As a member of the millennial generation, I was chiefly raised in the progressive era of plastic jungle gyms and social safety nets. From the time I was very young, my life has felt safely padded by society, with little room for any real or imagined danger to threaten my fragile existence. Mine was a childhood where both teams won a trophy. Mine was a childhood where there were no losers, and everyone was special. Mine was a childhood where there was never anything wrong with anyone ever.
But I’m here to tell you that there’s something wrong with all of us.
We’ve somehow come to value confidence over kindness, pride over patience, and self-esteem over self-improvement. Never are you to meant to feel that your problems may be self-inflicted, or that the cause of your woes may just be your own inadequacy. These sentiments have penetrated deep into our educational system, our government, and our entire culture. But our collectively relentless quest to ensure that anyone and everyone “feel good” about themselves has in many ways stunted the spiritual and emotional growth of an entire generation. What I’m talking about has often been referred to as “the self-esteem movement”. Starting as early as the 1960s, and gaining maximum momentum through the 80s and 90s, the modern self-esteem movement has culturally embedded itself through public policy, traditional media, and most recently, through social media. The overarching sentiment is that everyone’s beliefs, actions, and lifestyles are equally valid and respectable, and to be critical of another person for any of these is itself a pernicious evil.
My intention is not to disparage the massive strides in psychological research and practices that have led to mentally healthier lives for millions and millions of people. The desire to ensure that others recognize their own self-worth is guided by a true principle that each of us has infinite worth. Our culture has realized that humans have innate potential, and that that potential must be guarded. The psychosocial methods to accomplish that task, however, have engendered a culture where people often feel a social requirement to maintain a facade of perfection. Hence, when problems arise in our lives that threaten that flawless pretense, the modern response is to “shake it off”. Yes, it is true that our happiness should be independent from the actions and opinions of others, but if Taylor Swift’s aforementioned lyric becomes the anthem of our lives, then we may rob ourselves of genuine opportunities to improve ourselves at the suggestion of others.
You see, there are lots of things wrong with you, there are lots of things wrong with me, and that’s okay. People may be able to delude themselves into believing that they have reached the pinnacle of perfection, or in more common vernacular, that they’re “just fine the way they are,” but when the reality of personal inadequacy inevitably rears it’s humbling head, the subscribers to this false philosophy, having done nothing to prepare themselves, will be forced to either retreat to the safe harbors of mediocrity, or drown in the endless ocean of failure. In the end, their lamps will be empty, and not because the oil of criticism was not offered, but because they did not use it.
Building the self-esteem of others by telling them that there’s “nothing wrong with them” is a double-edged sword. While the feelings of others may be temporarily placated, the ruse can’t last forever, and they eventually will realize the truth. The reality is that there are things wrong with everyone. A person who is told over and over that their beliefs and actions are morally relative will at some point be forced to reconcile that belief with the simple fact that not all of those beliefs and actions bring equal happiness into their lives. Rather than expecting everyone to don a constant guise of perfection, we should accept the fact that there are things that are wrong with each of us, but also realize that that’s okay! We’re not, “fine the way we are”, because it’s perfectly acceptable at this stage in our existence to not be completely fine. Only when we can humble ourselves to the point that we can see ourselves for exactly who we are, the good and the bad, are we in a position to unlock the powers of the Atonement. Only then can we truly progress. President Uchtdorf expressed this beautifully in his talk, “Lord, Is It I?”. He states,
“Brethren, none of us likes to admit when we are drifting off the right course. Often we try to avoid looking deeply into our souls and confronting our weaknesses, limitations, and fears. Consequently, when we do examine our lives, we look through the filter of biases, excuses, and stories we tell ourselves in order to justify unworthy thoughts and actions.”
“But being able to see ourselves clearly is essential to our spiritual growth and well-being. If our weaknesses and shortcomings remain obscured in the shadows, then the redeeming power of the Savior cannot heal them and make them strengths. Ironically, our blindness toward our human weaknesses will also make us blind to the divine potential that our Father yearns to nurture within each of us.”
It’s no wonder that personal and public religious observance has almost universally declined. What need have we for a Savior if there’s nothing in our life for Him to save us from? The “wrongs” in our lives can be anything from addictions, temptations, and bad habits, or just plain inadequacy. We cannot truly overcome any of these problems without the help of the Savior, but Christ is wholly unable to heal us if we are unable to see that we need it.
I know that we have a loving Heavenly Father who completely understands the nature of the human condition. He would never want us to trade progression for temporary comfort. He would never want us to believe that our actions and lifestyles are all equally acceptable. He has allowed us to experience weaknesses so that fires of temporal struggles will one day refine us into the people He always intended us to be. I think the words of the Savior himself in Ether 12:27 perfectly illustrate this principle:
“And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”
We live in a tremendous progressive era and have the potential to end many forms of human injustice. Wouldn’t it be a shame to squander that energy pursuing the acceptance of false and ultimately harmful philosophies! We can do better. We can help one another. And we can allow the Savior to help us.
There’s something wrong with each of us, and that’s how it was meant to be. If we accept the world’s mantra that we are static creatures, and cannot change, we risk losing all opportunity for meaningful progress. After all, the Gospel was never about acceptance, but always about improvement. So maybe next time some criticism comes our way, let’s take it with a grain of salt and see what we can learn from it.