Positive Practices: Doing the Right Thing

I’ve been away from blogging for a bit, but it’s a new year and time for Unfiltered Opinion to rise from its festive slumber…

Zombie Hand Rising Out Of A Grave

So, let’s kick 2020 off with the first in what will hopefully become a series of posts about positive practices. In this post, I want to discuss the art of doing the right thing. It may sound patronisingly straightforward and completely undeserving of being a discussion point but, if that truly were the case, the world and the people in it wouldn’t feel so utterly fucked so much of the time, would it?

But how do I define “doing the right thing”, then?

As always, I am only sharing my personal take on life, but “doing the right thing” in my book is all about being selfless and doing right by other people regardless of whether your actions and decisions will benefit you personally or not.

It’s about treating others the way you, yourself, would wish to be treated.

It’s about putting aside greed, selfish preferences or personal gain to do what you – deep down – KNOW is the right thing to do.

It’s about being honest and virtuous, and treating other people as the ends rather than the means.

It’s about doing things that are right without trying to (consciously or subconsciously) calculate what sort of “trade” you will be doing in the process i.e. only doing somebody a favour because they will owe you down the line.

It’s about striving to protect something higher than our individual selves.

I was inspired to make this post by – of all things – an ebay transaction last week. In a nutshell, I purchased something for the approximate value of £25-£30 just before Christmas and it still hadn’t arrived nearly a week after New Year. I messaged the seller and explained that I understood that the post was sluggish around this time of year but that I was just a little concerned that the item I’d ordered wasn’t coming. I asked them if they had any tracking information and they got back to me to say that they couldn’t find said information but that, yes, I should have received the item by that point. They apologised and issued a full refund. I was content with the solution and that was that.

Two days later, the item arrived in the post. According to the post marks, it had been posted on the nineteenth of December with a “Special Delivery” next-day service.

Whoops.

At first, I thought, “Get in! I’ve got a my item plus all of my money back”. It seemed like a major score.

But then I thought about it some more and remembered one of my all-time favourite philosophies: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” So I contacted the seller, informed them that the item had turned up and offered to reverse the refund.

They were grateful for my honesty with the situation but it wasn’t their thanks that I was seeking. I just wanted to do the right thing for the sake of doing the right thing. I wanted to preserve the value of honesty.

Yes, I could have easily gotten away with my free purchase, and I’m sure that many would have done just that and lost no sleep over it. It is, after all, a dog-eat-dog world at times and any unexpected bonuses we become the beneficiary of aren’t easy to relinquish. At times, we even feel that we deserve these moments of good fortune for the suffering or hardships that we’ve faced. Or as compensation for the times that we’ve been screwed over by somebody else. And that’s fine but I try to draw the line at plussing at the expense of somebody else, especially if they haven’t done anything to warrant it.

Now, I’m not trying to put myself across as a saint. After all, I did initially feel pretty fucking good about having my (very tasty) cake and eating it when it came to that particular ebay situation. That I cannot deny.

But I did question my actions and arrive at the conclusion that I’d rather do the right thing, even it meant forfeiting my small splash of fortune. I sacrificed a chance to “plus” and did right by the ebay seller because that’s how I’d like to be treated myself. After all, you can’t really roll around bitching about how people are so dishonest these days or always out to screw you over if you are going to behave the same way.

Doing the right thing isn’t always easy and for a good reason: it usually means going out of your way for somebody else – or making a sacrifice – with no expectation of a reward. It means being selfless for the sake of preserving important, high-level values such as honesty and charity. There are a lot of people who will only do the right thing because they are – in effect – bartering and doing good deeds so that they can call in favours down the line or extract something from another person in exchange for their help. This doesn’t count as “doing the right thing” because you are doing something as a means to your own, personal ends.

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Doing the right thing becomes doubly hard when we are surrounded by people who are only interested in themselves and think nothing of doing whatever it takes to get ahead, regardless of how their actions affect others. It is, unfortunately, an attitude that can lead to much material, superficial and financial success – you know, all those shiny things that we want in our lives – and so it becomes an attractive way of life.

