Perhaps more than anything else, our generation distinguishes itself as the Age of Sensitivity. It's hard to imagine, but not long ago schools for the developmentally challenged were officially named "Schools for Idiots" or "Schools for Imbeciles." Today we scratch our heads wondering how people could have been so insensitive. A mere few decades ago it was accepted wisdom that some people were inherently better and more deserving than others. And assigning demeaning and deprecating titles to people of a particular race, religion, or based on a disability was the norm.

In education, too, we have greatly advanced in this area. In times past, an educator's mission was to impart information, with little regard for the feelings and unique personalities of the members of the classroom. Today, education is rightly focused on building healthy and secure people, talking to children in stead of at them.

With all the hardships faced by previous generations, perhaps it is understandable why they paid little attention to "trivial" matters such as feelings and self-esteem. Many of the issues facing our ancestors are now gone. We live in a society where as a rule people aren't dying from hunger or simple infections, or working fourteen-hour days simply to put bread on the table. Physically we are much better off, which leaves us more time to dwell on our emotions and feelings. This also puts us in position to respect and appreciate our fellows' feelings, as well.

At times I wonder, though, has all this sensitivity come at a certain cost? Has the deliberate, laudable avoidance of focusing on others' weaknesses also led to a reluctance to focus on others' strengths — for fear that it will hurt the confidence, feelings and self esteem of those who don't have those particular talents or strengths? And is this reluctance squelching the motivation and drive to pursue their unique talents?

Recently I attended the classroom birthday party of one of my children. The teacher started a song, and told the class that the one who would sing nicest would receive a prize. When the song ended, the teacher decided that everyone is a winner, because everyone sang so nicely...

On a similar note, my wife, a pre-school educator, informed me a little while back that it is unacceptable today for a teacher to compliment a student by saying that he or she is an "artist." That would negatively impact the feelings of those children who don't possess such talent.

But we aren't all the same. An attitude that all are equal and everyone is good at everything will lead to mediocrity. G‑d created us all differently. The trick is to uncover each person's talents and encourage them to develop their unique gifts.This leads to true self-esteem. A child won't be hurt by the fact that he isn't an artist, if he knows that he's the class math whiz, or that he's unbeatable on the playground. On the other hand, an attitude that all are equal and everyone is good at everything, while it's certainly healthier than the insensitivity that was once prevalent, will for the most part lead to mediocrity.

Furthermore, praising someone for a talent he knows he doesn't possess leads to a lack of trust, and, though well-intended, breeds dishonesty.

We must always be sensitive and respectful of each other. But not sensitivity that emanates from pity and a desire to build self-esteem, but from a genuine appreciation of the other's unique gifts.

This requires real thought, as opposed to mindless mantra-like compliments. But I think that the Age of Sensitivity is up to the challenge!