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Social Psychologist & Personal Advisor

Excerpts from Dr. Matt's Doctoral Dissertation


Selfish-Esteem vs. Human Well-Being
by Matt Moody Ph.D.

Preface. Many authors have found contradictory results in self-esteem research: Mecca et al. (1989) maintain “The news most consistently reported, however, is that the associations between self-esteem and its expected consequences are mixed, insignificant, or absent.” Jackson (1984) concludes “What has emerged . . . in the self-esteem literature is a confusion of results that defies interpretation.” And “The central sociological researcher and theorist on self-esteem,” Morris Rosenberg, speaks of limitations in his own research: “In general, self-esteem has not proved to be an impressive predictor of behavioral outcomes” (Rosenberg, 1994).

The importance of this study may be that fundamental facets of self-esteem can be measured through valid scientific scales. Beneath the broad categorical umbrella called global self-esteem lurks two diametrically different types of people, both making claim to the coveted station called high self-esteem. How might confusing and inconsistent research conclusions be clarified as two types of "high self-esteem" subjects are accounted for?

Self-esteem literature asserts that disparate human phenomena underlie measures of self-esteem: that self-esteem is a multi-faceted construct. This study seeks to understand two fundamental facets of self-esteem: Selfish-Esteem and Human Well-Being, two types of self-esteem differentiated by diametrically opposite scores on scales of Empathy and Deception, but with the “same” measure of self-esteem.

Quantitative questionnaire data from 523 subjects are used in combination with qualitative data from 64 interviews to illustrate differences between groups of respondents making claim to self-esteem--established by Rosenberg’s Self-esteem Scale. The focus of comparison is upon underlying Self-Esteem Criteria: Self-reported reasons why subjects have their positive and negative self-feelings.

[The aforementioned interviews come from 4 groups x 16 subjects, each group representing a quadrant in 2 x 2 table of High & Low Self-Esteem (via Rosenberg Scale), by High & Low Empathy/Honesty—a combined scale using Davis' Empathy measures and inverted Deception (Honesty) indicators from Snyder's Self-Monitoring Scale.]

Self-esteem Popularity. The popularity of self-esteem concerns in contemporary American society was accelerated by an initiative sponsored by the California legislature in 1986. A task force was commissioned to conduct a comprehensive study of self-esteem, and to make recommendations “Toward a State of Esteem” for the benefit of the citizenry. The task force concluded that low self-esteem is “a major cause of academic failure, drug use, teenage pregnancy, dependence on welfare,” and many other social maladies. Under the direction of this commission, all California school districts were directed to make the “promotion of self-esteem” part of their curriculum (Seligman, 1995). This approach caught on across the country, and the quest for self-esteem became a curricular goal of countless educational institutions—getting high self-esteem became a panacea for solving a host of social ills.

[Positive correlations to desirable outcomes should exist for individuals possessing True Self-Esteem, or what I prefer to call "Human-Well Being"—a term used to describe an enduring and genuine sense of personal worth and contentment. Human Well-Being is felt by people who also measure High on scales of Empathy, Honesty, and Self-Esteem. I intentional took the "self" out of "self-esteem" because the only way to experience Human Well-Being is by forgetting "self" and loving others.]

Research Problem & Purpose. Self-esteem is described as “a quality that most profoundly affects both the lives of individuals and the life of our society” (Mecca, Smelser, & Vasconcellos, 1989). What is this “self-esteem” that is so important to self and society? Rosenberg (1989) defines self-esteem as “a positive or negative attitude toward the self.” Deci & Ryan (1994: 45) state that high self-esteem “has generally been interpreted as comprising any positive evaluations individuals have about themselves.” But will any positive report of self-sentiment necessarily tap into a self-esteem worthy of pursuit? That certain types of self-esteem may not be worth getting is suggested in the title of an article: “Is Self-esteem Really all that Important?” (Edwards, 1995).