And that’s why adopting high-level values and doing the right thing is such a difficult thing to do. You might not get the fat bank balance. You probably won’t get to bang all the hot girls. And you likely won’t have such an easy, comfortable time of it.

Nevertheless, I still believe that it’s a positive practice to always question yourself and your actions – so that you can analyse whether you are really doing the right thing or whether there are some selfish motives lurking beneath the surface of your consciousness. I feel that if you want to surround yourself with the best, most genuine of people, then this is one big way to move forwards in that direction.

Of course, you have to strike a balance, because there are so many people who will – consciously or not – take advantage of another’s honest, charitable nature. “Doing the right thing” doesn’t mean that you should be permanently bent over and taking it up the arse from users and those looking to use you as a stepping stone. Saying “No” and recognising where to draw a line is just as important as doing right by others.

Bear in mind that this is just my viewpoint. It is not my intention to get preachy or encourage anybody to do as I do. I’m no master of doing the “right thing” all of the time, after all. I mess up constantly and always try to remind myself that I’m likely wrong or incredibly ignorant about most things. But pausing to question what I’m doing is one of the big things that I intend to keep working on going forwards.

 

Social media isn’t reality

Against my better judgment, I often find myself scrolling through the news headlines and articles on my phone. I say “against my better judgment” because

  1. There is nothing more untrustworthy than the news.
  2. Most of what you read is hyperbole or sensationalist bullshit containing the words “allegedly” or “apparently”. Fantastic, fact-checked journalism, then.
  3. News items are often spun to maintain the us-vs-them or left-vs-right narrative and get the public wound up in order to sell papers or generate ad-revenue via clicks.
  4. Many news outlets are biased towards either the political left or right.

What I’m saying is that regularly reading or watching the news is downright harmful in my opinion. The relentless torrent of bad news can get you down and the way in which it is presented can easily warp an individual’s perception of the world. You have to be able to fish out the raw facts from an ocean of stinking sewage and arrive at your own conclusions but, even then, you may still never know the actual truth.

But this isn’t a post dedicated to bashing the news. I’ll save that for another time.

This is a post inspired by a news item that I read on the BBC’s website (after scrolling beyond the usual headlines involving Brexit, Trump and other misc. death and destruction).

The item in question is called Cuffing Season: When a Partner is just for Christmas

Summer is a time for festivals, long lazy days in the park and for some of us… being single.

But come September, as the daylight hours get shorter and temperatures drop, you might find yourself wanting someone to cuddle up with.

That is basically the premise of “cuffing season” – that’s when people who are normally happy being single decide it’s time to find a plus-one for the Christmas party.

And then swiftly dispose of them before their trip to Ibiza in the spring. Brutal.

“Cuffing Season” has even made its way into the Collins English Dictionary according to this article. It goes on to speak to a few twenty-somethings who have jumped aboard the Cuffing train and the general picture that I got is that girls want to snuggle up with you on the sofa and watch Christmas movies together during the winter, then discard you in the new year so that they can be free and single again, unburdened by the presence of a partner that they chose to invite into their life. I guess this is part of the new Woke way of living where it’s acceptable to flit between, “I don’t need no man!” to “Oh gawd, I’m like so lonely! Won’t somebody go to a Christmas market with me and cuddle in front of the fire?!?”

Speaking as a man, I can’t say I care for this Cuffing Season thing. I have nothing against consensual, casual sex or a non-binding Friends With Benefits arrangement – as long as it’s clear that that’s what it is from the off. But Cuffing Season isn’t that. It comes off as being used to fill a void during the winter season, but not necessarily being informed of it. I wouldn’t want to start dating somebody during the winter months only to find out that I was being strung along so that the girl I was seeing could post pictures and shit on Instagram and Facebook of us being “happy” and together at Christmas. I know it isn’t necessarily as callous or pre-meditated as that but, hopefully, you get where I’m coming from.

