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Jewish World Review
August 14, 2008
/ 13 Menachem-Av 5768
Confessions of broken spirit
By Rabbi Yonason Goldson
I've been living a lie for too long, and it's time I finally came out of the closet: I suffer from low self-esteem.
It began in second grade. A year earlier I had been the tallest boy in my class. But in only a few short months my peers had caught up and passed me by, and I wouldn't see the tops of their heads again until I was a junior in high school. For all the years in between I was a giant trapped in the body of a shrimp. And ever since I've been a midget masquerading as a 72 inch man.
My first trip to Disneyland didn't help. As the centrifuge ride spun round and round, everyone else stayed right where they were, held in place by inertia as the floor dropped away. Everyone, that is, except me: I sank with the floor, staring up pitifully and wondering how everyone else had known what to do. I guess a little shrimp like me didn't have enough body mass to hold fast in place. After 15 years of marriage, I finally plucked up my courage and confessed this to my wife. She laughed at me.
I blame much of my sense of inadequacy on Fred Rosenthal. I was the second fastest runner in kindergarten. Fred was the first. Every morning the whole class would race to see who got to be captain of the big wooden boat on the playground. The only time I won was when Fred was absent.
Then there was Cameron Franklin. I was the second fastest swimmer at every swim meet. Cameron was first. I had a dozen second-place ribbons from the holiday swim races. Cameron had a dozen trophies. The only time I won a trophy was the day Cameron had the flu.
But no one was worse than Steve Ostadler. I routinely scored 99% in seventh grade algebra. Ostadler routinely scored 100. One time my paper was perfect and his was minus one, until the teacher discovered he had made a mistake grading the tests. I lost a point. Ostadler got his back. That was when I began to suspect the truth: a vast conspiracy dedicated to destroying my self-esteem.
My suspicions grew stronger when I sat with my hand up through Mr. Miller's whole science class without him calling on me. When I asked him after class why he had ignored me, he apologized that he hadn't noticed me. But by then I had no more doubts: he hated me.
Beyond every other indignity, however, beyond every other degradation inflicted upon me and my self-esteem, was the callousness of the Lego Corporation. When I was ten years old, Lego blocks were just that: blocks. They were red, white, and gray, in only the most rudimentary shapes.
Now, as I have watched my own children playing with elaborate sets of space ships and pirate schooners and wild-west saloons, I mourn my lost youth and the shallowness of my childhood, all because the Lego Corporation didn't design these magnificent toys when I was still young enough to enjoy them. I've left several messages for my lawyer about a lawsuit, but he hasn't called me back yet.
The consequences of low self-esteem are incalculable. If Hugo Chavez's childhood friends had let him play stickball with them, he would certainly want to share his country's oil with the United States now. If Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hadn't been embarrassed by his performance on the Tehran debate team, he certainly wouldn't be threatening to blow up the western world. And it is secretly whispered among psychologists that Osama bin Laden suffers from Middle-Child Syndrome.
How I managed to escape the fate of EDHD (Esteem Deficit Hyperterrorism Disorder) remains one of the great mysteries of my life. No doubt, if we tried to show more sensitivity to the many misguided world leaders they would respond immediately with brotherly love and good will.
Nevertheless, what goes around comes around, and at last I am avenging myself upon my own children. I don't do their homework for them. I don't call their teachers to complain when they perform poorly on exams. I make them pick up their toys, and rake the leaves, and do their own laundry. I don't let them watch television, and I confiscate their video games when they spend too much time on them. And when they complain that they're bored, I reply, with a cruel grin, "Go read a book!"
That'll teach 'em.
There's only one thing I don't understand: why aren't they as unhappy as I am?
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JWR contributor Rabbi Yonason Goldson writes, lectures, and teaches at Block Yeshiva High School in St. Louis.
© 2008, Rabbi Yonason Goldson