The longer I work at a Polish newspaper, the more often I notice what I suppose I have known all along: my fellow Poles suffer from a low self-esteem syndrome.
Not long ago, I interviewed Felicia Rogawska-Milewicz, the Beauty Director at Glamour magazine, one of the most popular national women’s publications. Milewicz, our fellow countrywoman has a job that several young fashionistas would kill for. She’s living the dream life, holding a dream job, and meeting people that some of us only dream about meeting. And yet, speaking about her childhood in Poland and young womanhood in America, she admitted to me that she always had felt as a failure and never believed in herself. She recalled her school days in Poland when teachers would put their students down, call them names and embarrass them in front of the entire class. Although a later generation than Ms. Milewicz, I too experienced this humiliation in Polish classrooms growing up. My first-grade homeroom teacher P. Ratajczyk made fun of my handwriting, telling the entire class that I wrote like a “chicken with her fingernail,” (jak kura pazurem) and then she’d continue showing everyone my notebook to prove her point. In fourth grade, another teacher called me a “mule” (oślica), because I couldn’t find a body of water on a map, when she called on me. Those harsh words from superiors who are supposed to be your mentors are damaging. We all know that a teacher in America caught doing the same, would be called upon before the school board and disciplined for discouraging a young adult in training.
In my own family, I see the same trend. My mother’s sister (aunt Helena) in a low voice told me once that at a parent-teacher conference in Poland, the English teacher of her younger daughter, Ola, said that she is the best student in her class. She followed this information up with: “Just please keep this to yourself, I don’t want her to get a big head.”
A healthy self-esteem is necessary for a person’s physical, psychological and spiritual growth
Yes, I mean God frobid we raise children who are confident and actually encouraged to pursue their dreams, knowing that they are good at what they do. That’s only set aside for children of other nationalities, it seems. I dated a Russian Israeli for 3 1/2 years. His unbelievable confidence always impressed me. He walked tall, was proud of his many career accomplishments, and always knew his worth. Someone Polish would probably call him cocky. Heck, I sometimes thought he was too self-assured for his own good. But the truth of the matter is, he just had a healthy self-esteem, encouraged by his parents, teachers, and peers. And most likely he will raise his children the same way. I call out to all Polish/Eastern European parents raising their children to be humble – please don’t. Life will throw enough curveballs at them to feel bad about themselves: bullies at school, snooty teachers, and pushy employers. Why add to the problem? Perhaps if more Polish parents encouraged their children, we would have more Poles in higher positions helping their countrymen climb higher.
So I have a proposal: let’s change history as it was for us and our parents, and let’s be part of the solution, not the problem in low self-esteem in our children. If you have something positive to say to someone, say it. It will do them a world of good. If possible, keep the negatives to yourself. Because who knows, if we keep this modern trend of encouragement up, perhaps we will live to see a President Kowalczyk in the White House one day.