I would want to know where I stand from the start. Are we just having sex or are we dating and hoping for this to go somewhere? All of this in between crap or anything that doesn’t fall on either side of the fence isn’t for me. I don’t want the hassle or the games. I don’t want to waste my time.

And this is where I finally get to the point of this post: the reasons for the existence of Cuffing Season and why so many people are desperate to be with somebody at Christmas.

The pressure of social media.

She says there’s an “unspoken pressure” to be in a relationship at this time of year, and that social media definitely influences it.

“Whether it’s decorating the Christmas tree or going to family events – people’s partners are everywhere.”

She says there’s “so much pressure” to find someone to go on Instagram-worthy festive dates with, which isn’t helped by a bombardment of happy couples putting pictures up with cuddly toys they’ve won at Christmas fairs.

So, in a nutshell, young people are seeing pictures of others being happy and together at Christmas and feeling envious. Then, they feel left out and uninvolved if they too can’t post up selfies with a partner.

We are being bombarded by these pictures of happy, smiling, loved-up couples at Christmas and some of us simply cannot take it. If you aren’t able to post similar photos of your own, then your life must suck, right?

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The problem with social media is that people are only uploading the positive moments from their lives. It’s just a highlight reel of their best bits and doesn’t really reflect their life. Nobody’s life is an endless rollercoaster of happy selfies and good times. Bad shit happens to everybody and the other 80-90% is simply mundane and very un-sexy. Like going to work, filling the car up with fuel or brushing your teeth.

But the likes of Instagram and Facebook have successfully brainwashed millions into believing that they are inadequate or that their life is terrible just because it looks like everybody else is having an almighty blast. They genuinely feel this unspoken pressure to live up to the standard set by the uploads of others. It’s absolutely nuts if you stop and think about it.

As Mark Manson puts it in his excellent book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck:

All day, every day, we are flooded with the truly extraordinary. The best of the best. The worst of the worst. The greatest physical feats. The funniest jokes. The most upsetting news. The scariest threats. Nonstop.

This flood of extreme information has conditioned us to believe that exceptionalism is the new normal. And because we’re all quite average most of the time, the deluge of exceptional information drives us to to feel pretty damn insecure and desperate, because clearly we are somehow not good enough.

Technology has solved old economic problems by giving us new psychological problems. The internet has not just open-sourced information; it has also open-sourced insecurity, self-doubt and shame.

There’s nothing wrong with uploading pictures to social media, viewing the pictures of others’ or commenting on them and all that jazz. But there IS something wrong with feeling like a failure or a loser because you can’t “compete” and add something of your own.

So some people are happy and loved-up at Christmas…so what? Good for them. It doesn’t mean that I’m somehow worthless. At the very least, it means that I’m not in a Cuffing-style relationship and destined to be dumped come spring 2020!

You need to be able to think, “fuck what everybody else is doing” and get on with your own life. At the time of typing this, I’m single so yes, I would be lying if I didn’t feel even a little bit envious of lovey-dovey couples at this time of the year. It’s human to feel that way. But it isn’t some major crisis for me. I don’t give a fuck about what Facebook is saying or what the trend is on Instagram. I don’t want my perceptions of success and happiness to be defined by what others are doing or what social media says my life needs to be like in order to be “normal”

I don’t need some sort of false, temporary relationship over Christmas. Either it’s real or it isn’t. If it’s pre-mediatated and plotted during the autumn months by a woman that simply doesn’t want to be left out of the selfie festivities come December, then that can fuck right off.

I have food. I have beer. I have family. I have a few days off work. That’s a good haul as far as I’m concerned. And I’m not going to upload any of it to Instagram because I don’t need anybody else to like or comment on it to enjoy it.

I hope everybody has a swell Christmas but I honestly don’t give a fuck about what they are doing.

