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The two great buzz words of human development orthodoxies – confidence and self esteem – pepper pretty much any justification for any kind of activity which has the purpose of improving humans at the heart of it.

Schools, life long learning programmes, job interviews, excuses to go to the bar can all be justified if the beneficiary’s confidence and self esteem takes a boost in the process. But is this really a useful indicator of human development? Some might say that unless the child has confidence in themselves, then no-one else will; that if we are not confident in our products and services, then no customers will be either.

This is a seductive argument but ignores the myriad of examples of artists, teachers, engineers and other human beings who are huge achievers but who spend their life time, fraught in crisis of confidence and with their self esteem at a permanent rock bottom low.  Perhaps their achievement is connected to their lack of confidence? Perhaps it’s their driving force towards achievement or a wider contribution to society as a whole?

Either way, whenever ‘confidence and self esteem’ as examples of how well a development programme is operating, we really should look harder at what that entails and what its consequences might be.