The Self-Esteem Error

The term "self esteem" is actually pretty new on the scene, having hardly been mentioned prior to 1970. Yet today, in 2017, virtually everyone will agree that we cannot live without it. The inquisitives will wonder… if self-esteem didn't exist prior to the sixties, how on earth did people get along in life? 


If then there is any encouragement in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any affection and mercy,  fulfill my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, sharing the same feelings, focusing on one goal. Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility esteem others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus,
who, existing in the form of God,
did not esteem equality with God
as something to be used for His own advantage.
Instead He emptied Himself
by assuming the form of a slave,
taking on the likeness of men.
And when He had come as a man
in His external form,
He humbled Himself by becoming obedient
to the point of death —
even to death on a cross.
For this reason God highly exalted Him
and gave Him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee will bow —
of those who are in heaven and on earth
and under the earth —
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

—Philippians 2:1‭-‬11


The bottom line: Scripture commands us to have low self esteem. Jesus had low self-esteem, and therefore, so should we.

But fear not! Because what we think is low self-esteem is really something else. See, the reason our world and society grapple endlessly with this concept is that we have failed to use the right words to describe the various phenomena. As a result, what we picture in our minds when we hear the words "low self esteem" is really something else entirely, and it should therefore be called something else. I shall therefore propose the new title of the condition heretofore referred to as "low self esteem":

Weak Self Cogency

The dictionary definition of cogency: 

— the quality of being clear, logical, and convincing; lucidity.

What we need as individuals is not to esteem ourselves more highly. No, what we need is a cogent self-image, that's all.

Jesus, the Man, as He walked this earth, had low self esteem, but He in no way lacked self cogency. He knew who He was, He knew the value of His person. He knew He was superior to every other man and woman who ever had lived or who would ever live. He knew how He stacked up against His peers. He suffered no insecurities. In the midst of abuse from others, His self-image was unscathed. He didn't have doubts about His own self-worth. He had a very cogent self-image; a very clear, logical, and convincing picture of Himself.

And yet! — Jesus had low self esteem.

"How is this possible, since the two concepts seem to be so intertwined, one even deriving from the other?" you ask incredulously…

The answer is quite easy when we consider in detail the difference between esteem and cogency. Note first that esteem is a verb, and cogency is an adjective.

Esteem is something we do, by concious choice, following a concious decision.

Cogency describes the quality of something we know, the depth of our conviction, and the lucidity of our thinking about it: — whether we are truly convinced of its factuality.

When we esteem someone, be it ourselves or others, we are choosing to consider them (or ourselves) in view of other decisions we are about to make. See, it's really not complicated… scripture says we should esteem others more highly than ourselves. That's just the opposite of selfishness, isn't it? Hence, it becomes clear to us that we should all indeed have low self esteem—because all that means is that we put others before ourselves.

Now note that a person with strong self cogency is able to put others before himself without inducing a crisis of identity or self-worth, because his senses of identity and self-worth do not derive from his self-esteem. His self-esteem has nothing to do with his self cogency.

This, by the way, is why all of society's efforts to raise a generation of strong, whole individuals has failed, and has instead brought on an epidemic of narcissism. Because they're using the wrong words, because they've got the concepts confused. Imagine a therapist telling his patient, "It's great that you're putting others before yourself. Now let's see if we can do something about your low self esteem..." See, it just makes a whole lot more sense if we use the right words:

"It's great that you're putting others before yourself. Now let's see if we can do something about your weak self cogency..."

The field of psychology is certainly a worthy pursuit, as it has helped countless people to overcome the many hinderances in life that seem to arise simply as a result of being human. (We don't see many animals needing therapy, do we?) But as in all human endeavors, it works better when we seek answers and applications in the word of God, the Bible, which was written specifically for human benefit. 

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