New Year’s Resolutions are (still) bullshit

Almost a year ago now, I wrote about new year’s resolutions and why I believe that they are a waste of time. You can read that post HERE

It’s almost that time of year again: time to make your new year’s resolutions. Or not. It’s been nearly a year since I wrote my previous post on the fallacy of making resolutions for the upcoming year (see the link above), and I have to say that my opinion hasn’t changed. We’re still in December 2019 at the time of writing (December 17th to be precise) and I’m already hearing the rumbles of, “…that’s going to my new year’s resolution for 2020.”

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These people are, essentially, announcing that they will fail at upholding said resolutions. After all, if they haven’t got the resolve to quit something harmful RIGHT NOW, then their chances of succeeding in 2020 are slimmer than my chances of enjoying a threesome with Kate Upton and Kelly Brook. If they can’t stop doing something immediately, at the time of deciding on a resolution – because they need to get as many ‘hits’ of their particular vice(s) as possible between now and January 1st – then what realistic chance is there of suddenly ceasing in the new year and resisting for all of 2020 and beyond?

This aside, it’s also unrealistic to expect to quit something and be done with it forever. You ARE going to relapse. You ARE slip up. You ARE going to experience weakness and seek out a dosage of your chosen poison in order to satiate those insistent cravings. And as long as you are genuinely committed to changing and are tracking your progress, then there is no shame in this. It happens. If change or abstinance was as easy as making a resolution, clicking your fingers and suddenly being immune to temptation, then none of us would be facing our demons in the first place.

The problem with making a new year’s resolution is that, as soon as you slip up, you will feel like a complete failure. You were so firm about quitting whatever it was you wanted to be free of, and you proudly proclaimed your intentions to friends, family and co-workers. So when you stumble, and everybody sees it, the little set-back morphs into a major catastrophe. Friends might rib you for scoffing a chocolate bar – when you were supposed to be eating healthily – and, suddenly, your “failure” feels real and huge. You’ve failed so what’s the point in carrying on? May as well relapse back into your old ways because, evidently, you cannot succeed. There’s a monolithic neon sign, coated in flashing lights, hovering above your head that states: I HAVE FAILED. At least that’s what it feels like.

Perhaps you held out for the first few weeks of the new year or even a little while longer. Oh well, try again next January 1st, eh? Thing is, this isn’t how change works. Yes, you have to work hard at ditching bad habits and yes, you have to be truly committed to altering the aspects of your life that you aren’t happy with BUT faltering is part of the process. Pick yourself up and try again. Keep going. Analyse why you tripped up and learn from it. Were there any specific triggers or external influences that paved the way for your moment of weakness?

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An overused movie quote? 100%. Still absolute gold though.

New year’s resolutions are admirable in principle but I personally believe that they are actually counter-productive to genuine growth and change. They are an all-or-nothing desperado effort that place us under immense pressure to succeed or die trying. The new year takes on the form of a balls-hard level in one of those old-school arcade games that remorsely annihilated the player again and again, forcing them to keep feeding coins into the machine to continue playing. You are giving yourself one shot to hit that level and achieve a perfect run. Expecting to emerge victorious under such conditions is wishful thinking at best; downright foolish at worst.

And, unfortunately, this pressure we heap upon ourselves when setting our resolutions can make a small mistake feel like the absolute end. It exaggerates the reality of the situation and many will simply give up, telling themselves that they can’t do it.

Change is an ongoing, neverending process and you simply aren’t going to make it without faltering. As long as you are sincerely determined to get there and are legitimately trying, then there is no problem with “failing” every now and then. The only prerequisites I would add are:

  1. That you don’t use the inevitability of failure as an excuse or justification to intentionally plan a “day off” from your goal, purposely failing just so you can get a fix.
  2. That you learn from your slip-ups, analyse what went wrong and work on correcting behaviours or influences that may allow the same mistake to occur again.

