We have met the enemy, and he is us.  – Walt Kelly

I cannot make it through the grocery store line without catching the latest and greatest breaking news! Lined up for our viewing pleasure is the hottest failed marriage with juicy details about how our famous idol is now beating his child. If that doesn't suit your fancy, you can snag the competing headline that shows how your favorite celebrity is now 50 lbs heavier, looks terrible without makeup and is cheating with his or her co-star. Still not completely intrigued? No worries! The family wars, drunken parties, big lies, drug addiction, hitting rock bottom, home wrecker, vicious revenge and who's hot / who's not is always available! It was less than a week ago that my 11-year-old daughter was reading out loud in the Von's shopping center, with total distress in her voice, that the bachelorette was dumped! As she was reaching for the magazine, I reached to stop her hand, mortified at the realization that once a child can read (age 5) that the example being set is to judge others, invade their privacy and revel in their mistakes.

There is something about our human nature that we find a sense of pleasure in hearing about the pain, problems, mistakes and failures of others. We all have done it! You overhear some gossip, and you want in on the action. You want the details, especially if it is about someone you dislike or battle the feelings of jealousy. For some reason, there is a sense of contentment in knowing that others have problems and that their life is falling apart.

Have you ever considered that reading these stories, or listening to the latest negative gossip, empowers your self-esteem to feel superior in a way? When others are disliked, failing, unattractive or just different, in a strange way, it provides validation that you are better, acting better or doing better than someone else. It empowers your ego. It is soothing. As sinister as this sounds, it is true!

I honestly believe that the majority of people really try to live a good life. We don't engage in these behaviors with the intent to harm. Most of us feel a great deal of empathy for the suffering of others. But we still cannot seem tear ourselves away. That inner pleasure and validation that comes from hearing the negative of others, seems to win over the common sense that this is wrong to use others, and their struggles, for our own emotional gain.

As a society, we have allowed ourselves to become consumed in defining our worthiness, based not on our own character, but rather how we compare against others. Our happiness is not defined by what we are doing, but rather by what others are not doing. We need look no further to find the cause of bullying, than in our own mirror. The solution lies in the same place. It is not about a campaign to change others, it should be a campaign to change ourselves. A change that involves a shift in how we sooth our own insecurities, how we act to impress our friends and where we look for validation that we matter in the world.

At some point, we all, young and old, have to realize that making someone smile, feels a million times better than making them cry!  And that self-esteem has nothing to do with others, but only something we can find within ourselves.
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