Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Shame of Self-Deception

What do you see everytime you turn on a TV? Adverts. Adverts telling you that it's not OK to be fat / tubby/ overweight / anorexic / to own a car older than a year / to live without credit etc.

It's fashionable to party with the Miller-crowd, who somewhere in some mythical resort are having one hell of an eternal party, and you can join them! It's fashionable to trade your "old" car for something brand new with some fancy financing scheme designed to leave you broke at the end of the repayment period, with a 30% residual still to pay to some or other bank, with an old car as collateral and probably a life insurance policy ceded ad-infinitum to the holder of the debt. You're just the moron who pays - but hey! Be who they want you to be! I won't get in your way.

But in case you (like we) are thinking about why you are so routinely made to feel embarrassed about who you are, think on this. It's called consumerism, and it's rooted in our erroneous belief that we have to be perfect. Think about it - the average Joe Soap kid grows up (we hope) in a normal(ish?) family and his parents both work and spend the better part of his school life not seeing him because they're working to make ends meet. And if the parents are old and square, they'll tell him "you don't need to wear designer labels, and in any case it looks dumb having your clothing label on the outside of your pants. You look like you got up this morning and put them on inside out". And little kid Soap won't pay a blind bit of attention - he wants his designer labels, because all the other kids in his class have them, and they are telling him he's a git and his parents are a couple of sad poor slobs because he doesn't have what they're wearing. And besides, only the cool kids are going to the beach braai on Friday nite - 8 till late and we're gonna party with the girls in the surf.

So by now, the young Soaplet is starting to do naughty things in his pants thinking about all those young nubile teens in the surf that he's not going to be able to eye up and down, or come into closer contact with, and there's a really big grudge brewing against his archaic old-fashioned parents. And in the meantime, Solly Socialclimber and his good wife are into the "keep ahead of the Joneses"- thing, they are on the vanguard of dressing junior Climber to the nines to make a statement "hey everyone - I'm cool, and so's my family. We're into the scene and we know how to rock! We only wear designer labels and we're going to Milan in the summer!"

So there's a whole bunch of unenviable peer pressure stuff going on - no wonder the kids wish the parents would just shut up and part with their money. Well many do, and that's also a problem, because it fuels the ongoing cycle. Why is there a fashion industry? Because people believe what they're told - this season what you are wearing is now crap and what you need to get to be part of the crowd, is in fashion. It creates a market and a buying frenzy - on and on and on. Wonder if somebody will show me where the umpty-zillion tons of perfectly good clothes get thrown every year?

But this is not primarily a swipe at the fashion industry. It's a swipe at the mentality of people who think that unless you are going with the flock (and leading it, mind you), you are unworthy. How are we brought up? You need to be a winner. End of story. Second is not good enough. Trying your best is just bullshit. The end justifies the means, so you get up there and if you have to cheat, then do so. If you have to take credit for someone's ideas or work, do that too. If you have to lie and double-deal, and duck and dive - it's justified, because if you don't win, then you're a loser. Everyone except the very few who win, are losers. LOSER!!!!!

There - now you know you're a loser, how do you feel? Well, I suspect that your self-worth is now at an all time low, and you are looking for a pick-me-up. So you pop a pill, or you do some booze, or you suck on a tub of ice-cream. And you turn into an addicted blimp with low self-esteem. Thin end of the wedge territory - it's all downhill from here - loser. I suppose most people can't be blamed for never stopping to think about the paradigm that envelopes them. It's all they've ever known "It's shameful not to be a winner".

And being a winner is different to everyone. To the teenage girl, it's never being overweight, while having wonderful boobs, a tight little ass and long looong legs. Oh yes - you also are part of the in-crowd / victrix ludorum and you are a straight A student. To the boy, you cannot have zits, you're built with a sixpack and shoulders to die for, you're funny, intelligent and you're a jock. A geek is a no-no. And you are a chick-magnet. And you'll also do incredibly well in your studies - without ever spending a day in front of a book. To the professional adult, it means a string of promotions, never getting anything less than A+ performance review, a 7 to 8 figure salary and chairman of the board. Winning women NEVER stay at home to give their kids a decent upbringing - they're too busy being social debs and running fabulous parties, or jet setting between running their international conglomerates. The kids travel with them and they're educated with private tutors and carted around by au-pairs. It's the people who Top Billing love to feature - you know the ones with a Ferrari, a Bentley and 2 Beemers in the garage (these 2 are for the cook and the gardener), a jetski, motor launch and a retractable electric roof on their house so the pool deck can be bathed in sun all day. You get the picture of the perfect winning life.

And the rest of us losers? We're the slobs who tune into this garbage week in and week out to drool over what we're missing, and to max all our credit cards while we satisfy our pretension to be nice successful people. To satisfy our self-deception.

Here's my shot at the real world. We've been brought up with a really screwed up idea of what it means to be a winner in life's long race. We've forgotten about love (real love - look at the divorce rate for heavens sake), real friendship (forget about facebook - there are no friends there who weren't your friends in the beginning), truth, personal integrity and the value of giving to others so that we all may succeed. I'm not talking here about being a doormat - I'm talking about not using others as a convenient footscraper so you can get ahead at their expense. I'm talking about going to sleep at night knowing that you have done an honest day's work. That you have not knowingly gone out of your way to deceive someone else. Knowing that what you said you'd do, actually got done. Nobody was disappointed because of you, at the end of the day.

