Hubris and Humility: Parenting with Chivalry

Scott Farrell comments:

Humility is one of the most overlooked, but critical values of the knightly character. Although in many cultures of history, warriors were expected to have a “high opinion” of themselves, one of the things that marks the virtues of chivalry from many of the values systems that came before it is that the knights who followed this code were expected to be humble and mild-mannered — to put others ahead of themselves instead of expecting praise and glory. Even today a truly heroic individual doesn’t get much respect if they’re perceived as egotistical or self-important — a reminder of how much influence chivalry still has on our culture.

Author Jill Rigby explores the concept of bringing humility back to today’s society in her books and her innovative Manners Of The Heart educational program. She contends that today’s system of “self-esteem education,” while well intentioned, has gone too far in teaching children that they are the center of the world – an outlook that is perhaps the antithesis of humility. In this essay, excerpted from her new book, Raising Respectful Children In A Disrespectful World, she argues for a return to a culture that is in concert with the principles of chivalrous humility — namely, a values system that focuses on the long-term goal of self-respect through service and discipline, rather than the short-term goal of self-esteem through entitlement and unearned praise. As she says, people with self-respect put others ahead of themselves, and that humble approach is one of the core values of a knight in shining armor.

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Raising Noble Children Amid a Culture of Self-Esteem

RigbyParents today are still being told that the secret to raising healthy children is to build their self-esteem — praise ’em in the morning, praise ’em in the noontime, praise ’em when the sun goes down. We’ve been told to never deny our children anything and to stand against anyone who dares to correct our little ones — all with the goal of helping our kids feel good about themselves.

As a result of this emphasis on self-esteem, 20-somethings are returning home rather than facing the world on their own. College kids are flunking out because they don’t know how to manage their schedules. Kids are growing up without problem-solving skills because their parents think love means solving all their problems for them. Many adolescents have no respect for authority because their parents didn’t command their respect. Instead, these parents gave too much and expected too little.

In our attempt to build self-esteem in children, we have reared a generation of young people who are failing at life, haven’t a clue who they are, and are struggling to find a reason for living. These kids fall for the latest craze, healthy or unhealthy. It doesn’t matter, as long as they’re in the middle of it. They would rather die than give up their cell phones. And they feel that others have an obligation to serve them.

Roy F. Baumeister, professor of psychology at Florida State University, was a proponent of self-esteem in the early ’70s, but he has since changed his views. Thirty years later Baumeister now recommends:

“Forget about self-esteem and concentrate more on self-control and self-discipline. Recent work suggests this would be good for the individual and good for society — and might even be able to fill some of those promises that self-esteem once made but could not keep.”


I agree. Rather than seeking to build self-esteem in our children, we need to focus on building self-control and self-discipline, which will develop self-respect.

Many people use the words self-esteem and self-respect synonymously, but I believe the two are worlds apart. When we seek to help kids feel good about themselves (the goal of self-esteem), we teach them to focus on themselves and how they feel and what they want. I believe this perspective keeps children from participating in the world; it encourages them to see everything as if looking into a mirror, so that they grow up believing, “It’s all about me.”

So what’s the bottom line between self-esteem and self-respect? Self-esteem is “me centered,” while self-respect is “others centered.”

The quest for self-esteem has turned the world upside down. Shifting to the pursuit of self-respect will turn the world rightside up again. Why? Because kids with self-respect put others ahead of themselves. They feel an obligation to others and a responsibility to society. Bullies can’t rock their foundation because kids who have self-respect know who they are and what they stand for. They have a balanced view of the world. They confidence is balanced with humility; they exhibit humble confidence.

If you are parenting to build self-respect in your children, you’ll focus on who your kids are becoming rather than on how much you give to them. You’ll teach them how to serve others rather than to expect to be served. You’ll teach them to contribute to the world rather than to expect the world to give to them. You’ll teach your kids to do their best, whether that means being number one or not and to work towards goals so they can experience the satisfaction and confidence that a job well done brings.

© 2006 Jill Rigby

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About the author: Jill Rigby is the author of Manners of the Heart and Raising Respectful Children in a Disrespectful World. Jill is a popular speaker and workshop leader focusing on interpersonal respect and family values in her Manners of the Heart program, which is offered to schools, business and parenting organizations. She uses music, humor and practical suggestions to help parents and educators grasp the critical importance of these life lessons.

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