Sunday, March 04, 2007

The Failure of Prolonged Attempts to Protect Self-Esteem

In American education, there is a prevalent theory that children will be irretrievably damaged by letting them know that their efforts were inadequate to the task. Therefore, teachers jump through hoops to avoid saying, "that answer is wrong", instead focuing on the nearness of the answer to almost-not quite-kinda-sorta right.

For this reason, the standards movement arose. Parents, employers, and colleges needed some way to differentiate between the B averages and straight As they were seeing on transcripts, and sort out those who, however beloved by friends, family, and God, just weren't up to the task.

Then, miraculously, American Idol arrived. And the arch-villain Simon Cowell become meritocracy's new hero.



Simon isn't as cruel as many would characterize him. He simply states the truth.
Cowell's fame (or infamy) grew, fed by his deliberately insincere signature phrase, "I don't mean to be rude, but …", inevitably followed by an unsparing denigration of the contestant's talents, personality, or even physical appearance.
Such breath-taking honesty in a world full of meandering hurt-avoidance cringing is - wonderful.

Now, in homes, schools, and other places that the unworthy are found, it would be a good idea to be as gentle as possible in saying "your work isn't up to standard" or "that dress really doesn't flatter you" or "yes, your diet could use some improvement, and, BTW, let's get you moving more". That's called tact, and it's a useful way of navigating the valley between telling some much-needed truths and managing to not alienate someone you need to maintain a connection to.

However, the Severely Self-Esteeming (SSE) have, in many cases, been so isolated from criticism that they will only respond and change with a brutally honest kick in the head.

And sometimes not even then. Note the response of this contestant:
The final audition of Seattle comes in, a robust, ginger haired man named Steven Thoen, though he goes by "Red."

The cameras portray him as a bit of a psycho before revealing his "Idol" free life until now. "I'll admit I'm not a big fan of the show," he tells the cameras to tremendous laughter from the AI crew.

He takes on Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody."

The verdict is of course a no, but that doesn't stop him from continuing his quest to get to Hollywood. "I was getting all A's in concert choir," he tells the Judges before attacking Simon directly.

"You think you're so ***ing hot? Step up and coach me," he demands.

Simon's retort? "It would be like coaching the one legged man to win the 100 meters."


As Simon himself says:
“If you don’t want to hear that, don’t show up.”

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