Beware the “Self Esteem ATM”

As many of you know, Anne Lamott is among my favorite writers. This past week, she posted her take on the Brian Williams situation on Facebook. It began,

Brian Williams is our new Old Testament goat. It’s like being the new It Girl, although of course, not quite as festive. And I’m caught up in it, too. It’s hard to turn away, and a part of me, the dark part of me with bad self esteem, is cheered. The handsomest, richest, most perfect guy turned out to have truthiness issues; and it was good.

He’s our sin offering. Wow, how often do I get to type those words? Not nearly often enough! It’s exhilarating. It’s Shirley Jackson’s “Lottery.” Each worsening detail is like a self-esteem ATM.”

What Ms. Lamott goes on to say reflect upon, however, is how few of us are able to say we have never embellished, fibbed, tap danced around the truth. (Click here for her full post.)

I think we can also all agree that’s true—and she makes that point beautifully.

What struck me when I read her piece was combination of the phrase “self-esteem ATM” with the idea that when we hear of something terrible happening to someone else many of us feel a little frisson of joy—a little bit better about ourselves, a little bit richer.

And that’s a slippery slope.

Because, as so many of us know, the trouble with making those kinds of withdrawals is that you have less capital tied up in you: the you that somewhere in your heart can empathize with the shame Brian Williams is more than likely suffering.

So before we all punch in our passwords at the self-esteem ATM, can we ask ourselves the question Capital One so longs for us to ask?

What’s in your wallet?

And, more importantly, do you want it there?