As I mentioned that, I realized that I hadn't just been 'taught' that, it was drilled into my head. Not politely, more like a full electric drill boring open my head, pouring in the information and then sealing the information within. As we sat at our typewriters (old cantankerous Remingtons, whose quality depended on how hard you could strike the key and how fresh the ink was on the ribbon), Mr. Vosburg ranted at the front of the classroom. "FIVE SPACES. FIVE! HOW HARD IS THAT FOR YOU NITWITS TO REMEMBER." I chuckled as I typed, since he was more bluster than bludgeoning, but other students trembled under his tirade. The one thing that came of it was that nearly every student could probably tell a person today that the proper indentation to a paragraph is five spaces. They may not know what works in formatting, but they know five spaces.
It got me thinking about many of the little lessons and rules I learned as a kid. 'I' before 'E', except after 'C'. Prepositions are words you can associate with a mountain, i.e. over, through, around, upwards... Proper nouns are always capitalized, Joe, Tilley, Teddy, Millie and Philadelphia, so if you add a title or modifier it, too, shall be capitalized, Mr. Joe, Miss Millie and the City of Philadelphia. These things stuck with me because the teachers made us remember them, through repetition, insistence, and sometimes bullying us to the point of awe, or sometimes fright. They did not mess around, they wanted us to learn and they used whatever methods worked.
The funny thing is, I don't think I was damaged by this sort of education. I can't think of any others my age who I can say suffer irrepairable harm. I am sure some don't recall the actual methods with fondness, if they remember them at all. What they do recall is the message the teachers were trying to convey. At times, it even gives us a bit of a laugh now, as we reminisce about some of the more vocal instructions we were subjected to.
Which led me to further reflection. Why were we so much more resilient back then? I don't ever remember anyone mentioning my self-esteem. I don't know if we lacked such a condition or if no one bothered to put 'self' before it. We knew there were individuals we should or did esteem, the Principal, a judge, the clergy, those sorts who we were supposed to show proper respect. Esteem was something granted to those who earned it, and you had to wait a long time to earn the esteem of others. So when did it become a given that it belonged to an individual before they earned it or to decide whether theirs had been damaged?
Esteem: To regard with respect; prize. To regard as; consider. High regard = respect.
To teach children to respect and consider themselves is a good thing to a degree, but only to the extent that they use it to earn respect and consideration from others. Not a given, something they must work for. What good is it to only concern oneself with their own value and not that of those around them? At what point do we tell them that how they treat others is the greatest indicator of how they will be treated and the most sure-fire way to earn the esteem of others. Once they have achieved that, then the need for worrying over their fragile self-esteem becomes a moot point. It is far more satisfying to earn the esteem of a colleague rather than whining over the damage someone did to their self-esteem.
And I guess that is what the whole thing boils down to. If we want to be successful in any field, we need to be willing to improve. We have to become aware of our faults and failings, and then learn the ways to improve and repair them. If we are so sensitive to criticism and suggestions that we translate it to a personal attack, then we are not likely to see any benefit in the opinions of others. If our self-esteem is of greater concern than the esteem we might earn by working harder and learning more, then it will be pretty difficult to find ways to improve.
It just so happens that writing is an skill that requires constant learning, dedication to style, and creative means of conveying an idea or an image in the confines of little letters on a page. To achieve the level that others admire, quote, and recall for years means that we might have to set aside our personal feelings and concentrate more on the product we wish to provide for our readers. If a writer does not give greater consideration to their readers than themselves, it shouldn't come as a surprise they never become an esteemed author.
Naturally, in my convoluted thought process, I arrived at this profound revelation through round about ways. Yet as I recalled that five space indentation, and the less than delicate manner it was expressed, I wondered how many people who are taking up writing consider that some points need to be drilled into our heads. There is no absolute right way to write a story; some will be beautifully enhanced with similes, while others abhor using adverbs and adjectives but produce great intensity with their sparse detail. To get to the point that we, as writers, can use these various means to the greatest effect, might mean we take a little beating to our self-esteem in the process.
In the end, I think we have to take responsibility to our readers to produce the best product we can for them. If that means being subjected to such criticism as someone pointing out that a passage became so tedious they fell asleep, it is a problem which need to be addressed. Try not to take it as an attack on your self image, but rather a portion of your work you need to spend some time with to make it better. And while you do that, please remember that millions of us grew up and spent most of our lifetimes without benefit of a self-esteem. We're still around, still kicking, still writing, so self-esteem can take a healthy dose of battering without injuring the individual who retains it.