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In Part III, Chapter 17, we will examine the idea of self-esteem in the context of culture, but for the moment let me stress one point. The concept of “competence” as used in my definition is metaphysical, not “Western.” That is, it pertains to the very nature of things—to our fundamental relationship to reality. It is not the product of a particular cultural “value bias.” There is no society on earth, no society even conceivable, whose members do not face the challenges of fulfilling their needs—who do not face the challenges of appropriate adaptation to nature and to the world of human beings. The idea of efficacy in this fundamental sense is not, as I have heard suggested, a “Western artifact.” I believe this will become still clearer when we explore in depth what self-efficacy and self-respect mean and entail.
It would be unwise to dismiss definitions as “mere semantics” or a concern with exactitude as pedantry. The value of a precise definition is that it allows us to distinguish a particular aspect of reality from all others so that we can think about it and work with it with clarity and focus. If we wish to know what self-esteem depends on, how to nurture it in our children, support it in schools, encourage it in organizations, strengthen it in psychotherapy, or develop it in ourselves, we need to know what precisely we are aiming at. We are unlikely to hit a target we cannot see. If our idea of self-esteem is vague, the means we adopt will reflect this vagueness. If our enthusiasm for self-esteem is not matched by appropriate intellectual rigor, we run the risk not only of failing to produce worthwhile results but also of discrediting the field.