And I can’t make a post about new year’s resolutions without mentioning those who announce their pledges via social media, purely because it’s a fashionable thing to do at this time of year, or because they want others to give them attention or ‘react’ to their status updates. Good luck with that.

If you’ve made it this far – and suffered through my waffle-y, poorly-structured post – then I’ll put you out of your misery reward you with the abridged version of the point I’m trying to make (the tl:dr edition, if you like). New year’s resolutions are bullshit because, if you are prepared to wait until a certain date to commence your efforts, then you aren’t serious about whatever it is. You don’t want it enough. Thus your chance of failure multiplies dramatically.

Don’t wait until January 1st. Start now.

 

Why does it always rain on me?

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Don’t worry; this isn’t a post where I’m about to head down the road of self-victimisation. It’s actually the total opposite!

I’m sure we’ve all been around that person, the kind of person that says…

“Why is it always me?”
“Knowing my luck…”
“Why do bad things keep happening to me?”
“It’s about time that I had some good luck.”
“Why can’t something good happen to me for once in my life?”

This kind of attitude never fails to grate on me and I have to bite my tongue whenever I’m around somebody who comes out with one of the above comments. To me, it’s just an incredibly self-centred, ignorant and blinkered perspective. I’m not saying that I’m always a super-duper positive soul that doesn’t get brought down by life. I have bad days on a frequent basis and I’ll get angry, morose and bitter about a great many things. I’m only a human being after all.

The thing is though, I’ll never shout up at the sky in frustration and ask, “why does this shit always happen to me?” I’ll never question why life keeps selecting me as the target for a slew of bad fortune. I’ll never demand to know why nothing good ever happens to me.

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The thing is, there is no such thing as bad luck. Bad things are happening to us all the time, just as good things are always occuring in our lives. It’s a matter of perception. Some events are undoubtedly bad news – contracting a serious illness or experiencing the loss of a loved one, for example – but there are so many other, more minor things that can be perceived either way.

And there are many people who simply can’t help perceiving every little thing as ‘bad’. When somebody is constantly doing this, all of these ‘bad’ events stack up in their mind and can really affect their outlook on the day, their week or even their life. The irony is that so many things don’t even need to be interpreted as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. They simply are. Why interpret rainy weather and getting wet as bad luck? It is just what it is. Sometimes it seems that people are actively seeking out ‘bad’ things to complain about.

It’s called self-victimisation and it makes people feel good. It makes them feel important and special because THEY are being singled out by life…apparently. And it’s easier to blame your “luck” rather that doing something about your problems, isn’t it? It’s so much easier to wallow in the comfort of your own self-cultivated misery, secure in the fact that you’re being kept down by everybody and everything else, and that there’s nothing you can do to turn things around in the face of such oppression.

Further up this post, I described this attitude as ignorant and blinkered because that’s exactly what it is. The entire “why is it always me?” outlook on life is massively flawed because, while something bad is happening to you, bad shit is also happening to millions of other people around the world at that exact same moment. Having a bad day at work? So are millions of others across the globe. Feeling under the weather for what seems like the umpteenth day in a row? Well, perhaps you should remember that thousands are being diagnosed with life-changing disabilities or terminal illnesses.

And here in the developed, western world, our problems and the things that we determine to be ‘bad’ are so trivial in the grand scheme of things. They are usually things that won’t bother us when we wake up the next day – things that can and will be forgotten. Certainly things that don’t deserve to be moaned about when our lives are paradise in contrast to the lives of others who are much less fortunate and live in extreme poverty or in dangerous, war-torn regions of the world. How do you think those people would view your complaint about it being “so unfair” that you missed out on that Black Friday deal?

You’ve probably heard the phrase “you make your own luck” and it really is true. If you’re blind to the good things in your life, because you’re so busy focusing on what’s wrong, then all you are doing is reinforcing – in your head – the notion that your life is rubbish…for no valid reason at all. You are perceiving your life as negative because you are only interested in seeing the bad things in order to maintain the victim narrative that you’ve created for yourself.

