The Power of No.

The world is filled with books on “getting to yes” and “the power of yes” and “how to be more self-confident” and “how to binge on candy every day and never gain an ounce.”

Okay, I made up that last one, but it is an accurate summation of the same sort of idea in the previous books.

It’s not so much that the self-esteem movement in education got it wrong – it’s that they might have got it completely upside down and sideways as well as inside out, something that should require supernatural powers.

It is, in other words, another case of careful studies carefully associating cause and effect backwards.

Having found that people with higher self-esteem worked better, the egg-heads assumed they worked better because they had higher self esteem, and not that they had higher self-esteem because they had a record of accomplishment that warranted being proud of.

Let me put this another way – yes will work no magic for you.  No might not, also.  But on the other hand – depending on how determined and how much of a stubborn cuss you are – it just might.

I’m the first to admit I don’t like being told “no.”  I hated it when I was a little kid, when the “no” mostly involved “no, you can’t have ice cream” and I’ve not grown any fonder of it now, when the “no” involves a rejection on a novel or short story.

The best thing you can say for me and “no” is that I’ve grown a lot more used to it.  Which doesn’t make it any easier to take.

Worse, being an adult involves saying “no” to yourself.  “No, Sarah, you can’t have a new car, because that would be debt, and then you’d go in the hole EVERY month, instead of only when you get behind on deliveries and cash flow catches up with you.”  “No, Sarah, you can’t take the day off and go to the zoo (or the natural history museum) because you’re sinfully late on this novel, and any longer, and there won’t be indulgences enough to keep you out of editorial hell.”

I hate saying no to myself.  We all do.  Which doesn’t erase the fact sometimes we need to.  And sometimes mom was right about the “no ice-cream” – partly because at the time we were poor as Job, and frankly there was no money for ice cream, and partly because, yeah, I’d have dripped it all over the dress she’d just finished for me to wear to her cousin’s wedding.

So, “no” is a poopy face word and I don’t like it, but it is sometimes the right thing.

More importantly, though, as a mother, who had to say “no” a number of times, I’ve learned that “no” is possibly the strongest tool in an educator’s toolbox.  And by this I don’t (just) mean “no, you can’t have/do that.”  But also “No, this is not the most wonderful drawing you’ve ever done” and “no, that’s not a complete story, try again.”

Yes, I was one of those horrible, horrible mothers.  I never told my sons their every drawing was a masterpiece.  I did take in account their age, so when my four year old made these incredibly expressive human faces atop of fuzzy “whirlwind” bodies that somehow showed the posture of the person depicted, I praised it.  But when my ten year old made a stick figure in five minutes and angled for praise, no, I didn’t give it.

And yes, when my son was 12 – or 11? – he wrote a short story for school that had the teacher praising it to the rafters.  It was turgid, had no plot and the surprise ending wasn’t.  So I told him that.  One of our friends was horrified with me.

But the next thing Robert wrote was Cat’s Paw.

And that’s because I’d seen that with myself.  When I started writing, I had no idea what I was doing.  This is fairly normal.  But I got “no.”  I got “no” loudly and uniformly.  Some days I’d get rejections and just lay in bed and cry, because it hurt so badly.  Then I went and read more, and studied.  And tried again.

Now, some of those early stories have been published.  Would it have been all right if I’d just been praised?

I don’t know.  I think if I’d been praised and given everything on a silver platter, I’d still have no idea of structure or plot, and I’d be writing blindly and have a ratio of ten to one in unpublishable/publishable stories.

I think the people who believe self esteem will fix everything are the sort of people who believe we’re born good – the same people who believe in noble savages.  In their gentle, addled little brains, they think if you’re just praised and told how wonderful you are, you will just develop all these talents and blossom like an exotic flower.

Maybe it is because I have vivid memories before the age of three, but – trust me – without being forced to improve, you’re more likely to become a spoiled brat, whose “best work” is a clay-snake full of thumb marks.

