01 June 2007

See Beyond Yourself

Since the self-esteem emphasis took off in the 1980s, programs have taught students to think highly of themselves. Educators, coaches, and parents made extra efforts to give unqualified praise and avoid making students feel badly about themselves or their performances.

As this generation grows up, these attitudes become more prominent. In the April 20, 2007, "Wall Street Journal," Jeffrey Zaslow reported some professors abandoned red pens in an effort to avoid negative student reactions.

Zaslow also reported major corporations “are hiring consultants to teach managers how to compliment employees using email, prize packages, and public displays of appreciation,” sometimes for little more than showing up.

In her 2007 book, "Generation Me," Jean Twenge, associate professor of psychology at San Diego State University, notes how increased self-esteem does not necessarily correlate with academic performance, and she tracks an increase in narcissism among those who grew up under the self-esteem emphasis.

Twenge and her colleagues analyzed 15,234 responses to the Narcissistic Personality Inventory. They found average 2006 college students scored higher in narcissism than 65 percent of 1987 college students.

Narcissism involves a lack of feeling for others, attitudes of entitlement, and belief in one’s superiority. These characteristics make it difficult for a person to work with others and maintain relationships.

This article first appeared in Character First's business bulletin series 3. It is reprinted here with permission from Character First and Strata Leadership.

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