A little humility

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 9, 2004

I’ve been wondering if maybe we’re not messing out kids up.

The other day I happened across a group of high schoolers at the end of the school day. They weren’t doing anything bad that I could tell, but they displayed a snarlingly arrogant attitude that made me wonder why they would be that way.

Since then I’ve noticed that a lot of young people, even those working in service jobs, go out of their way to not be polite and, I guess intentionally, try to intimidate folks with hostile looks and threatening postures. In my job as a picture taker (not a photographer like that Cal Bryant) young males will be smiling, laughing and joking around until you get ready to snap the picture, at which point they’ll puff up, fold their arms across their chests and snarl at the camera.

Odd behavior. Maybe it’s me they don’t like, but I don’t think this bad attitude is reserved for me alone.

Being polite means a lot to me. I am polite to everyone, no matter his or her age, race, occupation or station in life because that’s how I want folks to treat me. I still remember the Golden Rule from Sunday School. Civility may seem insignificant, but it is the glue that holds civilized people together. Until someone actively shows contemptuous disrespect to me, I am respectful and polite.

Immature youths go through a phase of rebellion that includes resentment for authority and contempt for adults, but that bad behavior used to go away when the child started growing up.

Not any more. I see many 20-somethings displaying that same incivility. And I wonder if maybe we didn’t do this to them when, a few years back, when school systems adopted the attitude that they had to build self-esteem into kids.

Don’t get me wrong, I think teachers and parents should encourage self-esteem, but they must also teach kids that self-worth should be based upon something.

When anything a child does is good and is praised, there’s nothing to distinguish real achievement from false praise and the child grows up with a false sense of self-worth.

Self-worth and self-esteem are qualities that people earn. You are judged by what you do – making an &uot;A&uot; on a test or making your bed in the morning.

Self-worth comes from within, but it is watered and fed through accomplishment. You don’t have to be a genius and you don’t have to be a world-class athlete, but you do have to be able to say that you gave whatever you did your best shot.

When adults attempt to instill self-esteem through false praise – not necessarily lies – an immature mind is not going to be able to make the link between accomplishment and self-esteem, so these kids develop a swaggering self-confidence that has no basis in reality

This is not because the child lacks ability, intelligence or athleticism, but because the child has never done anything with those attributes. If the child gets the same praise for doing something halfway, he learns that he doesn’t have to go all-out for rewards and he comes to expect praise even when he does a poor job.

When you come to expect praise for anything and everything, you become arrogant – arrogant because whatever you do is praiseworthy.

It annoys me.

It annoys me that kids and young adults expect respect from adults, but display only contempt for others.

That reminds me of my unfortunate stint at teaching a few years back. The kids were quick to decry anything they thought was not respectful – not necessarily disrespectful, just not respectful enough to suit them – but they went out of their way to annoy, aggravate and show contempt for adults and many of their peers.

There were many fine young men and women in the classes I taught, by the way, but their good example was overwhelmed in the classroom by their disruptive, rude and very loud peers.

That bothered me more than anything else when I was teaching. I spent so much time trying to get the bad kids to behave, the good kids were deprived of a good education. I take part of the blame for that. I needed a grounding in classroom management that I didn’t get until I’d been on the job for six months, but most of the blame has to go to a system that did not properly or fairly discipline wrongdoing or recognize truly good behavior.

Instead, the system taught these kids &uot;anything is okay&uot; and &uot;whatever you do is good&uot;, which left the kids to figure out for themselves whether achievement and success were worth the work involved.

Lest I give too much blame to the school system, I should also point out that parents play the major role. Involved parents who expect good things from their children are the ones that produce the good kids – the kids who do understand that they must work and think and behave within societal parameters to succeed in society.

The school system can only take a small amount of blame for those kids that essentially raise themselves because their parent(s) never instilled values through example.

Yeah, self-esteem is an important quality to instill in children because it frees them to work hard, achieve great things and feel good about what they have done. Our schools should instill this value with the help of parents, but when kids learn they get the same recognition for doing nothing, they become arrogant and uncivil. And then they become adults and find that nobody wants them around and they’re left scratching their heads as to why such a wonderful person can’t find a job or maintain real friendships.