Worse, if you never fail until you’re a grown up (or middle aged.  I hear reports our president is depressed over how badly the health care roll out is going), if you remain metaphorically or realistically unspanked until you are what used to be grandfather age in older times, you will not have the tools to cope with failure or with the distress of mind that comes with knowing you fell short.

This is particularly bad for those of us who are Odd and for whom certain things are instinctively easy (for me it was writing) because we will assume that we can do no wrong, when in fact the untutored mind will always do wrong, no matter how naturally brilliant.  Unless we’ve been “spanked” once or twice, see the glaring mistakes we ignored the first time, and know to check for them, we WILL fail.  Sooner or later.  And probably at a disastrous level.

The idea that treating people with kids gloves and praising them will produce better people/artists/politicians/scientists is akin to the idea that making everyone qualify for a house loan will make everyone financially responsible.  Or the idea that giving everyone a college diploma, even if they can barely spell their own names, will make everyone successful.

The markings of success are the markings of having accomplished something.  To just pin a medal on everyone and call them the “winner” doesn’t mean that everyone in the race ran as fast.  It just means you’re a silly person who doesn’t get the world or humans, for that matter.

So… try the power of “no.”  Even if the “no” you say is to yourself.

And then get beyond “no” and find another path to get where you want to go.

*There’s a post on How To Write Fast* over at Mad Genius Club.*

115 responses to “The Power of No.

  1. Trying to think how to phrase this… I think we also have to learn that being told “No” doesn’t mean cold stop, don’t do that ever again! But rather that it means try again, but better. I have seen people in my life who, when critiqued, dropped the endeavour, backed away, and had to be coaxed into trying it again. Or flat-refused to do so. Perhaps being told no from an early age would have meant they didn’t take every little set-back as a mortal failure.

    I tend to take ‘no” as a challenge, perhaps not the best approach either!

    • Yes — part of the issue is, I think, no experience of “no.”

    • It depends on how the no is given– I had one that traumatized me for a long time about my writing. The teacher did the humiliation publicly.

      • Publically– I mean in front of the entire class… and it went on for a long time– in my mind (it was a long time ago) she devoted the entire class to my despised essay.

        • I think the best take on the emotionally abusive teacher is probably in STALKY AND COMPANY by Kipling; especially the story “Regulus”, which shows why the school tolerates the teacher in question.

          • She was teaching community college courses btw as well as a teacher in one of the high schools. I bet she did that to a lot of students. I kept my head down because I had paid my money and wanted a grade–

      • William O. B'Livion

        There’s a difference between “no” and a beating.

        • As with so many things, there is the Constructive No — You can do better — and the Destructive No — you are a worthless worm, a piece of human detritus that is a detriment to our entire species. It is vitally important to learn how to give the first kind and how to reject the second. For one thing, the second kind is not about you, it is about the one saying “No” in so unhelpful a manner.

          Interpersonal relationships feature a similar quandary. A young gentleman asking for a young lady’s time must distinguish between the No which means “you have to step up your game to play in my league” and the No which means “not in your wildest dreams are you in my league.” Just so must young ladies know hoe to deliver the No which means “I am interested but don’t want to devalue myself by throwing myself into your arms” and the No which means “Not if you were the last mammal on Earth.”

          • I’m starting to regret being raised in an language with so many contradictory meanings for “No” …

            • How many meanings of “No” are there in Latin? We didn’t cover that in the two years of High School Latin I tormented my teacher by taking.

              Even in a language (especially in a language) with no word for “No” there are multiple meanings for the word. While Japan has a word for “No” I gather it is considered poor manners to have to use it. Which leads to a far greater confusion of meanings for “Yes.”

              Consider the Japanese father who is asked by a young never-will-be, “Respected Sanjo-san, may I have permission to date your daughter?”


              longer pause.

              slow scan of supplicant from head to toe and back again.

              longer pause.

              slow shake of head and the softly uttered word, “Sure.”

          • I have found it hard to distinguish between the destructive or constructive “no” because of personal experiences. I am better with “it would be better if you,” or “that will hurt you because.” Or– the rule is–

          • …you are a worthless worm, a piece of human detritus that is a detriment to our entire species.