The intent of this study is to better understand self-esteem claims made by two diametrically different groups of subjects, differentiated by contrasting scores on scales of Empathy and Deception. This study maintains that self-esteem claims can be of two fundamental types: Selfish-Esteem or Human Well-Being. Subjects measuring high in deception and low in empathy are characterized by the term, Selfish-Esteem; and subjects high in empathy and low in deception are described by the term, Human Well-Being. A focal point of comparison between these two groups is upon how respondents explain “why” they feel positive and negative about themselves--called Self-Esteem Criteria. Rosenberg (1965) asserts that “no one evaluates himself in the abstract; evaluation is always with reference to certain criteria.” So what are the criteria, or reasons, that respondents have for making their self-esteem claims? And how might those explanations of Self-Esteem Criteria compare between the two groups of interest? How might Selfish-Esteem differ from Human Well-Being?

Selfish-Esteem implies that the self is the center of one’s world, to the extent that others are used as a means to perpetuate self profit, pleasure, and promotion. Selfish-Esteem subjects live life from a narcissistic “ME” orientation. On the other hand, the term Human Well-Being invokes the question “How well am I being with others?” Self-centeredness is defused by a greater concern for relational harmony with others. Human Well-Being expresses a world view where a “WE” orientation is imperative.

Self-esteem: A Multi-faceted Construct. In his book “Misconceptions Regarding Self-esteem,” Battle (1993) cites nineteen erroneous ideas surrounding self-esteem; the number one fallacy being that “self-esteem is a unitary construct.” Numerous authors assert self-esteem to be a multifaceted construct (e.g., Kernis, 1995; Coopersmith, 1967). In conceptualizing self-esteem, Rosenberg, et al. (1994) suggest that “different concepts” will result in “different outcomes.” The multifaceted nature of the self-esteem construct is also discussed in a recent writing entitled: “Not all High (or Low) Self-esteem People are the Same” (Greenier, et al. 1995). They maintain that “significant controversies remain. At their core, these controversies revolve around the essence of what it means to be either high or low in self-esteem.”

One perspective views high self-esteem as a well-anchored, non-fluctuating, secure sense of self “that does not require constant validation.” Another paradigm holds that high self-esteem is a fragile commodity that needs to be “continually defended and promoted in order to survive.” Of the latter sense, Greenier and associates suggest that feelings of self-worth may hinge upon one’s confidence in “skills and abilities,” or fluctuate as a function of one’s “competence” at the work place, or depend upon whether one receives “a compliment about one’s appearance.”

Deci & Ryan (1995: 45-46) call the unstable, fluctuating type of self-esteem, contingent self-esteem; and they point to the necessity of “differentiating the concept of true self-esteem from contingent self-esteem.” The former refers to a self that is integrated, “acting from one’s innate potentials,” it is a “sense of personal integrity.” Whereas the latter refers to an esteeming that is “associated with a kind of narcissism that has one anxiously focused on one’s own agenda” (p. 32).

Narcissism & Empathy. The notion of Selfish-Esteem, introduced by this study, is compatible with Deci & Ryan’s description of “contingent self-esteem,” with its association to narcissistic self-centeredness. On the other hand, Human Well-Being goes beyond Deci & Ryan’s concept of true self-esteem. Human Well-Being is not only a matter of inward attention to “innate potentials” and “personal integrity,” but also, and primarily, an outward concern for other human beings and one’s moral responsibility to them—a focus upon relational harmony.

Epstein & Morling maintain that self-evaluations are embedded in one’s “anticipated relationships with others.” Fundamentally, any self-esteem worth getting, is primarily a function of harmonious human relations. As a measure of relational congruence and quality, the study herein employs an Empathy scale (Davis, 1980). That empathy is a basis for congruent relations is established in research by Rowan, Compton, & Rust (1995), where empathy successfully predicted marital satisfaction.

