On Exploded Ordinance

If you drive about a major military installation, you will find signs warning you to be aware of live ordinance. An EOD, Explosive Ordinance Disposal, officer told me in 1993 that every year around Fort Hood someone is injured or dies because a passed-down ‘heirloom’ explodes. In a biography of the famous and furious Israeli warrior, Ariel Sharon, the story is related how his 11-year-old son took down an antique rifle that hung on the wall of the family home telling his father he would be out in front playing with it. He gave his father a playful salute and went out. Both father and son thought the gun wasn’t loaded. That unloaded gun killed him when fired by a friend (Ariel: The Life of, 67-68). Eglin Airforce Base has a live bombing range. It’s used for field manuvers too. You can’t walk past an unexploded 500-pound bomb without thinking, “I wonder if it could go off now.” We do that with unexploded munitions but not with unexploded psychological “truths” like self-esteem.

For decades, literally my whole ministry, I’ve been lighting the fuse to safely explode this myth among us. But it prevails and in many cases it has already exploded unexpectedly in such doctrines as Original Sin, the Fourth Commandment, and Private Confession. Let me give it one more time.

My files are littered with information on this subject. Here’s one from Scientific American, December 20, 2004. The title in this august periodical is “Exploding the Self-Esteem Myth.” See the connection? Pretty cool on my part, right? I digress.

Here’s some quotes from the article. The quote, though, most to remember is from Plutarch, “Don’t shoot the messenger.” That would be me.

“The corollary, that low self-esteem lies at the root of individual and thus societal problems and dysfunctions, has sustained an ambitious social agenda for decades. Indeed, campaigns to raise people’s sense of self-worth abound.” “The results [of a California study in the late 80s] were published in a book titled The Social Importance of Self-Esteem. The book stated “’many, if not most, of the major problems plaguing society have roots in the low self-esteem of many of the people who make up society.’” “In reality,” says the SA article, “the report contained little to support that assertion.” This is why the four authors of this article came together under the auspices of the American Psychological Society and reviewed the scientific literature in a two-year study. Notice, they said scientific, not theological, not Biblical.

They fact-checked a 1995 study that concluded people with high self-esteem are the beautiful people. Our four intrepid researchers found “Clearly, those with high self-esteem are gorgeous in their own eyes but not necessarily so to others.”

They consistently found the methodology of these studies flawed, so they decided they would have to cull some and not waste time on non-scientific, scientific studies. So when they culled those studies that didn’t “emphasize objective measures,” they went from 15,000 to – go ahead and guess and then triple your guess; you’ll still be low – to about 200.

Jeepers, I’m already to the 500 word magic self-destruct mechanism that blog readers – and I don’t blame you – have. So let me summarize, “Modern efforts have, however, cast doubt on the idea that the higher the self-esteem actually induces students to do better.”  “They found that self-esteem in 10th grade is only weakly predictive of academic achievement in the 12th grade….Such results, which are now available from multiple studies, certainly do not indicate that raising self-esteem offers students much benefit.” In another 1995 study “investigators asked 542 ninth-grade students to nominate their most-liked and least-liked peers, and the resulting rankings displayed no correlation whatsoever with self-esteem scores.”

You know the teen years are when the self-esteem stuff crescendos, and you sure don’t want to be swimming upstream at the expense of your kid. Rest easy. “All in all, the results do not support the idea that low self-esteem predisposes young people to more or earlier sexual activity. If anything, those with high self-esteem are less inhibited, more willing to disregard risks and more prone to engage in sex.”

Okay if self-esteem isn’t linked to sex that it has got to be to substance abuse! “The data, however, do not consistently show that low adolescent self-esteem causes or even correlates with the abuse of alcohol or other drugs.”

So if low self-esteem doesn’t correlate to grades, promiscuity, or addiction, surely it correlates to bullying. (If you don’t know this, it’s because you haven’t watched enough teen shows where the bully is exposed by the gay character to have low self-esteem.) Sorry Disney, “perpetrators of aggression generally hold favorable and perhaps even inflated views of themselves.”

The Intrepid Four concluded that the only thing correlated with high self-esteem was – wait for it – happiness. “The consistent finding is that people with high self-esteem are significantly happier than others. They are also less likely to be depressed.”

Ah hah! You knew it. Not so fast. “First, causation needs to be established. It seems possible that high self-esteem brings about happiness, but no research has shown this outcome. The strong correlation between self-esteem and happiness is just that – a correlation. It is plausible that occupational, academic, or interpersonal successes cause both happiness and high self-esteem…”

“Should parents, teachers, and [the third member of the ruling triumvirate of our day] therapists seek to boost self-esteem wherever possible?” The Four Iconoclasts found some indications that self-esteem improves persistence in the face of failure. [So does a drill sergeant shouting in your face.] Individuals with high self-esteem “sometimes perform better in groups.” Also, they say, a poor self-image (Why didn’t they say low self-esteem?) is a risk factor for some eating disorders.

Their conclusion? They denotate the bomb of self-esteem. “And we have found little to indicate that indiscriminately promoting self-esteem in today’s children or adults, just for being themselves, offers society any compensatory benefits beyond the seductive pleasure it brings to those engaged in the exercise.”

You should re-read their conclusion because outside of their paper and this writing you won’t read it again. Over 10 years ago they debunked a concept that has ruled and still rules schools, churches, and U.S. society. Most people willingly stay buncoed. They would rather live with the potential of a big explosion rather than cause one. But it is far better for you to purposely explode unexploded ordinance than for it to surprise you. Ordinance and hazy, fuzzy psychological constructs will always explode. You choose when and where.

(Note: I don’t cite page numbers because I downloaded this off the internet in 2005. It was at www.sciam.com.)

About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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