            I see you have met my first Drill Instructor.

            Though I will note, that particular flavor of ‘No’ is of worth and value within the frame of certain phases of Basic Training, when the trainee is in need of transitioning to a more receptive mindset to the subject at hand.

            I was always impressed with how much the former, as “You can do better, else I would not be wasting my valuable time on your sorry person” was embedded in the shouted latter.

      • mikeweatherford

        There’s a huge difference between being told “no” and being humiliated. There is no reason to publicly humiliate ANYONE at any age, unless they truly ask for it. Sarah is talking about the corrective no, not the humiliating no. One is instructive, the other is destructive. Believe me, I know — been on the wrong end of both, many times. There’s a very good reason why the military teaches supervisors to ‘reward in public, correct in private’. Unfortunately, schoolteachers aren’t taught that very simple, very rewarding lesson.

    • “I tend to take ‘no” as a challenge, perhaps not the best approach either!”

      My best friend in high school was told there was no way he’d be able to hack an engineering program, given his performance in math.

      He DID get that degree, and for a while worked for (I believe) Hendrick Motorsports — one of the NASCAR race teams.

      • Oh, and a college classmate of mine was ALSO told he’d never be able to get HIS engineering degree.

        He graduated beside me.

      • A visual display of a teacher conveying that message to a student:

        Yes, pay phones once cost only a dime. Yes, once upon a time a dime could buy something worth having. And finally, yes, once upon a time there was something known as a “pay phone.”

      • Hendrick Motorsports is not “one of the NASCAR teams” — these days, it is *THE* NASCAR Team….

    • I tend to take “no” as a challenge also. If I’m not careful my instinctive reply to ‘no’ is, “I can to do that,” hands beverage to person standing next to him, “watch this.”

  2. NO can be good. “No Passing” zones is good, since otherwise some people would pass other vehicles going up a hill or around a corner.

    I don’t always agree with NO, but I do try to reason why it is there.

    Then there’s the other type of NO – the one uttered by micro-cephalic would-be dictators with truncated thoracic development. “No means no because I said so.” “Because if you do, everyone will want to.” “We must have ORDER.”

    It’s good to ignore those NOs.

    • Have you ever noticed that the idiots that would pass on a blind corner pay any attention to double yellow lines?

      • Taken as an example of libertarian thought, in that laws are suggestions provided to direct your actions and not controlling them – and taking full responsibility for you actions and owning the results- I have no problem. As it is usually a pointy-headed idiot who figures that s/h/it is so important that the world will modify itself for the importance-ness and refuse to own the mayhem, death and destruction those decisions cause, no they don’t pay attention because they are self centered idiots and traffic laws are for little people.

  3. Well this is slightly suspect timing. I was just locked in a tough debate on whether to say no, and here this post is, first thing I see when I turn on my computer this morning.

  4. I have always said that I was very fortunate to fail early and often. It meant that I did it small, while I still had support and criticism to help me get up and do it again, instead of cratering as an adult with no one caring as long as I didn’t make the place messy. Being told, “No, that is wrong, do it again,” was one of the greatest gifts my parents provided for me.
    I believe strongly that I have only learned my greatest lessons from failure. Success only taught me to do the same thing again, failure taught me to learn, adapt, modify approach, and to actually study the problem.

  5. The practices of the self-esteem movement lower academic achievement and increase anti-social behavior.

  6. While I have no proof, I suspect that the origins of this movement were intended for an actually good purpose. I believe that it started from looking at people who are overly critical of their children, so that nothing they ever do is good enough, and the children never get any kind of positive reinforcement. But, as with every other movement that started out with good intentions, once their message had taken hold in a fairly significant way, they went over the top with it, to the point that it became not merely useless, but deleterious to their intentions.

    • Yes, but those are a TINY minority. Also, nothing I ever did, nothing I’ll ever do will be good enough for Mom. And yet, I graduated with top grades and I’m still trying in one of the hardest to break-through professions in the world….

      • In a way, nothing I ever did was really good enough for my mom, either, but that was because she never really understood what I wanted to do, or the usefulness of it, so it didn’t even matter how well I did in it, she still was unimpressed.

