Take for example self-worth, the holy grail of self-help. Personally, I have spent countless hours and dollars on growing my sense of self-worth – only to keep falling back into the hole of self-doubt. I have wondered about it here lots of times. It wasn’t until I read Eva Illouz that I started to understand why I kept doubting my self-worth: I live in a society that mirrors that I am worthless – at least now that I no longer follow the rules of the married, contributing adult member of society. I am not worthy to receive free health care. I am not worthy to receive a basic income guarantee. Only people who are destroying the planet and ripping us all off seem worthy of such support. In other words, or the words of sociology, there is no social mirroring of my worth and as long as that is not there, my sense of self-worth will remain shaky.
To give a simpler example for this: Today, in a dance class, I kept berating myself for not dancing well enough, noticing that I was judging myself, and talking back at the judgments. It helped some but essentially I kept going in circles. Then the teacher asked us to briefly dance with other people, maybe 3-5 during a song, and smile at each other. Those smiles evaporated my self-judgments! After that exercise, I was able to concentrate on the class rather than my inner conflict. The smiles had done what I wasn’t able to do for myself: They affirmed that I was okay, that I belonged in the class even when I didn’t do things perfectly.
Or take all those courses offered to wanna be social change agents. They promise us to make money while we change the world – not admitting that money is part of the problem! And if we want community, maybe all of us competing with each other to get some of that shrinking pie might not be that great of an idea either. (As I pointed out before, the people who are making money are the people who are telling others how to make money doing “what we love”… In other words, they’re not the change agents!)
And typing of money: I still remember the despair I felt when someone had asked me for empathy because she had trouble making a living as a writer (following her bliss doing what she loved…). She doesn’t need empathy! She needs a basic income guarantee!
As a last example, the central idea of SHAM is problematic. As Charles Eisenstein pointed out in Money & Life, we’re turning more and more relationships into services. Instead of a friend listening to my worries, I pay a counselor. It’s like a mother charging her infant for breast-milk!
All of this, then, has sharpened a dilemma I identified this week. Again, we cannot solve systemic problems with individual solutions. I have no clue, though, how to solve or even start solving the systemic problems we’re facing! They seem hugely overwhelming. And I have to pay rent, buy food and sickness profiteering insurance. That money issue again.
I could turn my ideas into an empowerment coaching business. I’ve started to do this. Becoming a part of sham, of course, does not sit well with integrity. First, I know we need systemic changes. And second, I know that the individual level solutions I offer don’t solve the problems. They’re at best band-aids – or, as I fear, pacify us enough so that we continue to ignore the systemic nature of our problems.
So, the two horns of the dilemma are survival and integrity – or maybe physical and ethical survival. I don’t know (yet?) how to get out of the dilemma. I hope that seeing it this clearly will, however, help me somehow. Maybe it’s time to hire a coach. Oh, wait… Actually, maybe it’s time to pursue more hands-on things. After all dance has healed me more than all that self-help stuff…