Neo-liberalist politics, mainstream media and advertising relentlessly tell us that we are broken, flawed and not good enough. We are told, usually indirectly, that we need to be eating better, looking better, being better. Society tells us we need to be fixed whilst it happily sells us the things that it insists will do that.
All too often, society is repeating the message so many of us heard as children. The message that we are not good enough. That we only deserve love when we do certain things. That certain feelings and ways of being in the world are allowed and others are not.
But, we are not things to be fixed. We are not broken.
And yet we are.
What? What was that you say? I was reading along quite happily there and now I’m confused.
I said: You are likely fairly fucked up in all sorts of ways. How can you be born into, raised within, educated within and live within a broken system and not end up a bit broken? But, do you know what? That is okay. Absolutely okay. In fact, some people, including me, would even go so far as to say that being sick or unwell in our militaristic, consumerist, sexist, racist, colonialist and difference-fearing world is a sign of health. Don’t believe me? Let’s keep going.
The world around us, both personal and social, can create a sense that we are not yet good enough and that with the right learning, the right make up or haircut, the right food in front of us, the right set of clothes, we can become “good enough”. The world around us and our personal histories can tell us that certain foods, alcohol or drugs, shopping, gambling or work are the routes to happiness even as we, deep down, suspect they’re not. But, we are also not taught to trust ourselves, to feel within and understand and believe in our own needs as opposed to the ones imposed on us from without. The internal whisper of our own wisdom is all too easily drowned out by all of this noise.
This is not a message that ignores or denies privilege and circumstance. It is not a message that denies the sheer difficult, borderline impossibility even, of change. It is a message that says: yes, the odds are against you. Yes, it’s true that likely no one really wants you to succeed (including you for what would success and happiness actually mean to someone who thinks they are not good enough? Would they accept it? Could they even begin to without a struggle?).
In truth, our society has almost no interest in you actually feeling good about yourself even half the time let alone all the time and, perhaps, it’s not even possible to feel good about yourself much more than half the time, but, even with all of this in mind, what do you want for yourself? Do you want to be awake and aware that it really isn’t crispy wheat you are eating but shitty gruel or do you want to sell the self for a mouthful of steak and red wine? Do you take the red or the blue pill?
Taking the red pill is about accepting what really is. It is about truly seeing ourselves and the environment we are in. Only then, once we see the true nature of it, can we begin to transform (if we choose to).
Most of our environments prey on and utilise our innate fears and weaknesses (our feeling of not good enough can see us working longer hours for no rewards or can see us putting up with things from work and friends that we should question) but mostly they make the most of our (innate) desire for comfort. This desire, as we know from cultural lodestones as varied as the works of Brecht and the Kachowski sisters, this appetite for ease, good food and wine (Galileo’s for a brace of ducks and barrels of wine, Cypher’s for a forkful of rare steak) is as old as time and will never go away.
Accepting that we seek and enjoy comfort, that we are both fearful of, as well as desirous of change, then accepting that these things can hold us back, this is the work of becoming fully human.
By accepting these things, we allow ourselves to be as we are and then, from that place of conscious knowing and acceptance, we can begin to take the steps we wish to make towards the changes that feel best for us. These choices about change are to be made with self acceptance, love and kindness and be based on what is absolutely best for us in the present, not based on someone else’s standards, desires or needs.
There is a Zen concept: you are perfect as you are and there is always room for improvement. Once you can accept this contradiction, once you can truly love and accept yourself as you are right now, only then are you are to do the work of making the changes that suit your needs.
By accepting ourselves exactly as we are, we challenge and change the very structures our broken and also perfect world is built upon. It is only by accepting ourselves, and the world exactly as it is right now that we can change it for the better and for all of us.