We are not the enemies of our best selves

We are not the enemies of our best selves February 2, 2013

From wikimedia commons.

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.

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