Are Hard Things Bad? A Call for Realism Amidst Overly-Simplistic New-Age BS

New Age Bullshit

 

I love how she just makes it seem so easy. Just get rid of all the bad stuff in your life because Gosh, it’s Hard. And Wow, wouldn’t it be better if everything were Easier? Wait. You know what? Everything should be easier. We weren’t designed to suffer! Yeah! That’s how life SHOULD Be! So just, y’know, make it better by pretending that it’s so easy and then just, like, ostrich the fuck out of life and live in denial of the complexities that exist therein.

Like, y’know, your job sucking the life out of you. Just quit! This works so well for all the stay-at-home parents who hate the job of parenting their kids, for which they’re not receiving any financial recompense. They should just quit. Wait, did you know that being a stay-at-home parent doesn’t look like June Cleaver? And that some people, even those who thought they would LOVE it, actually discover that they hate it, but they can’t quit because childcare is too expensive and the reality of their getting a job that pays well enough to afford proper childcare doesn’t look promising. And even though they hate it and it sucks the life out of them more often than not, they would still rather be at home with their kids than stuck in a job that doesn’t pay them what they need, while they worry that their kids aren’t getting enough quality time with people who love them.

Can we talk about all the privilege in this? Because, on the one hand, it’s a privilege to stay at home with your kids, even if it’s not the easiest thing in the world and even if it’s really not all that satisfying and you know it’s taking more from you than it’s giving (at least on the surface view of things). But on the other hand, the privilege of Just Quit, regardless of the job in question, is a MASSIVE privilege denied to many. To most people, actually. Because this economy is shite and has been for quite some time and Just Quit doesn’t pay the bills. And Just Quit doesn’t really work at all for some jobs, like parenting.

Or what if you’ve been at your job for 20+ years and it’s been fucking AMAZING even with a whole lotta bullshit to put up with and it is currently sucking the life out of you but you know it’s temporary-ish (you hope) and you also know that there is nothing out there that will ever provide you with the same level of soul-satisfaction that you have received at your job and you just really don’t want to give up that type of gut-level happiness even if it’s an utter and complete slog right now. Not to mention that paycheque.

 

“If it’s a person, cut them out.”

Because omg, your long-time close friend is going through a really rough patch right now and wow has she ever become a Negative Nancy. She just complains about all the hard things and you’re TYRING to stay POSITIVE but she just sucks the life out of you when you’re around her. So, y’know, fuck that 10-year investment of friendship and tell her to take a hike. By just not returning her phone calls, emails, or texts because you don’t want to have an icky sort of conversation that really just brings both of you down.

Or you’re caring for a parent who is dying and it’s draining you emotionally, physically, psychically, and possibly financially. But you’re TRYING to do the right thing. What IS the right thing in this situation? I mean, you have to care for yourself, right? Where does your duty lay?

 

Life is complex and full of hardship. How many of us have felt resentment at how easy the lives of the rich are? Because they have money, they don’t have to worry about anything and more money would just make everything better. At the same time, you get angry with them for being so superficial and unidimensional because everything comes so easily for them — they don’t have to struggle. You’ve had both of these conversations.

 

Raffaele Monti's Veiled Vestal Virgin

It’s funny how we can look at beautiful works of art — Michelangelo’s David or the Venus de Milo, or the exquisite Raffaele Monti’s Veiled Vestal Virgin shown here (because Sweet Jesus, he turned stone into diaphanous silk, ffs) — really any marble sculpture or other deconstructionist work of art, for that matter — and we can praise it, love it, appreciate the artistry that goes into it.

But imagine being a block of raw marble, being hacked away at, having pieces of you chipped away, whittled down, sanded, polished. Aye, there’s the rub. The pull at wanting to appreciate the end product but not wanting to experience the process of getting there. Like it or not, you are a block of marble and every single bump, bruise, cut and wound, every loving touch and feeling of being nurtured, every disappointment and ache of loneliness, every strain and drain, every single thing you experience creates the beautiful artistry of who you are.

There is VALUE in the hard experiences you have. They can teach you to endure; they can teach you how strong you actually are and show you the stamina you thought you lacked; they can teach you what you want and can teach you what you don’t want. The bottom line, though, with hard experiences, is that they teach you to evolve. Running from them at the drop of a hat, as this quote ostensibly suggests, does little to strengthen your sense of inner resilience.

I’m not suggesting that we all become masochists, but maybe you need to stick out that friendship that feels like it’s turned sour and learn to gently confront your own discomfort with the situation in a way that works to preserve your connection with your friend and honour the compassion that you have for her. Maybe you need to learn how to begin to release old hurts when you are called on to care for an ailing parent with whom you’ve had a difficult relationship your whole life. Or maybe you need to learn how to take charge of your life, in a way that honours where you’re at with the situations in which you find yourself, while not being a flake and leaving people in the lurch.

Running from your problems doesn’t help you, but learning to face them does, whether sticking it out and seeing it through or understanding when you’ve reached a breaking point and can finally say enough is enough. We spend a LOT of our lives feeling helplessly knocked about by Life’s circumstances, feeling, effectively, victimized by Life. Does that perspective serve you? Who is in charge of your life?

So there is Truth in what the author writes above: you’re the one in the driver’s seat, but what is written above MUST be balanced with the complexities of the Reality of your life, juxtaposed against and reconciled with the acknowledgment that hard is not necessarily bad and easy is not necessarily good. As it is written here in this red box, this quote from Sue Fitzmorris is pat and tidy and excruciatingly simplistic. It is utterly ungrounded in the realities of our lived experience.

