Modern Culture and Merit
Merit is a concept few recognize anymore. Webster defines meritorious conduct as an action “worthy of praise or reward.” But modern culture seems both inattentive to and disregarding of such conduct. Moreover, in our times we often praise – even reward – some very wrong things. And recent research has been telling us how detrimental to character it is to praise or reward wrongly.
For years, Eddie Brummelman and his colleagues have studied how we praise our children. And the research supports what clinical experience taught me long ago. When you praise children for their nature-endowed or God-given attributes, you can certainly boost their egos. However, you do so in an unhealthy way. Why? Because they can’t honestly claim credit for those things. They didn’t have anything to do with the beautiful blue eyes they inherited. And they didn’t have any say about the I.Q. they were blessed with. They didn’t merit any of those things. But lavish praise and reward on someone for how pretty, smart, or talented they are, and you’ll give them a big head, alright!
Praising and Rewarding Rightly
If you want to help someone develop healthy self-esteem, you have to praise and reward them properly. You have to recognize their positive, pro-social efforts. You have to notice when little Suzie has the integrity to comfort a classmate being bullied. Maybe, she even had the courage to confront the bully. Such effort and action has to matter. And when you recognize and reinforce meritorious conduct, you build a person up the right way. It leads to develop genuine, healthy self-respect.
The Problem with Disturbed Characters
If there’s one thing we’ve learned about disturbed characters it’s this: They all-too-readily take ownership of what they haven’t earned or merited. They’ll brag about how smart they are. Or they’ll boast about how adept or talented they are. And because they’ve been taught to value these things as an integral part of what makes them “special,” they have every reason to think they’re all that! That’s why disturbed characters often have inflated self-esteem. Unfortunately, they also often lack self-respect. And that’s because they usually haven’t earned it through meritorious conduct.
To claim ownership of and revel in one’s bestowed gifts is inherently haughty. It disavows and disrespects the gift-giver, whether you see that giver as nature or God. But it’s the very nature of character disturbance not to recognize or respect any “higher power.” I address this issue in my books as well. You can find some informative articles on it, too. (See, for example: Narcissists Can’t Recognize a Higher Power.)
Some Worthwhile Reading
You can find some other articles on merit and its role in character development. (See, for example: Merit, Virtue, and Character.) (See also Self-Esteem and Merit and Merit: Healthy Self-Esteem – Part 2.) I have a lot to say about this topic in all four of my books as well.
I’ll be talking more on this topic on Character Matters. Tune in Sunday, October 1, 2017 at 7pm EDT. We’ll be broadcasting live, so I can take your calls at (501) 258-2326.