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You forget that you actually woke up this morning and get to live another day.
You forget that you have your health.
You forget that you have family and friends (when so many people have nobody).
You forget that you have a job to go to (when others don’t and are struggling to pay their bills).
You forget that you don’t have to worry about having your house obliterated by an airstrike.
You forget that you have the luxury of being able to buy all of these material goods.

I don’t mean to come across as preachy but I think a vast majority of us are guilty of forgetting how great our lives really are. But maybe you still don’t think so and are STILL wondering when you are due some of that much-deserved good luck.

Well, let’s return to that phrase, shall we? “You make your own luck”. Many successful businesspeople will tell you that there is no such thing as luck. “Good” luck is simply the act of recognising opportunities and being bold enough to take them. And you don’t need to be all about business and financial gain to benefit from this insight. For example, you might look at that guy with the incredibly beautiful girlfriend/wife and think, “man, that is one lucky sonofabitch.” But was he really “lucky” or did he just recognise that there was an opportunity – sometime in the past – to get to know her better or ask her out on a date – an opportunity he was bold enough to take.

What I’m saying is that there is no mystical universal force flipping coins or rolling dice above our heads and determining what happens next in our lives. It is only us, choosing to perceive our situations in one way or another. It is only us recognising opportunities and taking them…or not. You are not being specifically targeted by life to receive misfortune.

More to the point, we need to be better at recognising what’s RIGHT in our lives and what we HAVE. That doesn’t mean that we should ignore the bad parts or pretend that the negativity doesn’t exist, but it does mean that we shouldn’t allow all of our attention to zero in on the shitty elements of life. We shouldn’t allow insignificant unpleasantries to be needlessly exaggerated in our mind’s eye.

And we certainly shouldn’t inflate our own sense of importance and believe that we alone – out of billions of people – are so special as to be on the receiving end of life’s attentions.

 

So, we went to the moon…

2019 marks fifty years since man first set foot on the moon. It was an extraordinary achievement and a huge moment for our species, the magnitude of which I think is often taken for granted these days. The mathematics and engineering behind the mission were incredible. The same can be said for the mission structure and how such a meticulously-devised operation was pulled off as planned, with the crew all returning to Earth safely.

It was such a big moment for a species that had, less than a hundred years previous, still been traversing the globe aboard wooden ships reliant on wind. Neil Armstrong’s famous quote of “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” was the perfect way to summarise what NASA’s scientists and  – by extension – the human race had achieved.

I will sometimes look up at the moon and remind myself that men have been up there and walked on that far-off surface. Even now, it still strikes me as surreal, as if such a thing should belong firmly in the realm of fantasy.

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But when I then think of what we have achieved as a race since 1969, I cannot help but wonder if we have stalled somewhat. Obviously, things have been achieved – too many to list, in fact. We have had so many breakthroughs in regards to technology, medicine, science and the understanding of our planet, for example.

But we haven’t (in my opinion) done anything nearly as momentous as breaking free of the Earth’s gravity and successfully landing on an alien surface. If the moon landing was considered a precursor to even bigger and previously unthinkable achievements to follow, then I don’t believe we have lived up to that potential.

Instead, our “advancements” have been all about bigger and better ways to entertain our brains; more ways to sell products and services to the populance; new ways to make money; better methods of numbing our brains and, of course, more efficient ways to kill each other. In short, we have done a damn good job of increasing the comfort level of our lives and extending our life expectancy but we’ve not really taken many major steps towards propelling the human race to greater heights. In fact, you could even say that we have regressed in many ways. Take a look at what people are complaining about on social media or what the latest “big” news stories are and ask yourself just how important any of this shit is in the grand scheme of things. It’s quite sobering.

