Friday, September 3, 2010

the flip side

How many books, news stories, TV specials, etc feature stories about one individual with vision/endurance/luck/a good idea who made a huge difference in the world? We love these stories right? I just read a great story like that (Three Cups of Tea - excellent, highly recommend it). Good stuff, inspiring, yes yes. It's true, of course - one person can change the world.

For some reason that possibly only intensive therapy will someday uncover, I have a nasty habit of taking something good and true and twisting it in my brain to make it oppressive and harmful. (On second thought, perhaps I can skip therapy as this sounds a lot like Genesis 3 and therefore is probably just a normal part of being human. Hooray, no co-pay! Then again, therapy might be just the ticket to navigating the tricky parts of being human... Hooray, insurance!) Anyway, here's how I've twisted this: if A) some people have managed, by doing just the right thing at the right time, to make incredibly significant and positive changes in horrible situations, then B) I, being an individual, should be able to do the right thing at the right time to make significant positive changes in the difficult situations within my sphere of influence.

The problem is that B simply does not follow A. Just because an individual can theoretically "make all the difference", that does not mean that if I see a problem that I necessarily am the one who must figure out the right thing to do and do it [See also: hero complex]. I've been stressing out about a bunch of different situations over which I have, at most, only a perception of control, and feeling a sense of obligation that it is up to me to fix things, and then a corresponding guilt that I can't seem to do this. But if B doesn't follow from A, then what am I freaking out about?

I find it fascinating that a good, true, and positive message can have a flip side that holds so much power over me. Did anyone ever say, "Haley you better fix this! True, you're only one individual and its a complicated situation involving many people, but remember: one person can make a difference!" Of course not. But I subconsciously believed it anyway, which makes me wonder: what other messages have powerful flip sides?

"You can be anything you want when you grow up."
"He got what he deserved."
"Everything happens for a reason."
"It will all work out in the end."

I'm not saying we shouldn't ever promote these ideas, or that the positive outcomes never outweigh the 'flip side' messages. I'm just noticing that how we spin and interpret these messages can sometimes hold more power over us than the messages themselves. Have you experienced this? What do you think about the messages above and how they could be (mis)interpreted?


Rachel Ann said...

I'm going to single handedly stop sex trafficking. Worldwide.

Haley Ballast said...

You go!! I believe in you.

Living Palm said...

oh ho! you've got me down to a "t" -- reading this post served as my therapy for the week. thank you!!