I’m Stupid

In 2000, an important study was conducted which queried laid-off rural Alabama textile workers on the effects of the Job Training Partnership Act. Among the many elements brought to light during the research, one specific trend became startlingly clear: all of the respondents had developed the belief that they were incapable of doing better.

This low self esteem even impacted how the workers viewed what they deserved when it came to not only the quality of the food served at the company cafeteria, but also the paper goods found in the restrooms. A small study was made where public restrooms in one of the study’s textile factory was left as it always was with cheap commercial products, while at another factory the restrooms and all janitorial supplies which were bought at a large online site were upgraded to green friendly products. The paper products were free of inks, dyes and fragrances and they all met the Green Seal environmental standard for bleaching, de-inking and packaging. The regular janitorial supplies were switched to cleaning products whose cleaning powers were derived from the most effective natural sources, such as essential lemon oils, coconut-based cleaning agent, corn-based alcohol and earth-based materials. There was a statistical jump (positive) in how the workers felt the second “company” treated them and another surprising result, was actual lower janitorial costs! Who knew that such a simple change in the way a company orders even its janitorial products can impact its workers.

Changing life circumstances can have a devastating impact on self esteem when bad luck strikes. Imagine what happens to a person who suspects that they may have contracted a sexually transmitted disease. Just the uncertainty can become an obsession, especially because sexual matters are often taboo within our culture. Students are especially at risk especially if they are aware that they are not using protection and/or have multiple partners. And admitting that one might have an std is all by itself an overwhelming event – so overwhelming that many young people never seek to check for stds, when doing so may (1) remove the uncertainty, and (2) provide peace of mind if the test is negative. The internet has made it possible to purchase an initial test that can be conducted privately in your home, eliminating the need to go public as the first step. The success of these tests is due to the fact that it’s often too embarrassing to even discuss with friends, no less a clinic of doctor. But home std tests are not foolproof, and if the test comes up positive, one should seek professional help asap. This is one case where the health of the individual is directly connected to the well being of the community and it is critical to make everyone aware of this fact.

Self-confidence and self-esteem is understood to be of vital importance in education and personal life, yet little more than words and mission statements reflect this within many of the usual institutions to which we are regularly subject. Parents, friends, teachers, spouses, bosses, religion — one can find copious examples in all of these categories that frequently discourage individual worth.

A similar observation was made by maritime attorneys who represented injured deckhands, all men, who worked on boats and barges that plied the Louisiana inland waterways. Like the women of the textile plants, many of these young men were criticized and emotionally beaten down by callous bosses. In many cases the maritime workers felt it was their fault when they were injured, although as their maritime injury cases unfolded it turned out that the ship’s owners or the men’s immediate bosses were really responsible. Some maritime workers were improperly denied maintenance and cure benefits by their employer or they didn’t know that they had certain maritime injury law rights regardless of who was at fault.

The women of the textile plants, the focus of the 2000 study, unanimously reported that friends and husbands had told them that they were not smart enough to make it outside the industry. While perhaps a clearer example than most, there are few who have not struggled against some sort of discouraging inner critic that, if listened to closely enough, speaks in a voice that is not primarily one’s own.

This may prove to be a source of strength, if the critic identifies flaws and weaknesses to ultimately improve one’s overall situation. Hearing stories of others’ gambling successes can trigger a set of experiences that don’t end well. Anyone enamored with online slots or what happens on sites found when searching for online slots for players in the usa, for instance may lead you to think you are a loser (because you tend to lose on gambling sites). This can be discouraging, especially if repeated over and over on many different sites, with many seemingly different environments. Losing will always make one feel stupid. However, many people simply take the non-specific discouragements at face value, internalizing them until they become very difficult to extract from the overall psyche. A reasonable assessment of the challenges between you and your goals is something very different than a portrayal of the self as a loser, too stupid to make it and doomed to failure if you so much as try.

The women of the study were given tests during the JTPA program which gave them tangible evidence of their ability to succeed (one woman was so energized by her newfound self-esteem that she divorced her discouraging husband!). None of them were stupid after all, it seems…

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