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

        Sarah, I think Wayne has a point. People need positive feedback, but it doesn’t have to be from parents or schools.

      • I made my life in spite– of my parents and my peers. It was like the first expectation anyone had of me was that I would fail. I had learned early that if I said the wrong thing (any thing sometimes) that I would get it– usually mother (she had an implement that she used if she thought that I was even thinking something disrespectful).

        So when I did receive a tiny bit of praise– I was unstoppable– I had the highest grade in my electronics class. I made E-5 first in my group– I was the highest student in my college when I graduated.

        I agree that indiscriminate praise is just as damaging as no praise at all.

  7. I learned that if I say “No” in the right times, it frees up resources (time, money, energy .. words?) so I can say “Yes” to things that, otherwise, would be impossible. “No, I don’t really want to go out to dinner” means “Yes, I will send the niece a box of gummy bears for her finals week”.

    Took a long time to learn this .. and the telemarketers have gotten very tired of hearing “We don’t make donations over the phone, send us something in writing and we will consider it. .. No, we won’t guarantee anything over the phone. *click* ”


    • Ah, those telemarketers. I still get several calls a week even though I’ve made sure that I have remained on the do not call list since its inception. I deal with them in one of two ways. Normally I simply hang up the second I realize the nature of the call. That they choose to violate my privacy obviates me from any obligation to be polite. If I’m feeling especially nasty I will engage them in a lengthy conversation, teasing them with the phantom possibility that I will actually give them what they seek. For their precious time is the only payment I can exact from such, a resource that once taken can never be recovered. I don’t do it often as obviously it requires my time as well, but on a slow day with a particularly annoying sort I sometimes give in to my baser nature.

      • My folks tell them that they don’t give to any organization that contacts them over the phone. When it was the investment guys calling, dad told them that not only had he retired (true) but that he’d also filed for personal bankruptcy. That terminated those sorts of calls. *evil grin*

      • I can’t believe the number of calls I get here in the LA area from home alleged contruction firms (up to four a day). Actually, I have been saying no to any future improvements to the house for a while.

      • They’re most likely paid by the hour, Uncle Lar .. the time you waste is your own. Sorry.


        • Actually that would make it better. It wastes the time of the employer using telemarketers instead of just the minimum wage kid who couldn’t find a better job. (Of course your time is still lost.)

        • Well, as I said, I indulge rarely. In any case either the callers are on straight commission, or their employers have the expectation of some net return, so at the least I’m not helping them.
          I do almost always just hang up on the theory that rudeness deserves the same in return. I have occasionally asked callers for corporate identification so I can submit a grievance to the do not call registry. That invariably results in an immediate disconnect on their end.
          Side note, though I dislike the fact that charitable organizations are exempt from the do not call list, and I never make a donation in response to a cold call, I do try to remain polite to such callers and maintain my phone manners while terminating the call as quickly as possible. My point on the charity calls is that I cannot understand why they would not voluntarily respect the DNC registry as anyone going to the trouble to get put on it is not likely to respond favorably to such and in most cases such calls may very well poison the recipient’s opinion of that cause against any contribution.

          • My sister: “Why are you calling my husband? This is Tiffany, isn’t it? I told you to stay away from my husband you homewrecker!”

            • About every quarter we start getting calls from “Rachel of cardholder services.” They usually last a few days, with perhaps five calls over a three day period. Sometimes the recording offers to let us get to a “press 5 now to be removed from this list.”

              Apparently the “Press Five” option works rather like those “close door” buttons in elevators.

              Beloved Spouse and I have made a family joke out of “That was Rachel at cardholder services — she’s still hot for me” or “Tell your girlfriend Rachel I’m on to her and if you can’t at least cheat on me with a more intelligent bimbo I am taking this up with a lawyer.”

              • They’ve legally shut “Cardholder services” down several times, but they always reappear again.

                Why don’t they ever send the evil corrupt killer SWAT teams against really deserving targets?

