“Self-esteem” means feeling good about ourselves.
And it’s nice to feel good about ourselves. It’s a cheap and easy pleasure.
But it’s better if we have reasons to feel good about ourselves.
That’s an important difference between self-esteem and self-respect.
American President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) knew the difference. In 1832, he ran for the Illinois State Legislature. His campaign supported infrastructure improvements, public education, and limiting interest rates.
His reason to run for office was a personal desire to improve society. Although he used the word “esteem,” it’s clear that he was talking about respect:
“Every man is said to have his peculiar ambition. I have no other so great as that of being truly esteemed of my fellow men, by rendering myself worthy of their esteem.”
He didn’t just want to feel good about himself. He wanted other people to respect him because he had done things worthy of their respect.
Unlike mere self-esteem, self-respect has to be earned. It requires hard work, courage, and commitment.
In passing, Lincoln’s argument about the purpose of education was notable:
“Education seemed to him the most important question a people could consider, for every man should have sufficient education to read the history of his own and other countries, ‘by which he may duly appreciate the value of our free institutions … to say nothing of the advantages and satisfaction to be derived from being able to read the scriptures and other works.’”
— Abraham Lincoln: A Biography by Benjamin P. Thomas
In 2020, we see all around us the results of mis-education. Many Americans know hardly anything that’s true about their own country’s history. Their schools taught them only vicious lies about it. As a result, they fail to “appreciate the value of our free institutions.”