Sunday, April 17, 2011

Self-esteem and Discipline

Hi everyone,

After sitting together with a friend this past weekend, we got into an interesting discussion about the visible differences in self-esteem between people in the US and Japan. Just by examining an average person from each country, it is apparent as to what type of societal standards and expectations are placed on them that eventually shape their perception of themselves and their surroundings.

In Japan, perception plays a significant role within society. People pay a great deal of attention to others' image, but care equally as much about how they are perceived by others. The societal rules dictate the idea of "right" and "wrong" and are firmly cemented, thus pressuring people to follow what is deemed "correct" by these standards. Disciplinary measures are strictly implemented, forcing those who "stand out of line to get hammered back in" (a commonly known expression in Japan). Japanese are told not to question the reasons as to why something is the case, but instead, are to just follow orders as told. While this approach is effective at disciplining people to discern right from wrong or good from bad, it prevents people from further developing an understanding of self. People work hard to fulfill the standards set by society, but it counters people from gaining individual strength or attaining some sort of self-worth.

Sometime during the 1970's in the US, researchers garnered a great deal of attention by pushing what was called the "self-esteem movement." In a nutshell, this movement tried to improve the quality of children's self-worth by positive reinforcement and rewarding everyone with a 'pat on the back, despite winning or losing.' It also enforced the idea that everyone is entitled to their own opinion or ways, no matter if it is the wrong approach or not. Approaches to spankings, dunce hats, and time-outs, became quite controversial at this time, as they were still considered 'normal disciplinary measures.' This movement spawned a new set of ideals as to how to educate future generations of children, thereby creating the now 'modern' USA as we see it today.

Having lived in the US for quite some time, I grew up with these ideologies. I was taught a firm set of standards of 'right' and 'wrong' to follow within society, but was also trained to create my own personal standards to maintain individuality. Despite your differences in values with other people, you also had to accept that people 'chose' their own ideologies in life. While there is a great strength found in individuality, I also was guilty of abusing this privilege. I easily excused other people's opinions of me by reserving it as 'their own' and used any reason to shield my image and actions as being acceptable. This virtually left me with little room for any self-improvement and only made me more vulnerable to real hardship. This mentality enabled me to disregard others' 'actual perceptions,' thereby boosting my own image and self-esteem greater than what it was perceived to be. In order to encourage any sort of inner-growth, I had to apply this pressure to myself on my own.

Several critics in the US of this movement from this article here, are excerpted from this story stating:

"When you correct writing, they'll say, 'It's just your opinion,' which is infuriating. Bad grammar and spelling and sentences being wrong... it's just bad writing."

"There is an incredible sense of entitlement for people who don't deserve it. They'll come in right out of college and don't understand why they're not getting promoted in three months. Self-esteem for them meant you're the focus of society's attention."

Now that I am living in Japan, these set of expectations and standards are completely reversed. I can no longer use this mentality to validate my actions and I am expected to follow the trends to at least maintain an 'average' status. Although it might be perceived by Americans as a 'bad thing,' I don't particularly see it that way. Personally, I feel as though I have grown much more from the societal expectations of living here, something I did not feel back in the US.

While both cultures have their advantages and disadvantages, it is apparent that each culture is an opposite extreme. Elevated self-esteem leaves little room for growth and self-development, whereas lower self-esteem decreases motivation and inner-strength. If given a choice, what method would be more effective in the long-run? What standards better fulfill a well-rounded society?

I leave you with this humorous video of George Carlin and his personal opinions of self-esteem and modern society in the US. Enjoy!


  1. In any civilized society, there are always going to be social norms or mores for citizens to function as as a productive unit. The question is to be homogenous or heterogeneous unit, the two most common choices are collectivism and individualism. As stated, there are numerous benefits and drawbacks, but as a human, to express freely and developed a sense of self is a healthy psychological imperative. I would say that individualism in the long run would be beneficial if have good etiquette in mind instead of using it abusively and a uncontrollable manner.

  2. Thanks for your comment.

    I agree, it is a battle of homogenous and heterogenous societies and that 'individuality' is essential. But what then? In order to have a 'well-balanced' society, what requirements have to be fulfilled to properly teach 'good etiquette' or maintain 'controlled behavior'? Does that responsibility lie in the hands of the educational system? The law? The societal standards and norms? Or just plain good parenting?

  3. For society to progress, people needs to given some degree of freedom, ideas and innovations are developed when people are able to express themselves. The price of freedom of expression outweigh the lack of one, imagine a world of censorship and lack of emotional communication.

  4. I understand your viewpoint, but I don't think your response answers the question of what requirements to fulfill a 'well-balanced- society. The fact that freedom and self-expression is important has already been established, but too much expression and lack of censorship causes problems to arise as well. Where does this line to be drawn? How will it be drawn? How will this be effectively regulated and where will this regulation begin?