I’m all for people doing everything they can do to improve their lives, but I worry that for many people, the pursuit of self-improvement can lead to a life characterized by struggle, disappointment, obsession, and depression.
As a child, I was often encouraged to do my best. My mother wanted me to be well read, educated, and aware of those less fortunate. I was not brought up with illusions of grandeur or hypnotized into believing I was better at something than I really was. If I did something in a half-hearted way, I was told it was sub-par. My mother was akin to a Marine Drill Sargent. I’m sure a lot of the newer tomes on parenting would consider my mother’s parenting techniques to be detrimental to one’s self-worth.
Perhaps they were, since I have struggled with perfectionism a great deal of my life. But one of the greatest assets my mother gave me was the ability to not delude myself into thinking I was good at something when I wasn’t!
In the last twenty years or so there has been a dramatic shift in parenting styles. Some of which are good, but the concept that the child is the center of the universe and as such should be praised continuously for anything he or she does borders on the ludicrous. How can I begin to learn how to assess my progress in certain areas of my life if I have been seduced into thinking everything I do is amazing? This model of parenting has helped create and exacerbate self-absorption. Social scientists have recently taken note of the fact that the words I and me now surpass the word me. Being the center of the universe is now something to pursue. It can be seen in so much of the culture. Selfies have become a big part of the “me” culture. I think photos are great. They show case our experiences. But how interesting is it for anyone to think that sharing themselves from morning till night doing the most mundane activities is meaningful?
I realize that it’s important to have a good sense of self, but promoting yourself through words, photographs or any other medium does not take the place of actions. How you conduct your life by being kind, compassionate, and altruistic means a great deal more than waking up and thinking your “special”, or taking your picture waking up thinking you look “special”. I think it’s time we started to look at integrating humility back into our culture. It’s a characteristic that we could all benefit from.
Einstein once said that the most important question we could ask of ourselves is the following, “Is the universe a friendly place?” Our answer helps us to decide how we live our lives. Do we spend our energies protecting ourselves against enemies real or imagined, or do we help make our universe friendly through collaboration, compassion and empathy?
Unfortunately, of late, the news has been filled with acts of violence that are often unimaginable. You would hope that history would not repeat itself, but it often feels that we are re-entering the dark ages.
It certainly feels that fear has become one of the constants in our society. The more we fear the less we trust ourselves and others. Yes, it makes sense to be aware of possible dangers that could impact our lives, but it also makes sense to not let go of what makes life worthwhile. We need to feel hopeful about life and what it has to offer, otherwise we can become anxious or depressed.
You might be thinking, “How do I do that when I’m surrounded with bad news and people who love to share it?” Well, it’s not easy, but it is possible. I have some people who can spend an entire conversation inundating me with how many things are wrong with the government, the economy, the neighbors, their weight and their relationships. By the time I get off the phone I want to jump off a bridge. Thank God, they are few and far between, but I am making a conscious effort this year to avoid them as much as possible. It’s not easy if it’s your parents or mate, or someone very close to you. But they will get tired of their lamenting if you simply don’t show a lot of interest. My ex-husband was a verbal vampire. When you finished a conversation with him, you knew you needed a transfusion. My mother had her Ph.D in pessimism. I finally figured out that if I simply countered with “Oh well, what can you do”? , they got tired of trying to rope me into their den of negativity.
It also makes sense to have people in your life that love good news or who are actively involved in altruistic activities. Spend some time with family or friends sharing those things that are going right in your life or the lives of others. Research has shown that even watching someone help a disadvantaged person influences our mood and our immune system. Gandhi made the following statement often “ You must be the change you wish to see in the world”. I think if we could embrace this philosophy our lives would be so much better.