Oliner (1984) reports that self-esteem, empathy, and stable personality were characteristic of “war heroes” who performed high risk acts of altruism. Comparing extreme quartiles on measures of empathy, Kalliopuska (1992a) concluded that the most empathic subjects were “more sensitive, less narcissistic, and have higher self-esteem than the least empathic ones.” In a study testing the effectiveness of a therapeutic approach, Odegaard (1996) found that treatments designed to shift depressed patients from “self-absorption to other-focused empathy” did mitigate depression. In a complimentary finding, Conway & Giannopoulos (1993) found that lower self-esteem was associated with greater self-reflectiveness (self-centeredness). Other studies have found narcissism and empathy to be negatively correlated (Kalliopuska, 1992b; Watson, et al. 1984). The study, herein, measures one aspect of narcissism by a lack of empathy--again, using the Davis Empathy scale.

Given a positive correlation between empathy and self-esteem and a negative correlation between empathy and narcissism, it is curious that some research findings conclude that “narcissism can enhance psychological well-being” (Davis, Claridge, & Brewer, 1996). Emmons (1984) also found that subjects of narcissistic orientation measure high in self-esteem. Not only did narcissism positively correlate with self-esteem in Emmons’ study, but also to measures of self-monitoring—a scale that identifies subjects who actively calculate and manage the self-image they portray to others (Snyder, 1987). But this apparent paradox is resolved by remembering that all high and low self-esteem claims are not the same. This study seeks to understand to fundamental types: A narcissistic “ME” oriented Selfish-Esteem versus an empathic “WE” oriented Human Well-Being.

In another study by Kalliopuska (1992c), she contends that moderate levels of narcissism are foundational to a “sound self-esteem,” and posits that “a certain kind of self-conceit” is a desirable human attribute. In like manner, Watson, et al. (1992) argue for a “healthy” or “adaptive narcissism.” However, both Kalliopuska and Watson found that narcissism only correlated to higher levels of self-esteem as subjects also measured high in empathy; narcissism became “maladaptive” when empathy levels were low.

The aforementioned study of Davis, Claridge, & Brewer (1996) focused on the relationship between narcissism and “body-esteem,” finding that “narcissistic individuals tended to evaluate their physical appearance, fitness, and sexuality more positively than less narcissistic individuals.” But they warn, because physical fitness and good health through proper diet and regular exercise “do not require any interpersonal interaction, they tend to be overused by the narcissist, even to a maladaptive degree, in the regulation of self-esteem.” Drawing a similar conclusion, Kalliopuska (1992b) asserts that “the most empathic subjects” are also “less narcissistic” and that excessive narcissism is associated with “personality disorder.”

Two Fundamental Ontologies. In grouping Selfish-Esteem and Human Well-Being subjects, this study conceptualized and measured one facet of narcissism (self-centeredness/selfishness) in terms of an absence of empathy. Again, some self-esteem researchers advocate a balanced narcissism as an essential ingredient to self-esteem, but this author disagrees. The pursuit of a “healthy narcissism” is a function of one’s ontological leanings, and only seems to be a worthy pursuit as long as one buys into the associated assumptions.

Harre (1983) identifies two “antithetical strands” in conceiving the human self: the individualism of the cognitivists versus the collectivism of the social constructionists. In the former perspective, championed by Freud and Piaget, human action is driven by internal determinates and an individualistic self occupies the center of one’s world—a “ME” orientation is logical within this paradigm. With this historic statement “cogito ergo sum” . . . “I think therefore I am,” Descartes became one of the most prominent pioneers of individualism. He proclaimed that “I am a being whose whole essence of nature is to think, and whose being requires no place and depends on no material thing” (Flew, 1979).