            • Pam — the Huns are planning an excusion (or incursion) round about your way. Will you comment on today’s post and tell them if you can join. I’d appreciate a known sane one to keep eye on them!

    • My father pretends not to speak English.

  8. One of the advantages of learning computer programming (or other technological skills) at an early age is that there is an objective standard of value and it is delivered to you automatically. Computers never give you an A for effort – either whatever it is you’re doing works, or it doesn’t.

    You also get to practice trying to fix the problem very easily.

    • So does most hands on work, either you replaced your clutch correctly… or you’re not driving your car to town.

      • Depends. I’ve seen a pull-type clutch installed bass-ackwards that drove… like absolute and total wet, smelly fertilizer. But it drove. Briefly. You may not get the car *back* from town, say. *chuckle*

        My grandad had a saying. Wisdom and competence come from the same source, experience. Experience comes from having fsked up… and having then tried again, and again, until you got it right consistently.

  9. interesting.

  10. Here’s a different take. We’re all familiar with famous/rich/highly talented people doing unbelievably stupid things — Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston come to mind — and all it means is that because of their fame/wealth/talent, nobody ever said “No” to them. Which meant that they, being human, pushed the bad behavior envelope further and further until they finally exploded, spectacularly. I’ve given two examples, but the world is full of similar examples. Hell, the White Album is an example of nobody being able to say “No” to the Beatles — until the album flopped, and George Martin said, “Forget the self-indulgence; we’re going to make a proper Beatles album now,” and Abbey Road was the result.

    Lesson: sometimes being told “No” will not only help you, but save you.

    • The so called “New Hollywood” era is a geat illustration of ‘no’.
      When Friedkin, Scorsese, and Coppola were under pressure from the studios, they made some pretty great movies- “Taxi Driver”, “The French Connection”, “The Godfather”, ect.

      But success led to the same directors getting total artistic control, and a string of expensive flops. Only Scorsese has recovered since.

      • ::cough::George Lucas.

        • Back when I was an itinerant film student I developed a theory that more films had been harmed by excessive than by inadequate budget. This was premised on the principle that an “unlimited” budget does not require creative solutions to problems.

          As I never found anybody interested in funding my explorations in film industry issues, that theory, like the intelligence of the average actor/ress, remains underdeveloped.

          • “We have run out of money, now we have to think.”

          • Late to the game here, but in my opinion, the best Nine Inch Nails album is STILL the first one – that Trent Reznor did on nearly nonexistent and very limited studio gear. Since then, a lot of it has largely been self-indulgent and pretentious crap. The best of his stuff since, especially the soundtrack for Social Network (which had a nifty variant of under the hall of the mountain king), has had constraints on what he could do as well.

            I find the same tendency in bands where one member goes solo. It’s like not having to convince the bandmates that such-and-so is a good idea results in them losing focus on what works because no-one’s calling them on crap.

    • Star athletes are an even better example. Coddled from an early age to keep them on the team, they never have to grow up. Until they fail, eventually, as nearly all of them do. Devastation.

    • There’s also the numerous examples of authors (and other creative types) whose work goes down hill once they get famous.

      One example of this IMHO is the Harry Potter books. Note how much fatter they get as the series progresses. It isn’t clear to me that the larger later books benefited from not being ruthlessly pruned by an editor

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

        People who have read Stephen King’s _The Stand_ both the original published version and his “preferred” version have said that the original published version was better. Many have also said King’s earlier books are better than his later books. Likely no editor is now going to edit King’s “master pieces”.

    • I read an article once that talked about how, in many cases, you have to hit bottom before you can turn your life around—and in the cases of the famous and super-rich, there’s so much under them that they drown before they can hit the bottom.

  11. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

    Thought on character names. I had a character called “Uncle Max”. He wasn’t an uncle (wasn’t even human) but it served as a place-holder until I worked out his name. I believe some writers use “place holders” like the Gracious Lady or the Evil Clan Lord until they decide what to name the characters.

    • Christopher M. Chupik

      Thanks for replying to my post that got moved to the proper blog.:-D

      I have to wonder: do GRRM’s awesome character nicknames originate that way, sometimes?

