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What is self-esteem?  Is it a self-concept, a self-image, a set of self-affirmations? Is self-esteem learned? Can self-esteem be 'pumped up' or must it grow through achievement? What is the role of learning in the development of emotional and intellectual well being? This is a dialogue and exploration about the relationship between learning and self-esteem that includes a number of leaders from the national self-esteem movement. 

If we value independence, if we are disturbed by the growing conformity of knowledge, of values, of attitudes, which our present system induces, then we may wish to set up conditions of learning which make for uniqueness, for self-direction, and for self-initiated learning.
- Carl Rogers

We don't receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us from.
—Marcel Proust

** Indicates the messages that best convey our orientation and thought about self-esteem.

#1 - John Vasconcellos (California Senator/National Self-Esteem Champion)  raises the alarm - in the wake of a report claiming self esteem is not a correlate for many of the social ills its proponents claim, John asks the self esteem community to rally.

#2 - David Boulton articulates his view of self-esteem** - in response to the above David describes self esteem as: human nature free from the self-disesteeming psychological reflexes we learn to modulate our negative-to-self, feelings and thoughts.

#3 - John agrees with David's descriptions and asks " HOW DO WE ASSURE EACH CHILD A SET AND SERIES OF RELATIONSHIPS WHICH ACCEPT AND ENCOURAGE HER/HIM TO APPRECIATE AND TRUST THEMSELVES, IN THEIR ENTIRETY? David responds:  We can't control the relationship they are in - we can help them develop the inner-life skills to process their experiences so as to immunize them (just like a vaccine works from the inside -out) to be able to grow through the shame rather than avoid it or displace it in ways that result in the kinds of self-assumptions that accumulate into self-disesteem.

#4 - Elaine King (retired California Master Teacher) + David**  We can't make a child's environment free from the risk of injury and we certainly can't create environments free from the risk of negative-to-self experiences. What we can do is:1) help people become aware of how critical this kind of learning is and how they could be more alert and conscious in their relating to children when they are going through negative-self terrain 2) we must help children grow through this great barrier reef by supporting their inside-out learning within the actual happening of negative to self feelings and thoughts. 

#5 - John to David **- Acknowledging the learning opportunity to redefine self-esteem rather than attack the opponents of its current definition.

#6 Elaine King + David**  - Self esteem is not as deep a fulcrum as learning is: the best and most cost-efficient /optimal way to facilitate the learning of: X (whatever 'X' is) is to resource 'students' in their inside-out participating in learning about 'X'

#7 - Kirk VandenBerghe ('Trust Your Heart' Master Therapist) to David** - The misdirection of our attention into nominalizations and the importance of becoming inside-out oriented.

#8 - David to Kirk - Lets explore the role of nominalizations in inner well beingness.

#9 Gary David (Philosopher, Theorist, Epistemologist, Affect Therapist, Life coach) to David and Elaine** - it is not the shame-affect, but the shame of shame that is involved with self-dis-esteem.

#10 David to Gary re Jack Canfield (author: chicken soup for the ____ books) to Vasconcellos comments -  reveals the communication gap within the unfolding conversation.

#11 Elaine + David Thread**:  we learn to learn in similar ways - we develop unconscious reflexes that guide the process - the question then becomes what modes of conscious participation will develop these faster than consciousness reflexes in ways that are intrinsically learning-oriented rather than mechanical?

#12  Elaine to Gary and David: Nathaniel Branden's definition of self esteem the conviction that one is competent to live and worthy of living.

#13 Gary's response to Elaine and Branden's definition:   I try to reach the actual impediments to the inner flow without a goal-image of self-esteem as defined by those such as Branden.

#14 Elaine's response to Gary: I am also more generally (and passionately) involved with our interrelationships and our modes of communicating, connecting and understanding one another. Maybe you "guys" and your intellects need a little female fumbling here too.

