This book is an excellent evaluation of today’s social understanding of ego and self-esteem. It is a popular assumption in our society that the root of many problems is the lack of confidence people have. According to this line of thinking what people need to solve their problems then is a boost of their self-esteem; thus, to increase and maintain people’s self-esteem have become the social gospel of the hour, or as the author put it, it is the “social vaccine” with many promises (76). But how does this square with reality? This book argues that although it seems counter-intuitive the effect of the self-esteem movement has been more hurtful rather than helpful.
In the beginning the book gives a good survey of the historical origin and development of the self-esteem movement. The author traces much of the incipient form of this self-esteem boosterism back to Freud although the first to coin the term “self-esteem” was the American philosopher William James. The book also discussed how the gospel of self-esteem became popular during the “Cambrian era of self-esteem” of the 1960s (44). The book also have a chapter describing the self-esteem movement’s agenda of passing their ideology to children when they are young and another chapter on how these ideas have even entered into the church and how detrimental it is spiritually.
After surveying the origin of the movement the book then cover the issue of whether or not “boosterism” works in chapter five. I love the many statistics and studies that the author presents in proving his point that boosterism hasn’t delivered as promised. The author argues that there are no hard evidences that boosting people’s self-esteem solves the major social and psychological problems that it was suppose to solve; but the author goes further to marshal data showing how the promotion of self-esteem has caused more harm than good. Phony boost will lead to more disappointment and more problems. I would say the author working through the data and various studies in research journals is worth buying the book.
Some of the survey of the relevant studies reveal the following:
- There is not strong positive correlation between one’s self-esteem and educational attainment and that those with low and high self-esteem try just as hard in education (98).
- According to another study risky teenage sexual behavior had very weak link with self-esteem per se; instead the link appears to be connected with factors such as background of a broken home or a lower IQ (74).
- In one study, there are two groups of students, one who were praised for their effort and the other praised for being intrinsically gifted; and the group that was praised for effort when required to anonymously report their final scored were more prone to lie (101).
- One example of how that is no correlation with one’s view of oneself and actual performance is a study that demonstrate how the lowest scoring group of people completing a task had the highest “better than average” biased rating of their performance compared to others (127).
The second half of the book was more theological in its content. I admit that I was surprised at how biblical the second half of the book was. Here the author offered a biblical antidote to the contemporary self-esteem movement. The author also tells us a story in which he counseled someone where he noted the irony that he was more concerned about repentance and confession than the counselee’s pastor who was more concern with psychobabble. I was also glad to find the author’s familiarity of good biblical resources as evident from the footnote. I definitely recommend this book.
NOTE: This book was provided to me free by Zondervan Academic and Net Galley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.