We are not the enemies of our best selves

We are not the enemies of our best selves February 15, 2013


I’ve spent the past few years very plugged in to social justice media. When I get my news, for good or ill, it’s about the progress or regress of the social issues I care about. The rest of the time, I don’t pay attention. Issues that don’t elicit an intellectual or emotional response in me don’t rise to the surface, because they don’t show up on the blogs I read or the pages of friends with similar interests. This model for receiving news has taken a bit of a toll on me lately. I’m tired; tired of reacting, of imagining, and of trying to solve the problems that stream in unceasingly from all sorts of media. And because my sources are so similar, when there’s an issue, I hear about it approximately 347 times before the next thing takes its place.

In an effort to remedy this emotional fatigue, I’ve been looking for sources of affirmation and hope. I’ve been trying to figure out where people go for healing. But I’ve found that when I look for inspirational messages, what I get are thinly veiled guilt trips and commandments. These things do not heal.

Here are the so-called affirming messages I find floating around in society:

-Give until it hurts, then give more.
-Be selfless.
-Practice random acts of kindness.
-People have it worse than you do, so be grateful.
-You heal yourself by forgetting yourself and taking care of others.
-Impress God by being kind to others.
-”Kill them with kindness”.

There are grains of truth in some of them, but not all. Some are downright destructive. Some are as harmful to others as they are to the doer. I could pick them each apart, but I’ve had enough of dissecting ideas. Instead, here is what I wish I could see in inspirational messages about kindness:

-Give of your abundance and share in your need.
-Care for yourself so that you have more of yourself to offer.
-Be kind first to those around you, even if it means confronting your fear of intimacy.
-Do what you can to make the world fairer, but don’t blame yourself when it does not eliminate unfairness.
-Care for others and yourself together; you’ll find that you have more of the same needs than you think.
-Be kind to others for their sake, not the sake of an external observer (or the observer in your own mind).
-Do not use your kindness as a weapon; then it ceases to be kindness and becomes manipulation.

I fundamentally do not believe in effacing yourself for the good of others. The world is not divided into the selfish and the selfless – perpetuating that myth only gives power to those who manipulate. We aren’t the enemies of our better selves; preserving our dignity does not hinder our ability to empathize and to help. Selflessness is not a virtue, it’s a trap. It’s designed to take away your power, and without your power you can do no good for others.

Comments open below

Read everything by Sierra!

Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network member, Sierra blogs at The Phoenix and the Olive Branch

Sierra is a PhD student living in the Midwest. She was raised in a “Message of the Hour” congregation that followed the ministry of William Branham. She left the Message in 2006 and is the author of the blog  the phoenix and the olive branch

The Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network

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Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce


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  • This is well-said. As far as affirming messages are concerned, have you heard of the Desiderata?
    Here’s the text of it:

    Go placidly amidst the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.
    Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
    Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
    Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism.
    Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.
    Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
    Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.
    And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its shams, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful.
    Strive to be happy.

    And a link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Desiderata

  • Persephone

    Sierra, I am so with you. I receive so much email news everyday from different progressive and environmental sites and organizations. If I respond, my email is often placed on the mailing list of a related organization. I recently went through my email and started unsubscribing. I receive at least 30 fewer emails per day, I’m more relaxed, and I actually look forward to most of my email.

    Recognizing how much time and energy you have, and how to use those resources wisely, is the most important thing you can do for yourself.

    Rather than affirmations, I suggest you learn how to ground. It’s amazing how much calm and energy result with regular grounding. Here’s a very in-depth link on grounding and centering: http://www.wikihow.com/Ground-and-Center With practice, you may find that you can ground easily almost anywhere.

    Also, every day the Rosicrucians have a ceremony at noon (so it rolls around the world every hour) wherein they ground and center, then send this good energy out into the world. I’m not a Rosicrucian, but I attended a meeting where this occurred and the energy and calm that resulted were absolutely amazing. You don’t have to attend a meeting, just do the grounding and centering and ohms at noon.

    Take care of yourself.

  • Kimberly

    Books for loved ones of alcoholics-Al-Anon- are very encouraging and healing. I think they can apply to most dysfunctional family situations. Try “One Day at a Time” or “Courage to Change.” They are cheap on Amazon.

  • Meggie

    “You heal yourself by forgetting yourself and taking care of others.”
    “Care for yourself so that you have more of yourself to offer.”

    This is one I would like to repeat to all the fundamentalist women I know. There are quite a few women in my family who are very proud of working hard for others and never taking care of themselves.

    My father worked for an airline and he used to complain that in accidents, women would always ignore the instructions to fit their own masks first, then their childrens and instead would try to do the childrens first. The result is the mother passes out due to lack of oxygen and both she and the children die. Men are apparently more likely to fit their own masks before the children (as instructed). The children may temporarily black out but recover quickly once their mask is fitted by their (breathing) father. I always think of this when I see mothers working themselves to the bone, raising large families, multiple pregnancies, homeschooling, whatever, and never taking time for themselves. I wonder how often they end of letting the family down at a crucial moment because they have not looked after themselves.

  • SAO

    I don’t see “practice random acts of kindness” as being self-effacing. I view it as a way of adding to happiness in the world at no cost to yourself. The random bit is the no obligation bit.

  • In “the parable of the bamboo acrobats”, the Buddha wrote that when we care for ourselves, we care for others, and when we care for others, we care for ourselves. It’s just a question of which needs doing at this moment.

    Also, I would recommend a little balance in your information diet. I also get a lot of social justice / politics / activist email and read a lot of such blogs. But I also read science blogs, food blogs, gardening blogs… stuff that delights me. (Because, horrible as many aspects of the world are, there are also delights.)

    Hang in there. It’s great to be a compassionate person, and you are very wise to keep stoking your compassion. Just remember to also stoke your sense of wonder and your sense of gratitude as well!

    All the best!


  • Theo

    …And this is pretty much why atheistic Satanism is so appealing to me. All of these attributes and behaviors I was taught were THE WORST WICKED THINGS..stepping back to examine them with my new, post-Christian brain and trying to understand how these behaviors have been demonized as a means of control or even just because of fear is inevitably Super Interesting. It’s weird to be able to trust what I see–that tons of people all around me aren’t bad people because of their unbelief; that they’re quite beautiful, each in their way; and that distinctions like good and bad themselves are, at best, painfully inadequate for describing nuanced human beings.

    As phrased by a kitschy Satanic site, “The greater good cannot be built on self-inflicted misery. Selfless sacrifice puts us all under the pressing shadow of death. We reject sacrifice and promote selfish indulgence…To be lazy is to refuse to do what isn’t working, to stop, to do nothing until we have a better idea, to try something else…Insolence means not accepting things on authority, refusing to be humble and degraded, refusing to grovel and show respect to superiors. We insist on dignity and freedom…To be lustful is to embrace all the pleasures we can while we live, to follow our desires and passions wherever they lead us…To be vain is to love and admire ourselves, to relish our own brilliance and magic, to see in ourselves what is beautiful and attractive, to build and nurture it.”