In the collectivist perspective, endorsed by James, Cooley, and Mead, human action is a product of joint and intentional interactions—there is no self without the other. James (1890) maintained that a person “has as many different social selves as there are distinct groups of persons about whose opinion he cares. He generally shows a different side of himself to each of these different groups.” Cooley (1902) contended that the self is conceived and constructed through the reflected images that emanate in linguistic relations: “there is no sense of I without it’s associative aspects of we, they, or us.” One’s image of self is developed within and is manifest through mutually meaningful symbolic expression: “Each to each a looking-glass; Reflects the other that doth pass.”

Aristotle taught that an individual isolated from society does not even become a person (Jackson, 1988: 5). Berger (1966: 160) argued that human “identity is a phenomenon that emerges from the dialectic between individual and society.” The word dialectic derives from the Greek, dialektos, meaning “to converse.” Further, the prefix “dia” signifies “between” inferring the necessity of at least two beings in dialectic (conversing) relations. In a book entitled “The Dialogical Self” (Hermans & Kempen, 1993), Theodore Sarbin rejects an individualistic view of self and suggests that “the self is decentralized, insofar as there is no omniscient centralized I.” He sees the self as a “multiplicity of I positions,” and that the meaning of self must be “flexible and context dependent.” The relational self is, therefore, inseparably embedded in the collective processes of meaningful and expressive human discourse. This relational self is situated in a world with others, and a “WE” orientation towards human living logically follows.

Using a “twenty statement test,” Zurcher (1977) categorized responses to the question “Who am I?” His findings reveal two fundamental ways people view themselves: In terms of 1) “physical attributes,” and 2) “styles of behavior.” The self can be conceived as a human body as well as a human being. Human bodies are described by adjectives like “short” “stocky” “blonde” and “bow-legged.” Whereas, the idea of human being describes a relational self characterized with words like “kind” “gentle” “soft-spoken” and “meek.” Such words do not directly describe physical properties, rather they describe expressive, relational properties: ways of being.

Flowing from an individualistic ontology, the search for a healthy narcissism is undertaken, and the goal of self-love is legitimized. In contrast, the collectivist paradigm provides a conceptual context for the aim of being loving: living in relational harmony with others.

Deception: Managing Impressions. For those whose ontological commitments are to the relational self, pursuit of self-contentment does not require any element of narcissism.1 Thus in this study, one aspect of narcissism is measured by the absence of empathy; a second facet of narcissism, or selfishness, is differentiated through a deception scale—measuring the extent to which subjects actively and deceitfully manage self-presentations.

Erving Goffman (1959) offers detailed descriptions of the art of impression management in his book “The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life.” He characterizes an egocentric orientation this way: “the individual will act in a thoroughly calculating manner, expressing himself in a given way solely in order to give the kind of impression to others that is likely to evoke from them a specific response he is concerned to obtain.” Such premeditated impression management is what Snyder (1987) calls high self-monitoring, where individuals “shrewdly choose selves that fit their situations.” Descriptions such as these point to the possibility of a narcissistic-based self-esteem claim--Selfish-Esteem.

This study further suggests that respondents of self-centered orientations may be motivated to publicly report high self-esteem, even when they may privately feel otherwise. As Branden (1971) posits: “those who fail to achieve self-esteem or who fail to a significant degree in their search for self-esteem, strive to fake it.” One wonders the degree to which subjects are faking it as Musser & Browne (1991) report that “high self-monitoring scores were related to peer popularity and self-esteem.” Also, Tedeschi & Norman (1985) contend that “the acquisition of social power through successful impression management leads to increments in self-esteem.” But does social power acquisition through deceptive impression management yield a self-esteem worthy of pursuit? Assuming evolutionary beginnings for the human race, the resultant relativistic world view is devoid of a moral grounding point--lacking an absolute standard from which to discern good and evil. It is a world where manipulating self-presentations toward hedonistic ends is a norm. Because there is no moral standard, there is no deception, only the pragmatic cash value of self profit, promotion, and pleasure. Nevertheless, scientific research establishes that people do act according to moral imperatives, and that certain moral conduct unquestionably correlates to predictable and desirable outcomes.

