The J-word

The inimitable CCC has posted a spot-on summation of the trend in our culture towards narcissism. Here's a snippet:

It's significant that young Americans vulnerable to narcissism were raised in the heyday of the self-esteem movement, when well-meaning baby boomer parents, teachers and media gurus incessantly urged them to "love yourself first," "let nothing come between you and your dreams" and believe that "you're the best." Rather than stoking healthy self-confidence, such messages may have dampened work ethic while fueling unrealistic expectations and inflated egos. Neither is much use in the real world, where believing in yourself cannot guarantee success and putting your own immediate desires ahead of all other concerns can be a recipe for disaster in work, love and life.

If you align the book she's reviewing with other sources with similar assessments of the self-esteem movement, like Quarterlife Crisis, those cited here, and One Nation Under Therapy: How the Helping Culture is Eroding Self-Reliance, you can begin to see the damage done (that last source has its faults, but the chapter on Abraham Maslow is terrific).

I take this input and extrapolate further: if self-esteem failed, what succeeds? Constructive criticism. We respect the feelings of others while still holding them to firm expectations, being honest about their strengths and weaknesses. In other words, there is still room for loving judgment.

I've posted before about the positive aspects of being 'judgmental', such as developing critical inquiry and responsibly discriminating between right and wrong. I guess it's a pet meme of mine, and CCC's article joins the stack of sources confirming that right judgement is not only a virtue, it's a gift of the Holy Spirit. As Catholics, we should accept the J-word as a compliment.

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