  12. Positive reinforcement doesn’t HAVE to be bad. I know with my girls (three of them) I try to use positive reinforcement. Well, sort of.

    For example: I like to paint minis with my oldest daughter. She’ll be eight next month. Some of the stuff that she paints comes out crazy. I have a ratling in a witch outfit that she painted in eight different colors most of which just ran together into a purplish-orange haze. She asked me what I thought of it. “Umm… That’s kind of crazy looking honey, but it’s a Halloween one and Halloween is kinda crazy” A couple of weeks later we were painting Thanksgiving minis. She pained one pretty well granted, the outfit was purple instead of black and she missed a coupkle of the details on the gourd but she’s seven. When she asked me how that one looked I was like “Wow, that’s really good Riley-lou. I’m gonna take that one to work and show it off.” I did too. We’re the only department that doesn’t decorate for holidays, so our “decorations” were the three Thanksgiving minis that we painted.

    The one thing I am absolute DEATH on is my girls telling me they can’t do something. My kids are not allowed to use the word can’t in my presence.


    Riley: “addy, I can’t get the lid off of this jar.

    Me: I don’t want to hear the word CAN’T. There are some things you’re not allowed to do, but there is NOTHING you are not capable of.” (starts to walk away)

    Riley: (sigh) Daddy, can you help me get the lid off of the jar?

    Me: Sure. I’m your daddy and we all need help sometimes.

    Riley: Thanks Daddy. You know, mommy let’s me say can’t.

    I know that sounds tacky, but it’s almost verbatim from a conversation we had last weekend.

    I’m hoping that this approach FORCES my kids to think that they actually CAN do anything they set their mind to. I’m also hoping that they keep in mind that it really IS okay to ask for help if they’re having trouble accomplishing something. is it going to work? I dunno. Ask me in twenty years. For now though, I’m betting that it’ll work better than doing everything for them and telling them how wonderful they are all the time.

    • Haha I hate “can’t” also. My mama had a saying “Can’t never did anything but wet his pants.” It shocks my kids when I whip that one out on occasion.

      • Heh. I’m so stealing that phrase.

        Our daughter, 4, goes over to my wife’s grandparents’ during the day while we’re working (drives me nuts, the way they just give her whatever she wants, but….free daycare….), and has tried to carry a dozen stuffed animals over to play with during the day. Their house is chock full of toys as it is. I started telling her “sure, you can take whatever you want, as long as YOU carry it to the truck. If anything gets forgotten, I’m not going back in to get it. You want it, you carry it.” Nowadays, she does. She’ll have her arms full of toys/jacket/backpack so that she can’t even open the door, but she carries her stuff. She’s also gotten smart, and found out where Grandma keeps the Walmart sacks, which enables her to carry MORE stuff! Again, I’m fine with that, as long as SHE carries it. She learned, she found ways to do things easier (those mesh pockets on the outside of a backpack designed to hold water bottles? yeah. You can fit two or three small stuffed animals in there! Seen her do it.), she’s learning to think out her problems. I’m good with that.

      • mikeweatherford

        One of the training exercises we did in the Air Force NCO Academy was to write down ten things that we “couldn’t” do: I.E., “I can’t tolerate Sgt so-and-so.” Then we were told to go back and replace “can’t” with “won’t”. Then we had to discuss which was a more correct statement. Some people were embarrassed at their sentences after they did that. “Can’t” should only be used when something is impossible — I can’t flap my arms and fly. Anything else is a predetermined outcome that may or may not be correct.

    • The kid can’t square a circle.

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  15. Christopher M. Chupik

    “No” is certainly a word your “leaders” need to hear more often.

  16. “No, we won’t give you a student loan for a BA. Society is drowning in BAs, and doesn’t need what it has. How about a degree in Science or Engineering? We’re short on those.”

    “No, we won’t violate the First Amendment so that your precious feelings will be spared. Blow your nose and stop sniveling.”

    “No, we won’t trash the Constitution so you can make Progressive Poses in front of the kleptocrats at the UN.”

