Self Esteem of a Newington Man

January 2, 2017

Prize Giving Address.

One trend or fad for the raising and educating of children that seems to have got out of balance is the issue of self-esteem. We all naturally agree that self-esteem is a good thing to have. We all agree that it is needed for engagement, motivation and personal growth.

Yet there are doubts about the overuse of promoting this attribute. Do boys need to be happy or feel good all the time? Do all boys need to win awards or participation certificates for everything? Do we avoid the realities of life by not exposing boys to rejection – not making a certain team or not being captain or not holding their favoured position, or not being top in a subject or in the top set; or seeking to always modify any unfairness received for any matter, or subjective judgements going against you, or unhappiness. Far too much emphasis on self-esteem means the much needed virtue of resilience to the knocks in life is diminished.

Self-worth is what enables us to believe we are capable of doing our best with our talents. Self-worth requires an honest assessment of one’s efforts. I wonder if self-worth has been pushed aside by parents and educators to the demands for self-esteem in the last 10 years.

Self-worth highlights that you get rewards – whether intrinsically or extrinsically – when you deserve it. A job well done is a far better feeling than getting praise for not much effort at all. A gesture of genuine giving is a far better feeling than receiving. A genuine contribution where you have done your personal best far exceeds the gifted boy coasting to receive recognition for his particular gift.

It remains a fine balance – self-esteem, self-worth, honest feedback, appropriate recognition, and building resilience.

The well known educational Psychologist, Martin Seligman has detailed research highlighting that the best indicator of success is not self esteem, not your IQ, but self-control followed by self-respect. Self-respect flows from self-worth – your goal to give your personal best to everything you do. Boys know acutely whether they have really earnt any praise given in the hope of helping the self esteem of the boy.

Newington remains committed to the education of the whole boy. At Newington we have a passion for the various pathways that promote appropriate rights of passage from boyhood to manhood. We want boys to be themselves at their best. We want boys to know what they stand for and why. We must keep high expectations on matters to do with character development. The Quakers have a lovely saying about the need to invest in character – “let your life speak”.

To the boys I say we could boast about our academic or sporting or cultural or performing results. Yet what really matters, what people remember about you will be your character – I tell the Senior boys at the start of their last year that they write their own end of year 12 college reference. They display their virtues in action. Reputation is what you do – not what you say you do.

We enjoy the journey of character discovery. From bright-eyed, bushy-tailed year 7, through the stages of flapping of wings and ever so natural adolescence period – and all are flapping at different times of course just to complicate matters, through to the maturing process and realisation of the value of self-worth. Boys of promise to men of substance. Boys of discovery to men fulfilling their possibilities. Boys seeking a personal best approach to life to men displaying such an attribute by their actions. Boys learning about learning to men loving learning. Boys learning about and testing all virtues to see if they are valid to men of virtue. What noble goals. What a Newington approach. What a Newington man.

Dr David Mulford