The "Me Great" Generation

Peggy Noonan effectively fisks self-aggrandizing politicians in Opinion Journal today --but whatever's in the water in Washington seems to have seeped into the whole nation's water supply. Some people claim their Catholic education scarred them because of mean confessors and ruler-wielding nuns. The Catholic girls' school memories that haunt me are of having to do "me booklets" for Religion class. Little booklets filled with collages and poetry celebrating the greatness of me --which we then had to present to the whole class. There was some variation on this exercise each year of high school. Shudder. I can honestly say I would have preferred to be beaten, but alas the Bernardine Sisters wanted us to feel good about ourselves.
Somewhere along the line we have lost the distinction between testimony and exhortation. Testimony can be a valuable rhetorical tool when used properly. Through it, a speaker can use a story as a means of illustrating a point he wishes to make. Or he can simply offer his own experience as an invitation to think about the world in a different way. But when testimony crosses the line from, "I had an interesting experience" into "I am great, and therefore you should be like me," the story loses its interest and effectiveness.
I hear exhortatory speeches all the time --and not just from politicians. A month or two ago I took my daughter to a fashion show aimed at promoting modesty to teens, and the guest of honor was a state Miss Pre-Teen (or some such title) pageant winner. Absolutely gorgeous little girl, with talent (dancing) and poise beyond her years. But she gave a speech which can be summed up, "Peers, if you work really hard at it, you too may some day be as fabulous as I!" I don't fault the girl for this, but somewhere along the line her mother or her coach or someone ought to have helped her re-work her presentation to be more modest. Her presentation would have been much more effective if she had simply given a witness to how she lived her life and what was important to her (her audience already admired her) rather than listing her own marvelous qualities.
After the show the other moms seemed to be cooing about how "darling" this girl was, so I felt like a mean ol' cynic for having that reaction. But if we want to know where these Washington blowhards come from, I think the answer is we're raising them.