Monday 21 July 2008

Must try harder

Yet another interesting post at Stumbling and Mumbling, this time on the (financial) value of self-esteem. There is it seems, a value in rating yourself too highly: you persuade yourself to try what no sane man would, and persuade others that you can do it.

But as GK Chesterton points out, Chris may be guilty here of survivorship bias:

(To clarify: Hanwell was once home to a large lunatic-asylum, hence the fell message of the omnibus)

"The publisher said of somebody, "That man will get on; he believes in himself." And I remember that as I lifted my head to listen my eye caught an omnibus on which was written "Hanwell." I said to him "Shall I tell you where the men are who believe most in themselves? For I can tell you. I know of men who believe in themselves more colossally than Napoleon or Caesar. I know where flames the fixed star of certainty and success. I can guide you to the thrones of the Super-men. The men who really believe in themselves are all in lunatic asylums."

"He said mildly that there were a good many men after all who believed in themselves and who were not in lunatic asylums. "Yes, there are," I retorted "and you of all men ought to know them. That drunken poet from whom you would not take a dreary tragedy, he believed in himself.That elderly minister with an epic from whom you were hiding in a back room - he believed in himself[...]

Believing utterly in one's self is a hysterical and superstitious belief like believing in Joanna Southcote: the man who has it has 'Hanwell' written on his face as plain as it is written on that omnibus."

Furthermore, Chris's prescription of giving more praise to children in order to boost their future earning power turns out to be fraught with peril. This experiment showed that praising intelligence in kids who did well in tests made them less likely to want to learn; it was praising effort that made them try harder. Happily for England's cricketers, it seems it really is the taking part that counts:

There's a breathless hush in the Close to-night
Ten to make and the match to win
A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
An hour to play, and the last man in.
And it's not for the sake of a ribboned coat.
Or the selfish hope of a season's fame,
But his captain's hand on his shoulder smote
"Play up! Play up! And play the game!"

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