Saturday, August 27, 2016

Wrong Helping Approaches

The leading approach for helping women who have been victims of domestic violence or sexual exploitation has been to teach them to be strong in themselves and to have a high self-esteem.

I believe that this approach is wrong.

The main reason is that the self is not the only, nor the best, source of strength. My grandmother was a very strong person. She was not strong in herself; she was strong in Communism.

I know any number of very strong people among serious Christians. They are not strong in themselves either; they are strong in Christ.

There are many people of both genders who have found strength in Hinduism or Islam. There are many businessmen and engineers who have found strength in Reagan conservatism. There are many scientists and artists who find strength in their ideal of service to humanity. There are many military people who find strength in national patriotism. There are many people who find strength in family and in parenting. None of these people are weak.

Whereas many people who believe that they are strong in themselves think that they are the only strong people out there. They are not. There are many ways to be strong, and being strong in oneself is only one possible form of strength – and, given what I have seen in intercultural comparisons, not the best one either.

As for self-esteem, I have found it to be a Sisyphean labor. There will always be somebody to destroy whatever self-esteem you struggle to obtain. The proponents of the concept see it as being a pre-requisite for successful existence. They are demonstrably wrong. There have been any number of highly successful people who either thought of themselves poorly or not at all. Vladimir Vysotsky, a Soviet bard who has been one of the most highly successful musicians in all of history, wrote, “I have no trust in fate, in myself even less faith.” According to this ideology, he should have been a complete loser. But he became vastly more successful than any self-esteeming American yuppie. His source of strength was the feelings of Russian people, on which he was picking up and to which he was giving voice. And that was a vastly greater source of strength than one's self – a source of strength that made him one of the most successful and highly regarded singers and songwriters of all time.

An even greater error is the idea that having a high-self esteem is a prerequisite to being a good person. Absolutely wrong. There are many good people who think badly of themselves, and there are many jerks who think of themselves highly. According to most traditional attitudes, self-esteem is a sin. And there have been good people in all of the world's cultures, including ones that have this attitude.

A related claim is the idea that sex industry is the main source of disrespectful treatment of women. Still more error. Women are treated far worse in places where there is no sex industry than in places where there is. Afghanistan, Congo and Bosnia during the civil war did not have a sex industry. But there have been vast amounts of brutal rapes and murders of women in all three countries. Yes, men who see women as “sex objects” and only that can be jerks. But so can men with Puritanical attitudes. The American Puritans made laws about the size of the stick with which one can beat one's wife. Whereas women in Sweden, Netherlands and San Francisco have more rights and, for the most part, a much better existence.

Are women in the sex industry being exploited? Certainly many are, and they deserve all the help that they can get. But there are any number of others who know exactly what they are doing, and it is wrong to patronize them by claiming that they are being exploited.

Returning to the original subject. Can being strong in oneself and having a high self-esteem be a source of strength? Yes. But it is in no way the only possible way to be a strong or a good person. There are strong and good Marxists. There are strong and good Christians. There are strong and good Hindus, Muslims, conservatives, patriots, humanitarians, feminists, empaths, and further down the line. Many of these people are far stronger individuals than most people whose only source of strength is themselves. And teaching strength in self and self-esteem at the expense of such things can in many situations be a completely counter-productive approach.


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