Using an ingenious Milgrim-like experimental design, Aronson & Mettee (1968) demonstrated a causal relationship between dishonest behavior and low self-esteem. Their professed intent (cover story) was to explore the impact of personality upon ESP (extra sensory perception). The researchers randomly gave subjects “false feedback” on a personality test to temporarily “induce” a state of self-esteem by either returning a flattering personality test result, or a derogatory test result. Groups of high and low induced self-esteem were then given the opportunity to cheat in a game of blackjack; where subjects “were led to believe (erroneously) that cheating was impossible to detect.” Dishonest (cheating) behaviors were ultimately tied to the induced low self-esteem condition.

Aronson and Mettee were able to give all the subjects an equal opportunity to cheat by having a “dealing machine” deliver two cards, instead of one, each time subjects switched on their ESP light (indicating that their extra sensory perceptions were telling them, they were about to get lucky, and win that hand of blackjack). When dealt two cards accidentally (on purpose) by the dealing machine malfunction, the “honest” card each subject was supposed to receive would put them over “21,” and the “dishonest” extra card, would give them blackjack! Subjects induced to the high self-esteem condition would return the “dishonest” card more often than low self-esteem subjects. Also, in an article entitled “Self-esteem and Dishonest Behavior Revisited,” Ward’s (1986) study showed high self-esteem to have “a significant deterrent effect” to dishonest behaviors among women, but not men. A possible explanation for Ward’s finding, particular to gender distinctions, may be found in the mitigating impact of empathy in conjunction with honesty. The study herein shows evidence that women are more empathic than men, generally.

Because people can be dishonest, this study employs a deception scale in combination with an empathy scale to differentiate subjects into groups of high deception and low empathy (Selfish-Esteem) and low deception and high empathy (Human Well-Being). Human life includes the possibility of presenting to others a deceitful facade calculated to further one’s own agenda. In contrast to being calculating in one’s self-presentation, Goffman also describes a human activity that some call losing oneself--being unpretentiously in-the-moment with others, with no egocentric agendas to promote. Such characterizes Human Well-Being:

“When the individual in our Anglo-American society engages in a conversational encounter with others he may become spontaneously involved in it. He can become unthinkingly and impulsively immersed in the talk and carried away by it, oblivious to other things, including himself.” (Goffman, 1967: 113)

Rather than being immersed in-the-moment with others, the deceptive image manager is more likely to be in-his-head (or in-her-head as the case may be). This means that one is not really listening intently to another--not really being with the other in a genuine way. Instead, the active image manager is formulating the next phrase to be spoken; words calculated for self profit and promotion.

William James on Self-Esteem. James (1890: 296) theorized that self-esteem is “determined by the ratio of our actualities to our supposed potentialities.” Put another way, he posited a formula for self-esteem: “a fraction of which our pretensions are the denominator and the numerator our success.” He explained that self-esteem may be attained by “diminishing the denominator” (lowering one’s pretensions or expectations) or by “increasing the numerator” (to enlarge one’s success). James maintained that “to give up pretensions is as blessed a relief as to get them gratified; and where disappointment is incessant and the struggle unending, this is what men will always do.” He gives this illustration:

"So we have the paradox of a man shamed to death because he is only the second pugilist or the second oarsman in the world. That he is able to beat the whole population of the globe minus one is nothing; he has ‘pitted’ himself to beat that one; and as long as he doesn’t do that, nothing else counts. He is to his own regard as if he were not, indeed he is not. Yonder puny fellow, however, whom everyone can beat, suffers no chagrin about it, for he has long ago abandoned the attempt to ‘carry the line,’ as the merchants say, of self at all. With no attempt there can be no failure; with no failure, no humiliation. So our self-feeling in this world depends entirely on what we back ourselves to be and do."