#15 The Rebutal Article by Josh Holcomb: Defending the Efficacy of Healthy Self-Esteem, Vasconcellos et al

#16 Elaine's critique of the Article: Did I miss something? I really didn't know what to expect of the article; I take it your "inside-out" view hasn't been assimilated into this ongoing work.

#17 John Vasconcellos + David thread:  revisiting David's definition letter

.... One year later....

#18 Sharon Begley's Wall Street Journal Article on Self-Esteem - "an intervention that encourages them to feel good about themselves regardless of work may remove the reason to work hard -- resulting in poorer performance,"

#19 David's response to the WSJ Article -** "What the self-esteem movement did was direct our attention to what is developing on the inside of our children. How a child learns to be her or his self, shapes their ability to be effective participants in everything they do in school and later in life.  I think we went wrong when we formulated self-esteem as something to build up. I think what we have learned is that, quite the contrary, self-esteem is a lack of building up. It is not about the boosting the accumulation of positive feelings, self-imagery or self-concepts, its about the minimizing the accumulation of negative feelings, self-imagery and self-concepts. More and more we are coming to see that we human beings would naturally gravitate to healthy psychological well being if we didn't learn otherwise.

#20 Response to David's Response to WSJ - "I think what we have learned is that, quite the contrary, self-esteem is a lack of building  up. It is not about boosting the accumulation of positive feelings, self-imagery or self-concepts, it's about minimizing the accumulation of negative feelings, self-imagery and self-concepts. SADLY, DAVID, TRAGICALLY, ONLY SOME OF US - SO FAR - - - AMEN!"

...Almost 2 years later...

#21 David's response to January 2005 Scientific American Article: Exploding the Self-Esteem Myth**  "Who doesn’t want ‘inner-health’ and ‘outer success’ for themselves and their children? Clearly, they are related and the potential benefit of deepening our understanding of how they’re related warrants serious scientific inquiry. The question here is whether the 'self-esteem' discussion is taking us there. Unfortunately, both sides appear lost in the mythic assumptions that A) 'self-esteem' is a good 'domain-name' for a serious scientific inquiry into 'inner/subjective health' and B) that whatever we mean by it, it's something that is accumulated and built up into an edifice."


The role of Feedback in Learning Oriented Systems 

Miraculous Intersections - Learning to Learn

Distributed Dialogue Processing - Vision Foundations


#1) This dialogue was and is inspired by my friend and mentor California Senator John Vasconcellos.  John was, Chair of the Senate Education Committee, Founder of the Politics of Trust, a pioneering legislator, champion of 'person-centric-politics', the originator of the public debate on self-esteem and a leader in developing education policies that address the development of whole human beings.    In his words: "society's primary commitment must be to encourage the development of healthy, self-realizing, responsible human beings". (and) "I believe that we human beings are innately inclined toward becoming constructive, life-affirming, responsible, and trustworthy and that self esteem is at the heart of our capacity to lead lives of community, responsibility, productivity and satisfaction." 

He was lifted to national comic ridicule by Doonesbury for establishing California's self-esteem task force. He brought many disciplines together and presented in a way politicians could understand the role of self-esteem in the social- psychological well being of each person as well as on the state's collective macro-economics. He taught the world of politicians to recognize that there is a correlation between someone's inner well being, and what they cost the government.  The day we met each other, over 15 years ago, we began a dialogue into the relationship between self-esteem and learning that has no end envisioned. John has also been a real champion of my self-esteem.

Thanks John

2014 update: John Vasconcellos passed away on May 24 2014 -click here for an e-book of all my available dialogue with him

The dialogues presented here are excerpts from much larger dialogues.  These ‘guided tours’ are intended to convey applications of the ‘mutually learning’ orientation. Many who participated in the larger dialogue are absent here. Much of what some may have said may not have been chosen.  I acknowledge and appreciate every one who participated in any way in any of these conversations (or in any other, more subtle, ways).  

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