Opinion

Teen murder raises self-esteem questions

It seems 14-year-old Michael Hernandez will be charged as an adult, seeing as how the amoral little tyke has given no real motive for the murder of Jamie Gough. I actually like the fact that he didn’t try to justify himself. I mean, how do you rationalize the urge to stab your friendly acquaintance with a serrated knife? But read the headlines carefully, and you will be told that he was a nerdy, picked-on kid suffering from low self-esteem. Before you know it, he will be the victim, not the corpse.
We’ve been hearing all this since Columbine, yet things have actually gotten worse. Why? Personally, I think everyone has the situation all wrong. These aren’t cases of low self-esteem, but of extremely high ones.
As a nation, we’re obsessed with self-esteem. From the moment they’re born we’re telling kids that they’re special, unique, beautiful, and intelligent and that everyone loves them. And it’s not even their family; television is inundated with pastel-colored critters baby-talking and crooning the same message.
Then the poor kids hit school, and for the first time step out of the rose-colored bubbles built for them. That’s when they learn that, for some strange reason, other kids don’t automatically love them. So we tell them the great lie: it’s not you, it’s the other kids – just be yourself and let them get to know you.
Then they get older and stop being cute altogether. That’s when they start to understand that – wait a minute – they’re not the best at everything. Hell, chances are they are not even the best at anything. But they’re told not to worry; all they need to do is work hard enough and they can still be the best.
Along comes high school, and you know what? Few care to know them, and even if they do, some still don’t like them. Hey, Bobby, guess what – it is you. And for many, no matter how hard they work, there are still kids who do things better and with less effort. Around this time is when they start to feel that society owes them their due.
Think about it: murder is not an act of low self-esteem, but the ultimate act of entitlement. To take someone’s life away you have to truly believe you’re worth more than them, that what you want comes before what anyone else wants, and really, only your opinion matters. I’m sure no one ever bothered to ask the victim what he wanted.
Life has always been hard. Once upon a time we taught kids that when life sucked you dealt with it and moved on, but now it’s even taboo for them to know that there are people out there who have a talent and they don’t. We reward them for not failing miserably, and if they do, we reward them for trying. We tell them that life owes them everything they want, and then we act surprised when they try to collect.
Endre Enyedy can be contacted at e.enyedy@umiami.com.

March 2, 2004

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