See Inside August/September 2006

Violent Pride

Do people turn violent because of self-hate or self-love?

Several years ago a youth counselor told me about the dilemma he faced when dealing with violent young men. His direct impressions simply didnt match what he had been taught. He saw his violent clients as egotists with a grandiose sense of personal superiority and entitlement, but his textbooks told him that these young toughs actually suffered from low self-esteem. He and his staff decided they couldnt go against decades of research, regardless of what they had observed, and so they tried their best to boost the young men's opinions of themselves, even though this produced no discernible reduction in their antisocial tendencies.

The view that aggression stems from low self-esteem has long been common knowledge. Counselors, social workers and teachers all over the country have been persuaded that improving the self-esteem of young people is the key to curbing violent behavior and to encouraging social and academic success. Many schools have students make lists of reasons why they are wonderful people or sing songs of self-celebration. Many parents and teachers are afraid to criticize kids, lest it cause serious psychological damage and turn some promising youngster into a dangerous thug or pathetic loser. In some sports leagues, everyone gets a trophy.

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