The essay about self-esteem ("Self-Esteem Is Earned, Not Learned," Editorial Page, Oct. 7) hit close to home for me, as I have been wrestling with this devil all of my life. It was only a few years ago that I learned its name.
Mike Schmoker has focused on the aspect of self-esteem that is left out of the literature and seminars on the subject. He reports that our youth and our educators live in a fool's paradise, where personal traits such as courage, integrity, and honor belong to those who simply say they have them. Creation from mere thought. It's as if instant character could be poured into a skull from a bottle, but for want of the hole.
Drumming good feelings about one's self into the subconscious mind is all well and good; however, it dissolves when there is no action, or worthwhile results to substantiate them. You can "feel good" by simply sitting in a warm bath. Or smoking crack.
The soldier does not charge the hill because he has courage. His courage cannot be demonstrated until he jumps out of his trench and charges the enemy position. Then we can all say that he was courageous, and reward him with a medal. Most important of all, he knows, if he lives, that he was courageous in his act.
In other words, only action can produce the changes that we want in ourselves and our lives. Some measure of self-esteem can be won in trying. Even if we fail, the experience in trying can make it easier to make the next attempt.
It seems to me that the self-esteem promoters serve a purpose in helping young people attempt the seemingly impossible. But no purpose is served whatsoever without teaching them to rise up and try again following failure. The attribute in holding steadfast in the face of adversity is what we call backbone.
MARK S. HANEY