George Will

WASHINGTON -- It hurt her feelings, says Jane Fonda, sharing her feelings, that one of her husbands liked them to have sexual threesomes. ``It reinforced my feeling I wasn't good enough.''

     In the Scottsdale, Ariz., Unified School District office, the receptionist used to be called a receptionist. Now she is ``director of first impressions.'' The happy director says, ``Everyone wants to be important.'' Scottsdale school bus drivers now are ``transporters of learners.'' A school official says such terminological readjustment is ``a positive affirmation.'' Which beats a negative affirmation.

     Manufacturers of pens and markers report a surge in teachers' demands for purple ink pens. When marked in red, corrections of students' tests seem so awfully judgmental. At a Connecticut school, parents consider red markings ``stressful.'' A Pittsburgh principal favors more ``pleasant-feeling tones.'' An Alaska teacher says substituting purple for red is compassionate pedagogy, a shift from ``Here's what you need to improve on'' to ``Here's what you have done right.''

     Fonda's confession, Scottsdale's tweaking of terminology and the recoil from red markings are manifestations of today's therapeutic culture. The nature and menace of ``therapism'' is the subject of a new book, ``One Nation Under Therapy: How the Helping Culture Is Eroding Self-Reliance'' by Christina Hoff Sommers and Sally Satel, M.D., resident scholars at the American Enterprise Institute.

     From childhood on, Americans are told by ``experts'' -- therapists, self-esteem educators, grief counselors, traumatologists -- that it is healthy for them continuously to take their emotional temperature, inventory their feelings and vent them. Never mind research indicating that reticence and suppression of feelings can be healthy.

     Because children are considered terribly vulnerable and fragile, playground games like dodgeball are being replaced by anxiety-reducing and self-esteem-enhancing games of tag where nobody is ever ``out.'' But abundant research indicates no connection between high self-esteem and high achievement or virtue. Is not unearned self-esteem a more pressing problem?


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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