What we “back ourselves to be and do,” is called pretensions by James. This study used the Jamesian self-esteem formula as one way of showing differences between subject groupings: Comparing actualities to pretensions (or expectations).

Raw Moments: Self-Esteem Criteria. The primary focus of this dissertation study is to discover differences in “self-esteem criteria” (meaning, self-reported reasons why subjects have positive or negative self-feeling). Criteria comparisons are made between two types of people making the “same” scientifically measured self-esteem claim; but as the findings of this study show, these claims are fundamentally different from their foundations. Such contrasting types of self-esteem are further characterized by Bednar, et al. (1989). They distinguish a self-esteem of “arrogance, self-centeredness, and egotism,” from what they call “authentic self-esteem.” Approaching self-esteem clinically, they suggest that techniques of “self-affirmation or positive self-talk,” are not the most fruitful approaches to “realistic and healthy levels of personal self-regard.” Taking what they call a “radical departure” for widely accepted notions, Bednar and his associates suggest that a more effective therapeutic approach will intervene “in the natural, raw moments from which self-evaluations are constructed.” These “raw moments” spoken of, are human moments this study explores as self-esteem criteria.

Conclusions of the Study

Human Agency. To assume that social relations are initiated through willful human choice is important--especially in regard self-esteem. The findings of this study point to particular ways of being that are clearly correlated to positive self-contentment. But can individuals, who currently appraise themselves as low in self-esteem, consciously choose different life-patterns that will result in a high self-esteem? Obviously, if humans are not purposive and willful beings, then efforts to pursue apparently choose-able and do-able correlates to high self-esteem are fruitless. Further, all therapeutic interventions among depressed and dysfunctional people are also in vain—if there is no genuine human agency. From the 1960’s, social scientific discourse started to reject the deterministic extremes of “S-R” psychology, and began acknowledging that meaningful and informed human perspective and choice does intervene between social stimulus and response (E. E. Jones, 1980). The reality of human agency is taken for granted by the average person, but strange enough, deterministic thinking still permeates traditional social scientific discourse.

Any person informed of the findings of this study can choose to implement a course of action that will lead to not only a higher plateau of personal-peace, but I suggest, a more enduring and consistent sense of personal-peace. The following Self-Esteem Criteria have clear and definite positive associations to High Self-esteem: Honoring God & Religion, Family Harmony, Moral Character, and Being Kind to Others. These categories typify not only actively invoked Self-Esteem Criteria, but also the most Important Expectations that Human Well-Being subjects have in their lives. Congruent with positive correlations between measures of Empathy X Self-esteem, and Honesty (Low Deception) X Self-esteem, the aforementioned Self-Esteem Criteria are directly facilitative of empathic and honest relations with others--if not completely synonymous. Human Well-Being subjects manifest a “We” orientation in life, and base their reasons for positive self-feeling in the relational self.

In contrast, Self-Esteem Criteria consistently characterizing Selfish-Esteem subjects are: Academic Achievement, Job & Finance, Skills & Proficiencies, and Looks & Appearance. These categories as Self-Esteem Criteria were associated with a much lower rate of yielding positive Self-esteem. I maintain that this is so, because these criteria do not directly foster empathic and honest ties with others. In the end, all Self-Esteem Criteria says something about one’s way of being in the world. Each of the previously mentioned categories, which typify Selfish-Esteem subjects, represent a description of relational regard—or lack thereof. Esteeming the body self characterizes Selfish-Esteem subjects, and a “Me” oriented focus directs the pursuit of bodily abilities, proficiencies, and appearances as a basis for positive self-regard.

