I’m all for people doing everything they can do to improve their lives, but I worry that for many people, the pursuit of self-improvement can lead to a life characterized by struggle, disappointment, obsession, and depression.
As a child, I was often encouraged to do my best. My mother wanted me to be well read, educated, and aware of those less fortunate. I was not brought up with illusions of grandeur or hypnotized into believing I was better at something than I really was. If I did something in a half-hearted way, I was told it was sub-par. My mother was akin to a Marine Drill Sargent. I’m sure a lot of the newer tomes on parenting would consider my mother’s parenting techniques to be detrimental to one’s self-worth.
Perhaps they were, since I have struggled with perfectionism a great deal of my life. But one of the greatest assets my mother gave me was the ability to not delude myself into thinking I was good at something when I wasn’t!
In the last twenty years or so there has been a dramatic shift in parenting styles. Some of which are good, but the concept that the child is the center of the universe and as such should be praised continuously for anything he or she does borders on the ludicrous. How can I begin to learn how to assess my progress in certain areas of my life if I have been seduced into thinking everything I do is amazing? This model of parenting has helped create and exacerbate self-absorption. Social scientists have recently taken note of the fact that the words I and me now surpass the word me. Being the center of the universe is now something to pursue. It can be seen in so much of the culture. Selfies have become a big part of the “me” culture. I think photos are great. They show case our experiences. But how interesting is it for anyone to think that sharing themselves from morning till night doing the most mundane activities is meaningful?
I realize that it’s important to have a good sense of self, but promoting yourself through words, photographs or any other medium does not take the place of actions. How you conduct your life by being kind, compassionate, and altruistic means a great deal more than waking up and thinking your “special”, or taking your picture waking up thinking you look “special”. I think it’s time we started to look at integrating humility back into our culture. It’s a characteristic that we could all benefit from.