The Great Disappointment: When Dreams Don’t Come True
The workshop usually begins with a discussion of the differences between self-esteem and resilience. Those two terms are not synonyms; in fact they are nearly opposites. The boy who has a bloated self-esteem, who thinks he is God’s gift to the rest of us, may actually be the boy who is most vulnerable when his dreams do not come true, when his self-concept is fractured by reality and disappointment. And the same is true for girls. I reference Micah 6:8 “. . .to walk humbly with your God.” When I ask girls and boys in the United States to comment on this verse, many are puzzled and uncomfortable, regardless of their religious affiliation. American kids don’t want to walk humbly; they want to stand tall! That is what American culture has taught them to value: the culture of Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, and The Disney Channel.
Pride and fragility go together. Humility and resilience go together. In this presentation, I share what I have learned about how to teach humility. I assert that the first job of the American parent has to be to teach humility. Why humility? Because humility has become the most un-American of virtues. And partly for that reason, humility today is the most essential virtue for any kid growing up in the United States. And because so many American parents have confused virtue with success. The only real sin, for many middle-income and affluent parents today, is failure. Teaching humility, and trying to practice what you preach, is the most useful corrective. And because so many American parents no longer even understand what the word “humility” even means. They think that humility means trying to convince yourself that you’re stupid when you know that you are smart. But that’s not humility. That’s psychosis, a willful detachment from reality. The fact that the psychosis might be pursued with good intentions does not make it any less psychotic.
No. Humility simply means being as interested in other people as you are interested in yourself. Humility means that when you meet someone new, you try to learn something about them before giving them a spiel about how interesting your current project is. Humility means really listening when someone else is talking, instead of just preparing your own speechlet in your head before you’ve really heard what the other person is saying. Humility means making a sustained effort to get the other person to share their view before trying to inundate them with yours. You’ve heard it before: humility doesn’t mean thinking less of yourself. It just means thinking of yourself less.
What a boy needs in order to become a man of faith is different from what a girl needs in order to become a woman of faith. The final chapter of my book Girls on the Edge, titled “Spirit”, is devoted to a careful investigation of the scholarly research on this topic. The second-to-last chapter of my book Boys Adrift, titled “The Revenge of the Forsaken Gods”, explores the same questions from a different perspective. In the conclusion of this presentation, I share strategies which other communities of faith have used to build intergenerational bonds, creating a community of women for girls, and a community of men for boys.
In this presentation we discover how inflated self-esteem – which is now pervasive among American children and teenagers – often results in the Great Disappointment, the big shock that comes when the young person realizes that their dreams of fame and fortune are not going to come true. In this presentation I share strategies which other communities of faith have deployed so as to help every child develop an authentic sense of self, which should be grounded in who they are rather than how famous they are or how many Facebook friends or Twitter followers they have. To be rather than to seem.