I'd like to share a thought, if a bit strongly worded, from child psychologist John Rosemond:
The commandment that adults must make children "feel good about themselves" means adults can no longer tell children the whole truth about themselves or the things they do. The best truth, after all, often carries with it a bit of a sting.
Well, what is so wrong with concerning ourselves that our children feel good about themselves? Is self-esteem bad? Is Rosemond way off target and over-zealous in his criticism of modern day psychology?
Perhaps a story related by the Shemen HaTov about the Belzer Rebbe, Rabbi Yisachar Dov Rokeach, can give us some insight.
It was Yom Kippur in Belz. They had finished the Mincha prayer early, and the Chassidim went to take a rest or a walk before they began the Neilah prayer, the final prayer of Yom Kippur. Everyone left the Beit HaMedrash [Study Hall]. Like many others, one of the honorable and wealthy Chassidim left his Shtreimel [fur hat worn by Chassidim] at his seat.
When he returned before Neilah, the Shtreimel was missing. Someone stole a Shtreimel from the Beit HaMedrash in Belz on Yom Kippur!
There was a great commotion. Who could do such a thing?! The Rebbe (unaware of what had happened) went to begin Neilah as scheduled. After Yom Kippur, the Rebbe called over the Chassidim and asked them, "What was the big commotion before Neilah?" They told him "Someone stole a Shtreimel". The Rebbe told them to all to go and break their fasts. Later, the Rebbe asked to see a certain chossid.
The chossid came to the Rebbe and the Rebbe told him, "You stole the Shtreimel." The fellow denied it. The Rebbe persisted in the charge until finally the chossid broke down, confessed and produced the missing shtreimel.
The next day in Belz, everyone proclaimed a miracle: "The Rebbe has Ruach HaKodesh[Divine Spirit]!"
However, the Rebbe explained: "It was not Ruach HaKodesh. The way that I knew who stole the Shtreimel was as follows. Before Yom Kippur, all of my Chassidim gave me a kvittel (a small written note with their prayer requests). Everyone had needs. This one asked to see nachas from his children, this one asked to marry off a daughter, all sorts of requests. One Chossid, however asked only for Parnassah (livelihood). A Jew who can think to ask for nothing else on Yom Kippur besides Parnassah, is the type of person who would steal a Shtreimel on Yom Kippur." That is how the Rebbe knew.
A self-centered personality is a dangerous thing. Should we be solely concerned with self esteem, we risk developing a child with more than enough esteem for himself, and too little esteem for others.
Self-esteem is important. It is vital. But it must stem from esteem for others, and concern for those around us. Self-esteem developed in a vacuum has another name: narcissism.
Soon after the Chagim, we will be into the flow of the school year. Beginning after Sukkot, we will begin a new program within our school focused on developing a sophisticated sense of Derech Eretz, focusing on Dignity, Respect and Honor.
The essence of Derech Eretz in a Torah Academy Student is that he or she is other-centered, not self-centered and when that happens, self-esteem flourishes.
K'tiva V'Chatima Tova,
Rabbi Isaac Entin