As media, particularly television, have brought us face-to-face with an unprecedented variety of other people, a side-effect of the sheer numbers has gotten lost in the splendid variety.

When humans lived in small groups, everyone knew everybody else well and had few if any encounters with outsiders. And I don't just mean hunter-gatherer societies; most of us lived this way until the Industrial Revolution. This meant that while you may not have been at all the strongest or fastest or handsomest in your group, the pool of talent/character/skill among the group was still small enough that you had a good chance of excelling at something: if not hunting then singing, or perhaps finding truffles.

It is important for a healthy psyche to have confidence in your ability at something, anything, WRT other people you know.
Two factors in the modern world are working against this natural confidence-builder.
  • Homogenization: pressure to be like other people, and a decrease in the number of ways to be different. These lead to aggressive nonconformity, and an attraction to things with shock value. Nevertheless, rebelliousness still only addresses the surface problem; no one confuses outrageousness with real talent. (pace Howard Stern junkies) Least of all the rebel.
  • Scale: The real problem is that thanks to TV, and to a lesser degree the Internet, the pool of talent we all have to compare ourselves against is now huge, even global. The trendmakers are only interested in the Michael Jordans and Janet Jacksons, because it's through them that trends can be branded and marketed. Only a tiny, tiny percentage can compete in that game, leaving the rest of us to feel like fifth wheels despite having no less talent or skill than people before us.

    Solution? From me? Hahahahaha…
    I think a healthy respect for oneself comes from not focusing on being the best, but rather on doing something well. It probably helps to have parents who encourage persistence, thoroughness, and unorthodox solutions rather than just the quickest path to Harvard. Oh yeah, and

    kill your television.