    “No, we won’t take your deprived childhood into account when passing judgement on the mass murder you committed.”

    “No, I won’t feel guilty for crimes committed over a hundred years before I was born.”

    “NO, I won’t donate a dollar to some charity I’ve never heard of, so your company’s CEO can look charitable.”

  17. What we are really discussing is the difference between honest feedback and all negative or all positive feedback, neither or which teaches anything. Honest feedback is harder to do, harder to watch kids cry about, and takes a fair amount of honesty in your own heart about what your “little darling” can accomplish. Not surprising I guess that teachers think its easier to tell everyone they are wonderful.

  18. The power of no is impressive, but it is only good when used to help and improve and not to hurt. The thing about no is that, like you said, we do get used to it. After a while, we’re not crushed by it anymore.

  19. “If everyone is special, then no one is.” — spoken by 9-year-old Dash in The Incredibles.

    I abhor educators who tout self-esteem and hand out unwarranted grades (the primary cause of rampant grade inflation in K-12 and college). My oldest daughter was smart enough to coast through many of her classes, which gave her bad habits. When she was a freshman, she turned in a one-page story that was abysmally bad. The story lacked logical progression and had many grammar errors (run-on sentences, inconsistent tense, noun-pronoun inconsistencies, inappropriate paragraph breaks, and numerous spelling errors). The teacher gave it an A. I wanted to give the teacher an ‘F’ for failed and fired. And the principal. And the idiot “professional educators.”

    • mikeweatherford

      Remember in “Starship Troopers” where the teacher in H&MP was talking about value, and “awarded” Juan a “first-place”, and Juan came back and said, “You know I finished fourth”. The same thing happens with so-called “self-esteem”. Self-esteem and self-worth are EARNED by effort. Effort results in success and failure. You learn from both. If everyone gets the same “reward”, regardless of the effort expended, then why bother doing anything above the minimum? What lesson is there to be learned other than “don’t bother”? The only problem with that is that life doesn’t work that way. The person that exerts the most effort (physical as well as mental) usually gets the greater reward.

      This current nonsense about “income inequity” is another facet of the same broken mirror. There is no way to guarantee either equal effort OR equal reward. I sell five books a month and feel good about that: Sarah sells 50 and wonders what she’s doing wrong. I’m an amateur — I’ll be the first to admit that. I want to write as many books as I can, and do the best job I can as I write them, but it’s not going to kill me if I don’t make a sale. Sarah earns a significant part of her family’s income from her writing, and she needs the money. It’s far more important to her to do the best she can, because otherwise she’d lose sales. I write because I like to, and I want others to enjoy my writing, but it won’t harm me to miss a sale: It might mean Sarah has to eat oatmeal for dinner one night.

      The problem is, we teach children they DESERVE “self-esteem”, whether they earn it or not, whether they work for it or not. What we really need to be teaching them is that self-esteem is the reward you get for doing your best at everything you try. Others may get a greater or lesser reward, but that’s THEIR reward. Yours is the reward you earned, and you have a right to feel good about that, no matter what level it reaches.

  20. The whole self-esteem and not saying “no” thing is an example of how trying to fix something for a minority makes things worse for the majority without particularly benefiting the minority.

    Yes, some kids had/have low self esteem because their parents/teachers etc. are always criticising them and telling them they are useless. Most children OTOH get a mix of yes and no and while no parent/grown up will always get the balance right, evidence suggests that the balance is got right sufficiently often that most kids learn relevant lessons about life, trying, success and so on.

    The real solution should be to identify the kids who don’t get appropriate yeses and contructive nos and ensuring that they get them. That of course requires hard one-on-one work and doesn’t get you a PhD if you propose it because it is also “common sense”. Coming up with a hoky theory about self-esteem on the other hand gets you a PhD and seems a lot easier to do

  21. My good neighbor and I were talking about just this thing this past weekend. He made the point that you can’t know that you’ve had a good day or a great day unless you’ve had a rotten day or a really rotten day. Kids who receive only praise never learn when they’ve truly done something good or very good unless they’ve had failures pointed out to them. To some people this is ruining the little darling’s self esteem, to me it’s building character and teaching them what self esteem is.