Stress puts you to the test. Distressing situations then magnify the raw, tender, hurt, angry spots in our character. These amplifications are there to help you understand where you need work, where you need to focus your attention. What you do with that information, however, how you approach it, and the attitude you take with respect to it will show you a lot about yourself, too. Being mindful about your responses and your reactions to any given situation means you look at yourself with compassion, not with judgment. And you alone decide what’s worth the effort.

 

When Discomfort Silences: The Importance of Owning Your Feelings

In Emi Koyama’s short and brilliant essay from 2011, Reclaiming “victim”: Exploring alternatives to the heteronormative “victim to survivor” discourse, she addresses the societal issue with the identifying as a victim.

Many people prefer the word “survivor” to “victim” because “survivor” feels strong and proactive. I understand that, as that is precisely how I felt for a long time also, but I am starting to think that we need to honor and embrace weakness, vulnerability, and passivity as well, or else we end up blaming and invalidating victims (including myself) who do not feel strong some or most of the times.

The society views victimhood as something that must be overcome. When we are victimized, we are (sometimes) afforded a small allowance of time, space, and resources in order to recover–limited and conditional exemptions from normal societal expectations and responsibilities–and are given a different set of expectations and responsibilities that we must live up to (mainly focused around getting help, taking care of ourselves, and recovering). “Healing” is not optional, but is a mandatory process by which a “victim” is transformed into a “survivor”; the failure to successfully complete this transformation results in victim-blaming and sanctions.

This is the so-called “victim role,” an extension of sociologist Talcott Parsons’ theory of “sick role.” The society needs victims to quickly transition out of victimhood into survivorship so that we can return to our previous positions in the heteronormative and capitalist social and economic arrangements. That, I believe, is the source of this immense pressure to become survivors rather than victims, a cultural attitude that even many feminist groups have internalized.

I have to be careful, lest I quote the whole essay because it’s all worth reading. So go read it.

The ONE issue I have with it that really needs to be addressed is in her final paragraph:

I argue that feminist anti-violence movements and communities must embrace unproductive whining and complaining as legitimate means of survival in a world that cannot be made just by simply changing our individual mentalities. We must acknowledge that weakness, vulnerability, and passivity are every bit as creative and resilient as strength and activeness.

A hearty and grand hear-hear to acknowledging the importance of weakness, vulnerability, and passivity. It is the idea, however, that whining and complaining are unproductive that needs to be addressed.

I argue that whining and complaining ARE productive. They ARE legitimate and important forms of emotional self-expression. Yes, people can seem to get stuck there for longer than we’d like, sometimes for longer than they’d like, sometimes they can be stuck there for the rest of their lives. BUT this essay is not about that; it’s about everyone else around them.

The problem with whining and complaining being seen as unproductive is that it shows that the listeners, the supporters, are NOT dealing with their own discomfort and are not taking ownership over their own feelings. What happens is that they then either blame the victim by telling the victim to stop whining and complaining because the victim is making them uncomfortable and that no one wants to hear it, telling the victim that it’s unproductive and that she needs to pull out of it and move on, or they begin avoiding the “complainer”, instead of doing the courageous thing of owning up to their own discomfort. Avoidance isolates the victim. Poorly handling your discomfort isolates the victim.

When we do not own up to our own feelings of discomfort and openly share where our own boundaries are, we do a great disservice to our friends (or clients) and to ourselves.

“I know you need to express where you’re at emotionally and I don’t want to silence you. I want to support you. I need to share that I’m having a difficult time with what I perceive as being whining and complaining and I’m stuck between wanting to tell you to stop and wanting to not be around you. I don’t want you to feel like you can’t talk to me and I also don’t want to abandon you. I don’t really know what to do about this, except to share where I’m at emotionally with what you’re sharing with me.”

Diligent care needs to be taken in situations like these because even in owning your feelings, you may come up against a response from your friend wherein she feels that your emotional expression is passive aggressive manipulation or blackmail or she feels shut down because you have a problem with how she is expressing her situation. There is no easy answer to this. There aren’t any magical formulas. However, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t own where you are. Please keep in mind, though, that owning where you are and expressing that to your friend-in-need are two different things. Ownership is recognition and acknowledgement that you feel a certain way because that’s how you feel, rather than putting the onus on others not to make you feel a certain way. No one has control over how you feel. Likewise, you cannot control how others feel.

When we fail to have good boundaries and when we fail to engage in the self-care of owning our own discomfort, we end up victim-blaming, isolating, and abandoning our friends who are looking to us for much-needed support.

They already feel the weight of shame and anger and violation and fear/terror and a host of other things they have a hard time dealing with. Do not dump your issues on them and make them contend with your stuff AND their stuff.

How not to say the wrong thing by Susan Silk and Barry Goldman shows how to deal with your own issues when tending to a friend in a hard situation: It works in all kinds of crises — medical, legal, even existential. It’s the ‘Ring Theory’ of kvetching. The first rule is comfort in, dump out. Read it. Deal with your own stuff as related to your friend’s difficult situation so it doesn’t make things worse for your friend. Take care of your own needs.

Why is it important to deal with your own discomfort? Because in whining and complaining, a victim is expressing and vocalizing her emotional perspective. When you tell her to move on or to stop being a victim, when you tell her to stop her “unproductive” complaining because you don’t want to hear it, because “no one wants to hear it”, you are contributing to her victimization by silencing her. Don’t do this. Victims are so often deprived of their voice. Be supportive as they work to take it back.