A microcosm of stagnation

By Tom Quiner

DownloadedFile“There he is again.”

My car had pulled up to the stop light just off of I 80. A guy stood next to the road holding a sign announcing his state of poverty.
I can’t remember what it said for sure. All I know is that car after car rolled down their windows, and the drivers dropped a bill or two in the guy’s bucket.
Was the guy really needy? I don’t know. Sometimes I give, sometimes I don’t.
A few weeks later, the Des Moines Register ran a story on this particular corner. It seems a turf war broke out between competing beggars vying for this lucrative spot.
You see, this is a very high traffic exit route from the interstate. The beggar who I gave a buck to was interviewed by a reporter. He made a tactical error: he revealed how much money he took in a day.
I did a quick extrapolation. If he begged six days a week, taking the Lord’s day off, he’d knock down a cool $35,000 per year tax free. At least I assume it’s tax -free. My instincts told me he’s not filing a W-2.
This morning, I read that an entrepreneurial young girl was selling mistletoe in a park in Oregon to help pay for her braces.
Did that bring fond memories! No, not the braces part. The selling part.
As a kid, I sold seeds door-t0-door starting in 4th grade. Then I graduated to Christmas Cards by 6th grade. Then I sold Fuller Brush products door-to-door to help pay for my college.
These entrepreneurial efforts helped to nurture perseverance in me. I learned that each rejection moved me that much closer to my next sale.  I learned that the faster I walked and the more doors I knocked on, the more sales I’d make.
This early start in “business” did even more: it enhanced my self-respect.
Please note that I pointedly did not use the term “self esteem.” Self esteem has devolved into a mushy liberal idea that suggests a sense of self worth can be imposed from exterior forces.
You’ll see it at work in schools with feel-good posters telling kids how great they are.
And when Tommy kicks the cat, you tell him that you know he’s really a good boy, and, here, have a cookie, now don’t kick the cat again.
On the other hand, the old-fashioned notion says that when you do good deeds, you build self-respect.
The old-fashioned conservative approach says that when you exhibit virtuous behavior such as courage, restraint, prudence, justice, chastity, charity,  diligence, patience, kindness, and humility, you will feel like a good person because you ARE a good person.
Good works and good actions produce self respect.
On the other hand, schools have invested heavily in self-esteem curriculum.
One of the self-esteem movement’s advocates, Roy Baumeister, was commissioned to study the impact of self esteem curriculum. Mr. Baumeister is a professor of psychology and Francis Eppes Eminent Scholar at Florida State University.
He discovered that self esteem curriculum didn’t deliver on its promise. Even more, that it was counterproductive:

“Recently, though, several close analyses of the accumulated research have shaken many psychologists’ faith in self-esteem. My colleagues and I were commissioned to conduct one of these studies by the American Psychological Society, an organization devoted to psychological research. These studies show not only that self-esteem fails to accomplish what we had hoped, but also that it can backfire and contribute to some of the very problems it was thought to thwart. Social sector organizations should therefore reconsider whether they want to dedicate their scarce resources to cultivating self-esteem. In my view, there are other traits, like self-control, that hold much more promise.”

You know how I developed some self-control? By selling stuff as a kid.
The discipline of forcing myself to forgo play and confront stranger-after-stranger to sell a packet of seeds or a box of Christmas cards cultivated important skills in me and helped me become a productive member of my community as an adult.
Alas, we live in different times today. What happened to the 11 year-old girl selling mistletoe in Oregon? City law won’t allow her to sell her wares in the park.
On the other hand, city code does allow  the selling of weed, begging, pan-handling, singing, and protesting.
Damn kid. Who is she trying to impress anyway?