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The role of self-respect and self-esteem in learning

Self-respect and self-esteem are two interrelated concepts that are prerequisites of effective, lifelong learning

By George GkoutzouvalosPublished 2 years ago Updated about a year ago 4 min read

When it comes to life-changing books, you can find plenty of information online suggesting lists of highly-recommended books that can change a person’s life.

Personally, I had such an experience back in 2003, when I had the opportunity to read the book: “Way of the leader: Applying the principles of Sun Tzu and Confucius”, written by Donald Krause, which I bought at an airport bookshop, while I was trying to find ways to pass the time at the waiting lounge.

After reading it, I can say that it helped me a lot to see things from a completely different perspective.

In fact, it helped me to better organize my mind and use a more objective approach in addressing problems, situations, and people.

I believe that the fact that the book is composed of simple yet powerful messages and ideas that date to the ancient times of Sun Tzu and Confucius, and these messages have endured the test of time, is uncontested evidence of the book’s effectiveness as a life-changing material.

At some point of the book, the author argues that: “A person without self-respect does not learn much from failure, nor does he benefit long from good fortune”.

This statement itself is excellent food for thought.

It means that, no matter how many times a person without self-respect fails, they will not be able to turn failure into an advantage through learning.

Taking it a bit further, it can be argued that a person without self-respect cannot actually learn.

Therefore, self-respect is a prerequisite of learning.

That an important point that needs to be elaborated further.

Although the context of the book refers to leadership through a comparison of various historic leaders, and how their approaches fit the theoretical ideas of Confucius, as these ideas were implemented by Sun Tzu in practice, the results of this discussion on leadership can also be easily applied to other areas, such as education and pedagogy.

I believe that the majority of teachers, regardless of the level of education that they teach, use the same teaching methods and approaches, and apply them to students collectively, without taking individual differences into account.

The fact that there is not much room for teachers to apply a customized approach that is tailored to the individual needs, circumstances, level, and abilities of every single student is not necessarily the teachers’ fault, but it results from various factors that are out of the teachers’ control.

In fact, before providing students with the necessary learning material and support, teachers should first attempt to evaluate each student’s self-respect level, because, according to Donald Krause, this is the true foundation of learning.

However, as it is argued by Ellen J. Langer, a psychology professor at Harvard University, self-respect is a given, and you either have it or not.

Therefore, it cannot be really taught.

What can be taught, on the other hand, is self-esteem, and that is where teachers should really focus on their teaching efforts, i.e. build the self-esteem of their students, before even trying to teach them anything.

Although this is not argued by Ellen Langer, I believe that any knowledge that is provided before a strong basis of self-esteem is built will prove to be of little effect in the short run, and certainly useless in the long run.

Perhaps this could be the reason why basketball coach Rick Pitino, in his seminal article: “Success is a choice”, argues that self-esteem plays a paramount role in achieving success.

I believe that if Rick Pitino had to choose between a basketball player with high self-respect vs. a player with high self-esteem, in terms of how he, as a coach, could help that player reach higher career goals, Pitino would go for high self-esteem, or actually help the player build self-esteem from scratch.

This is because a player with high self-respect has an already established worldview, which can prove very difficult to change, while, on the other hand, even a player with low self-esteem can be highly perceptive to training through the provision of the right type of motivation.

These ideas can apply to different areas of life, and not only to basketball.

However, due to the fact that, although boosting self-esteem can help a lot in achieving success, its results can prove to be temporary and vanish when a coach or a teacher no longer provides support to the learner, the ultimate goal should be to develop individuals with high self-respect who are also strongly motivated to learn.

In this way, the results of learning would last more, even when the teacher is not present, while the learner will be driven by a constant inner desire to learn in the long run.

Sources and further reading:

Success is a choice

Self-esteem vs. self-respect

Way of the leader: Applying the principles of Sun Tzu and Confucius


self help

About the Creator

George Gkoutzouvalos


I have written articles for various websites, such as Helium, Hubpages, Medium, and many more.

Currently, I work as a translator. I have studied Tourism Management at college.

See you around on Vocal Media!

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