Sunday, March 9, 2014

American Exceptionalism and Self-Esteem

We citizens of the U.S.A. seem to have a cognitive disconnect between our ideals and our image of ourselves.  We think we are uniquely special and deny how this view limits our potential.

American Exceptionalism

We Forget The One on the Bottom
Many citizens of the United States believe that their country is different, special, and better than other states.  Claiming the revolution of the colonies into a new nation gave it advantages over all others. Stating that the United States has a special place among all nations.  This conclusion is based on liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, republicanism, populism and laissez-faire.

Some see this country as the "shining city on the hill", a lighthouse of liberty, immune to the failures of lesser nations, uniquely advantaged to bring knowledge, peace, and stability to the world.

This idea has become to be known as "American Exceptionalism."


What we think about ourselves effects who we become.  Our concept of our own strengths and weaknesses places limits upon our actions.

Self-esteem is a mental model which represents our judgments of our own worthiness.

Self-esteem grows from accomplishment against obstacles.  When we are met with a challenge and overcome it our senses of our abilities grows.  Self-esteem shrinks when our actions fail their purpose.  Defeat can lower our views of who we are and what we are capable of.

People who have high self-esteem believe they can do more.   Individuals with low self-esteem see themselves as unable and try less.  Self-esteem has both positive and negative feedback loops into our actions.  The more we accomplish, the more we try and the easier it seems.  The more we fail, the harder it becomes to try again.

Artificial self-esteem is dangerous.  When self-esteem is not grounded in a reality of accomplishment, it allows us to repeat bad behaviors or take higher risks.

Our View of Ourselves

America has a dysfunctional relationship with its past.  We tend to down play our failures and over focus on our successes.

Many citizens consider pointing out bad actions in our collective history as a nation is an unpatriotic act.  This comes from the belief that admitting error lessens us, makes us appear weak to others.  Showing weakness of any kind has a risk that others might take advantage of.

Yet ignoring our mistakes permits us to have a collective self-esteem that is unrealistic.   It is also easy to err in our views of our own accomplishments, giving us an over inflated ego that stops us from seeing our real limits.

Individuals and nations can not grow if they do not admit their mistakes.  We admire others who can admit their mistakes and become better for it.  We disrespect those who pretend their mistakes never happened.

Selective Imagining of How It Was
Cognitive Disconnects

Over and over we point out to ourselves that we first placed a man on the moon.  Yet we let our efforts towards leading mankind into space dwindle, thinking that they are too difficult and expensive to continue.  In this act, we forget the motivations that led us to greatness and continue to assume we are great without further effort.

Most citizens believe the United States was the main actor that ended Nazi Germany.  Yet most of the fighting and winning was done by Russia, China, India, Britain, Australia, and many more.  All these nations struggled mightily significantly, reducing our opponents ability wage war.  Yet our majority view internally is that we won the war single-handedly and all others who helped matter only on the fringes.

We have repeatedly and frequently manipulated the governments of other nations to meet our own economic aims.  In Chile, Iran, Vietnam, the Phillipines, to name but a few, we have removed those peoples right to self determination.   Usurping their lives for our own selfish wants, desires and needs, we seem surprised when these peoples act against us by revolution, terrorism or even simple disrespect.

It is pleasant to believe that through a quick build up of arms and single speech by one President telling the U.S.S.R to "tear down this wall" we beat communism.  We tend to ignore that the people inside the communism were tired of it and wanted it gone regardless of what we did.  It is against our ego to admit they did the bulk of liberating of themselves for themselves.

We frequently ignore the conditions that permitted us to succeed, preferring to think ourselves as more important than we actually are.  We tend to ignore or gloss over our failures, blaming the victim or other actors.

These failures to admit our mistakes or over blow our accomplishments lead us to a false sense of self-esteem.

Not Everyone Can Win This Race
Raising Children's Self-Esteem

From experience we know that children who get artificial self-esteem are less likely to succeed.  When everyone wins, winning loses its meaning.  Some must win and some must lose for all to grow.

Parents and educators best build high self-esteem in children by guiding them to overcome the obstacles in front of them.  When we help them to see their mistakes and correct them, they do better and achieve self-esteem by their own acts.  This act of guidance yields realistic self-esteem in children.

If we allow children to always think they are special, then they will tend to an over-inflated senses of self.  Helping them to build self-esteem by our opinions and rewards rather than their own overcoming of obstacles betrays the lessons they can learn.

Further egoism, an over estimation of ourselves, trends to unwarranted aggression.  Not only does too high a self-esteem allow us act foolishly, we tend to act more violently.

False Patriotism
Better Child of Our Nature

We ought apply this knowledge that self-esteem should be earned and not just given out freely to our nation as well as ourselves.

While it is pleasant to assume our children are perfect in every way, so to is the idea that our nation is exceptional.

We must earn our national self-esteem so that our views of who we are reflect our reality.

A part of overcoming obstacles is to first admit they exist.

We must come to terms with the idea that it is Patriotic to admit failure or weakness.  We must come to terms with the idea that admitting weakness can make us stronger and not weaker.  By learning from our mistakes we will adapt and grow.  Those other nations who see us admit weakness will err to their own peril as we adapt and achieve more.

As our self-esteem grows through performance, perhaps we can then earn the place of being special among other nations.  To continue claiming it as the natural order without further accomplishments can lead us to decline.

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