem based on nothing, whether ‘everyone passes’ or ‘everyone’s a winner’ when you take away the possibility of failure to “program for success” you do succeed in raising self esteem. But every last person involved, knows that the self-esteem isn’t based on anything. It is inherently insecure. Insecure but high self-esteem is a recipe for violence.
The policies are well intentioned. And they are cheap. Telling kids they’re awesome is fast and costs nothing. Teaching them to become awesome takes time and effort. And there will be some failures.
Maybe it’s time for a change in language. How about self esteem based on actual accomplishment should be labeled self-respect?