And in case you think I'm talking crap, take a long hard look at the way the world is right now and how fast we seem to be falling down the garbage chute. The way we live is stupid. It's materialistic, manipulative, exploitive, and it is an empty consumerist society that gives nothing back, and that doesn't work unless there is an infinite resource - which there isn't - which is why the shit is starting to hit the fan.

Maybe you need to rethink your paradigm :
I am as I am, because of the way I was made. And the way I was made is the product of my heredity and my environment. I cannot change my heredity, because that's genetic, but to the extent that there are things in my life from my environmental upbringing that are sub-optimal, I will choose to modify these by relearning what I was brought up with. Some of it was right, and some was not. And I will search diligently for answers to why I am what I am and why I do what I do. And I will not be swayed by others' opinions about what makes "good" or "bad". They don't know anything about me anyway. I am not a  "loser", because even though there may be a winner somewhere at the front, that's not the point. The point is that we are all running the race of life, and we all have to do it at our own pace with the best tools at our disposal. And where I cannot run as fast as you, I'm not a loser because I'm a better photographer than you. And just when I'm starting to feel smug, I find out my wife can speak French better than me. Are we all winners and losers? Not at all - we are all participating in a rich tapestry of life experiences and as is the case in the real world, in some things we will be better than others. And in most things we'll probably be purely average - that's statistics for you. Is Michael Schumacher a good gardener? Could Keith Kirsten drive as fast as him? Which one is then a loser? Both - and neither. Like all the rest of us. The "winner/loser" tag is put there to sell you stuff - whether it's a religion or a commodity.

So, if you have a problem because your belly is sagging on the ground, you're not a loser - you merely have a personal goal to achieve a target weight in a certain time, and you have the tools to do it - an exercise plan, a sensible eating plan, and you will accept that you will have to routinely burn more kilojoules than you consume. You want to do it, this is a lifestyle change, and there is no other way. Show me the diet plan which once your diet is completed and your money is spent, you can stay thin but go back to the way you used to eat. What if you're happy with your sagging belly? As long as you are not morbidly obese to the extent that your health is suffering, if you are happy with yourself, that's OK. You're a winner. You are at a happy place in your life - which beats the hell out of a lot of people. (I'm not talking here about compulsive eating disorders, which have other underlying problems. Here the person is not intrinsically happy with themselves, anyway).

Am I a loser if I smoke? Am I a winner if I smoke? Surely I can go to Cancun on holiday if I smoke Peter Stuyvesant, and have fun with all the other winners - that's the implication of the adverts anyway. Am I happy smoking? If I am, why should I think of myself as a loser? But the day I want to quit for myself, and I do so, I'm also a winner, because I have overcome a health impediment. I feel good about myself, I feel healthy and my breath doesn't smell like an ashtray. I've done something positive.

Aren't we strange? We live our lives in misery because we believe we're never good enough according to somebody else's definition of us. We are trained up into liars, cheats and deceivers, by the media and a bunch of people around us who have bad self-images - and worst of all, some of us actually believe our own deceits, because it's unthinkably shameful that we cannot be perfect. And we continue to jump every time an advertiser pops his head up. Advertising works - that's why they do it.

No wonder there are a lot of people around manifesting traits of NPD (narcissistic personality disorder) with incredibly poor self images. No wonder the shrinks are on a roll. As are the churches who promise their religion as an instant panacea. Come to Jesus and cast your cares away. Press the button marked salvation. But nothing gets really fixed - does it? Your demons come back and bite you in the ass when you least expect it - but you wouldn't DARE admit it to your church "friends" would you? "You're denying your salvation - you've taken your eyes off Jesus. The implication of course is "you've failed - you're a loser". "Oh Jesus help me, a miserable sinner. I'm a 3-time loser and I don't have a Ferrari" (unlike Benny Hinn and the charismatic preacher brigade). That's where "the devil is attacking me" comes from. Another attempt to blame something external for your misfortunes. In fact I have as much chance of being a winner by being a charismatic Christian button-pusher, as I have being in the jet set because I smoke Peter Stuyvesant.

Re-programming yourself takes hard work, a long time and lots of insight. It also takes acceptance and grace to admit you blew it, you lied to others and mostly yourself, and you believed a lifetime of the crap others told you and said about you, to your face and behind your back. And after that, you take steps to put yourself on an emotional and mental diet plan to get better in the long term. It's a lifestyle change, remember?

"I am enough" - remember?

The real shame is having to live with a mask in front of your face. Everybody can see it's false, but they're too busy holding their own masks and don't want you to retaliate by revealing their deception either. I discovered some years ago, that the most empowering and disarming thing to say is "sorry". "Sorry - I blew it. I made a mistake. We all do, don't we?" - and then look them square in the face. And of course none of them are hypocritical enough to tell you that they never make mistakes, so that's where it ends. They might think they never make mistakes, but that's their own self-deception talking.

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