    Children need praise, but only when they’ve done something worthy of praise.

    • ‘builds character’

      If I have kids they will learn to hate that phrase. Because it is one I use whenever somebody is complaining about something they don’t want or like to do.

      • we may joke about how crappy, misery making tasks and events are “Character Building” but there’s probably a truth in it too.

        • “Twenty years from now we’ll look back at this and laugh” has been heard among the Red social circle. Usually followed by someone grousing, “That’s if we survive.” And after that, “Survive hell, I just don’t want to get caught.”

  22. The thing they’ve come up with lately—and I agree with it—is that if you tell kids “you’re so smart” without any qualifiers, it’s more likely to cause failure later if they come across something they can’t just *do*—but if you instead praise a kid’s effort, they’re more likely to persist.

    I modify this with my kids to reiterate that effort GETS competence—”Oh, you’ve been practicing your handwriting, it looks much better. When you practice something, you get better at it.” This is mainly because I wish someone had hammered that home to me a little earlier, because I was one of those “smart” kids and coasted on that a little longer than I should have, and had to build some study skills in college that I should have built years before.

    As for the younger, I agree with the POV that “I can’t!” is a bad trend. We’ve been trying to train her to ask for help instead of just giving up (she’s three), but oh, in the meantime it’s annoying.

    I also submit that consequences should be explained to kids when they’re young. “If you do this, than [this] will happen. Understand?” Then following through is important. It works, it really does—and though my kids are sometimes wild and crazy and annoying as all get-out, it’s nothing age-inappropriate, and some of their behavior gets them major kudos from other parents. (Like saying “please” and “thank you.” They’ll follow your lead—it’s not too hard to model good manners.)

  23. “There’s nothing you can’t do.”

    Try becoming a fighter pilot, or astronaut, with imperfect vision (20/50 L, 20/*150* R), or a heart murmur, or any of the myriad condition the FAA denies medicals for.

    Try getting published pre-e-pub without knowing the right people in the industry — something which has been mentioned here more than once. (AKA “Suck cock and read _Pravda_ and you can be a Commissar too.”)

    Hell — try flapping your arms to fly.

    “Can’t” is the all-powerful word in the English language — it defines what you will be; and no amount of wishful thinking will change that. So the sooner the kiddiewinkies start hearing it, the sooner they will Grow Up, and the less likely they will be to act like 40-year-old-adolescents later on.

    • The real answer to that is “You can do anything… given enough time. You should probably focus on those activities you can accomplish in your lifetime if not sooner.”

      I mean, I could probably become a stellar basketball player in forty or fifty years of top athletic health. So I choose instead to do those things I have a talent for…

  24. I think it might be worthwhile to get some clarification of terms, because (once again) certain useful technical terms have been seized by the vile progs and twisted into uselessness. I’m always offended by abuse of language, but this one strikes to things that affect me and some of my minor expertise.

    There is nothing wrong with self-esteem. Self-esteem is the understanding that you have a certain inherent worth as a human being, separate from others’ opinions or even (mostly) the outcome of your efforts. It ties into the concept of inalienable rights – you have these rights and this minimal importance just for being. It’s an important start to the process of learning to choose for yourself, to take an active rather than a reactive role in your life.
    Unlike what the progs tell us (and especially our children), self-esteem does not mean “you are the greatest thing since sliced bread no matter what and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise”. It means “you are a free agent in the universe, with valuable potential, and you dang well ought to get up and do something with it.”

    What we often mean when we say self-esteem is self-respect. When you know you have done well by whatever objective standard, be it outright success or significant-to-you improvement, you build respect for yourself and reinforce your ability to progress. I suppose you could compare it to faith and knowledge. Self-esteem is the faith that you have the capacity to do things, while self-respect is being able to look back and say “Yep, I did that.” Self-respect helps keep you moving upward; self-esteem is that buffer at the bottom when everything else has failed, or when you are first beginning.

    There, now you’ve had your daily dose of pedantry. You’re welcome. :)