Assumptions: Beginning in the Right Place. To arrive at adequate answers, one must begin by asking the right questions. When a scientific question arises from faulty foundational assumptions, the resultant research conclusions are consequently corrupted. In this study, egocentric self-concern is framed as counter productive to the goal of positive self-esteem; contrastingly, some scientific approaches advocate a “healthy narcissism” (Watson et al., 1992), a self-esteem based upon “a certain kind of self-conceit, a sound narcissism” (Kalliopuska, 1992). Approaches like these maintain that people need to discover just the right balance of narcissism in their lives. But such individualistic perspectives are beginning in the wrong place, starting with bad assumptions, asking the wrong questions, and arriving at faulty conclusions. Interestingly, both the studies of Watson et al., and Kalliopuska concluded that narcissism is “maladaptive” among subjects measuring low in empathy. To begin in the right place, and to start with good assumptions, the questions of narcissism and self-love are ones that need not be answered; rather, they should be disappeared !

Western World Paradigms. With English fast becoming the standard language for scientific discourse in the world, Derrida warns the western world of “ethnocentric thinking.” He cautions against the imposing of westernized rationality and mythology upon the rest of the world, and the transforming of its “conscious-ness into the universal form of reason” (Bannet, 1989: 218). A typical example of westernized rationality is the pursuit of individualistic goals of self-development and self-improvement, while the Japanese look to the development and enrichment of the community as their greatest life expression. The Japanese language does not even have a direct equivalent to the word “self.” The closest word is “Ji Bun” (Gee Boon) meaning “life part.” As reflected in their language, the Japanese view of “self” is embedded in a contextual whole; for the individual does not self-contain all of life, but is a part of the whole of life.

Two Fundamental Ways of Being. Martin Buber (1970) saw a human self as inseparable from other beings, and symbolized that connectedness with the words: “I-Thou” and “I-It.” He explained “The world is twofold for man in accordance with his twofold attitude.” “I-Thou” and “I-It” are two fundamental ways of being human. For Buber “I-Thou,” establishes the world of relation; the other is real before the I, the other is like unto the I; love is the responsibility of an I for a Thou, and Thou is always approached as an end, and not a means. In contrast to relations of respect and regard—“I-Thou”—human life can also be conceived and lived as “I-It.” In this way of being, the other is not real to the I, the other is not like the I, the other is an object to be used as a means for the I. Two ways of being in the world, and two ways of seeing the world: One individualistic, the other relational.

Rethinking Self-Esteem. Epstein & Morling (1995) maintain “that self-report measures of self-esteem are limited” because the self not only includes the subjective evaluations of the “I” but also the tangible reality of the “Me” (meaning, the self is also an object of another person’s experience). For this reason, Epstein & Morling maintain that “people’s self-evaluations are not independent of their anticipated relationships with others.” Thus, general appraisals of self that are not specific to one’s relatedness to others, create a deceptive linguistic mythology. Self-esteem scales calling for “over all” positive and negative attitudes about self are analogous to trying to capture the “overall and general” definition of a word, with no reference to the sentence or paragraph that reveals its relative meaning (even dictionaries offer multiple definitions according to usage). Reducing the raw realities of esteeming oneself to non-contextual and abstract approaches obscures the rich meaning of being human, and denies the relational embeddedness of the self.

As established in this study, the most fruitful sense of self-esteeming will reflect upon one’s moral relations with specific others—how well one is being with them. Individual life-fulfillment is not accomplished by an inward look, nor is true self-esteem found within. As Hume observed, “whenever I look inside myself, there is no self to be found” (Solomon, 1988). As to self introspection, there is literally nothing to see, except a couple of kidneys and a lung or two. Looking within oneself to locate a sense of self-esteem, is a way of talking, a linguistic metaphor born of individualistic assumptions about the world. Finding oneself is not a deep inward search; rather, the self, and self-esteem, is found in each and every directly-lived human relationship. Luciano De Crescenzo said it this way “We are each of us angels with one wing, and can only fly embracing each other.” Authentic self-esteem, or Human Well-Being, is found in the honest and empathic embrace of others.

The preceding are excerpts from a larger presentation. This is the way I used to write, when University Professors were my audience. Don't you think my recent writings have become more "reader friendly" since?    :o)

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