What if I told you there was a global conspiracy to encourage you to wallow in self-pity, and keep on hanging out for a hero. What would you do about it?
Sometimes I like to think about conspiracy theories.
Not that I believe that there are aliens hiding behind the moon or George Bush is a reptile or anything like that. It’s just interesting to see what the world looks like when you take one aspect and change it around. It helps me get a fresh perspective.
For example, one conspiracy theory goes that the media are controlled by an evil Illuminati, who are hell-bent on keeping you ignorant and compliant.
I don’t really believe this. I think the truth is much closer to Ron Burgandy’s epiphany in Anchorman-2: “Why can’t we give people the news they want, rather than the news they need?”
Newspapers and TV are just happy to sell us the blindfolds we ask for.
BUT – I do find it a useful idea to keep in the back of mind when I’m reading the papers – what gumpf are these evil bastards trying to sell me?
So here’s a little conspiracy for you to try on for size: The agents of evil in the world are trying to indoctrinate you into a cult of self-pity.
Let me flesh it out.
First up the world gives you endless examples of role-models indulging in righteous self-pity.
The classic archetype is Cinderella. Stuck in a crappy situation with her step-mother and step sisters, she just keeps her head down and tries to be a good girl. Finally, her righteousness is rewarded by a giant fairy, and then a prince comes and saves her once and for all.
The only qualities Cinderella exhibits in the whole story are humility and piety (wonderful qualities), but where’s the empowerment, the drive and determination, the stick-to-it-iveness?
The moral here is that if you’re beautiful (defined in the story as humble and good), then one day the world will come and save you. If you’re in a crappy situation, just keep your head down and suck it up. Don’t try and fix it. Just wait and your time will come.
You can see why the evil empire wants you to believe that, right?
Exhibit B is the way we retell history is through the lenses of individuals – greater leaders, generals, heroes, beautiful queens – and a focus on pivotal points in history.
We like to think that history twists and turns based on the decisions key individuals make at critical moments.
Like Star Wars.
We focus on the battle between Luke and his father, and a generation of resistance from the Rebels is totally overlooked. But without all that plotting and scheming and a thousand extras going up in digitised fireballs, Luke’s pivotal moments would never have been possible. History is actually like this.
But let me ask you this: what’s a more useful quality in life? To make grand heroic gestures at obvious moments, or to slog it out through all the challenges life presents you with, year after year?
Exhibit C, my final exhibit your honour, are the socially sanctioned feelings we have about ourselves.
For example, if you like who you are, it means you’re up yourself. You’ve vain and you’ve got tickets on yourself.
Of course that doesn’t mean it’s ok to be ugly. Oh no! Big judgements for that. You’ve got to be beautiful. You’re just not allowed to look like you’ve spent a lot of time making yourself look beautiful.
And so we spend hundreds of dollars on ‘natural look’ make-up, and hair products that give you that ‘just-out-of-bed’ look.
And take this statement: “Gary loves himself.”
Why do we automatically assume I’m pointing out some kind of flaw in Gary? That if Gary loves himself, he must also be guilty of vanity – thinking that he’s better than others.
They’re not the same thing.
Maybe Gary loves himself and loves everybody else too. Maybe Gary loves himself because he’s actually a pretty awesome bloke, and he works hard at providing for his family, helping out the less-fortunate, and volunteering at the footy club. He’s proud of the contribution he makes to the lives of everyone around him.
Why does loving yourself in this way still feel alien to us? And why do we have no social reference point for understanding and celebrating the love Gary has for himself?
See? It’s a conspiracy.
But self-pity on the other hand, that’s another story. If you want indulge in feeling sorry for yourself – about your bad back, your shitty neighbours, the career that never took off, society has nothing but affirmation for you.
Sometimes, self-pity is the only nurturing feeling we allow ourselves.
And we do need to make space for grief and sorrow in our life, but if self-pity is not tempered with a sense of empowerment and determination, it leaves us as useless agents in our own lives – eternal Cinderellas, waiting for our knight in shining armour to come and save us from the big bad wolf.
Ewoks waiting for a Skywalker.
And if self-pity becomes a habit, we become stuck. We can get addicted to patting the back of our own inner child at the expense of actually doing the work and taking charge of our own situation.
And that’s exactly how Dr Evil and the Illuminati want you to be – depressed, demotivated and wallowing in self-pity. You’ll make a fine cog in the machine that way.
Ok, I don’t think there’s actually a coordinated conspiracy here, but what if there was?
What would you do about it?
Well you’d be on your guard against self-pity. And you’d be making sure you developed habits and practices that kept you motivated, empowered and disciplined. You’d treat every set-back as a learning opportunity, and another chance to get up on that horse.
Just like ALL the successful people I know.
And Dr Evil shakes his fist.