What happens to us when the society in which we grow up doesn’t value our personal attributes? You know, many, if not most, of our feelings of self-worth or self-esteem have been influenced by the messages we get from society.
Some of those messages are overt and up front: we know without question that our society values affluence, power, efficacy, youthfulness and health. Now, imagine how it might feel to be poor, relatively powerless, or chronically ill or disabled in this society.
Some messages are subtler. We say we value diversity, children, older people – but our behavior often says something else. If movie stars and models are young, tall, thin, with expensive clothes, and look like what society has – for whatever reason – deemed “beautiful,” what message does it send to those of us who are different from that?
If the kids in school laugh at us because of our accent or the work our parents do for a living, what do we learn about our value? It is terribly important that all of our children feel proud of who they are – just the way they are. And, that they learn to respect the differences in each other from an early age.
Our children need to be carefully taught. Sometimes all it takes is one concerned teacher, parent or other adult who cares enough to take the time to set the record straight in the child’s mind. Every one of our kids needs to know that what is and is not valuable really depends on some pretty arbitrary things like where you happen to be born and when.
Children only know the expectations of those around them, as they are too young to be able to set their own expectations for themselves. Children of all ages need to know that they are loved, prized, and capable of rising above stereotypes to be the uniquely valuable human beings they already are.
Because, in the end, we rise to each other’s expectations, or we fall to them.