We’ve also trapped ourselves with our systems of money and finance. When NASA had its funding cut in the wake of the financial crisis, for example, it meant that research into projects that could push man forward was compromised. So we sacrifice progress to protect money and the economy; man-made concepts that actually hold us back. The focus is on the rich getting richer, the elite protecting their position(s) and the struggle for power. None of this is helpful in the big picture sense. It’s all dick-waving and greed that feeds short-term ambition and selfish gain. And all of these gains will mean nothing when the recipients are dead and buried.

The truth is, we could probably achieve a hell of a lot more if we just DID things rather than holding back because of funding problems or because of opposition. Obviously, this is all necessary to a degree if we wish to maintain order and a functioning society but even so, it’s something to think about. I think so anyway.

When you’re wrong, you’re wrong

If you’ve read this blog for a while, then you may be familiar with my posts on the subject of materialism. Unfortunately, it seems that I wasn’t completely sorted on my definition of materialism nor my use of terminology.

I’m not taking back anything that I’ve previously said on the burden of materialism, the fallacy of happiness being defined by material goods or the healthy practice of cutting down on materialism. All of that? I still stand by it. I still believe in it.

But I certainly put my foot in it when I accused my sister of being materialistic. I was being casual about it but she didn’t take it well and, initially, I couldn’t see what I’d said wrong. As it turned out, I’d got my terminology completely wrong. Y’see, she is easily advertised and sold to (by her own admission!) and can’t help spending, spending, spending on stuff that she really doesn’t need. Really, this is better described as consumerism.

From Collins:
“Consumerism is the belief that it is good to buy and use a lot of goods. “

Of course, you might still describe my sister’s actions as “materialism”…

From Collins:
Materialism is the attitude of someone who attaches a lot of importance to money and wants to possess a lot of material things.”

BUT, I specifically used the word “materialistTIC” and it slowly dawned on me that there might be some differences between “materialistic” and “materialism”…after being (angrily) informed by my sister of what it means to be materialistic. A great many of us are guilty of materialism after all, but a materialistic attitude is a bit different and not necessarily something that comes hand-in-hand with materialism itself.

She was upset by me describing her as materialistic because being materialistic is to put material items and possessions above people and experiences. By her own admissions, she can’t help spending money and buying excessive amounts of clothes and other stuff BUT she doesn’t put her stuff above the people in her life.

And I – of all people – should have known that.

But instead, I was an asshole, trying to throw about my “wisdom”.

So I was wrong, and that’s the big takeaway from this post. It’s important to be able to listen to the criticism of others and review your own actions/words. It’s okay to say, “you know what? I was wrong there.” But, unfortunately, it’s often much easier (and satisfying) to forge onwards and refuse to admit that you made a mistake; refuse to acknowledge that there is even the slightest outfield chance that you weren’t right.

Because we’re all wrong a LOT of the time. We just need to be open to this fact and be willing to take it on the chin.

 

Narcissism Epidemic

From Merriam-Webster:

extremely self-centered with an exaggerated sense of self-importance

Does this sound familiar? It should do.

I have come to the conclusion that here, in western civilisation at least, we are seeing an increasingly narcissistic society where people are lost in their ballooning sense of self-importance. Entitlement is everywhere and a worrying number of people simply cannot deal with being denied something, or being informed that they are wrong.

Here’s the blunt truth: you are not important.

I am not important.

In fact, nobody is more important than anybody else.

Now, you may argue that the woman making crucial political decisions is more important than the man sitting on his arse at home, drinking beer in the middle of the day and sponging off the state but even this isn’t so. One role in society is more important than the other but the actual people in those roles? Nope. If you are talking about human life then neither person in that scenario is more important. After all, you can have all the money in the world and one of the highest positions in society, but you still take a shit in the same way. You can still contract a terminal illness such as cancer. And, in the end, we all die the same way.

Away from the crude and morbid analogies, my point is this: strip away the status and we are all just people. Yes, we are all individuals with different personalities, ideas and views on matters but nobody has the right to be considered more important than anybody else.

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Narcissism doesn’t care about that though. Narcissism is most commonly linked with physical vanity and originates from the ancient Greek myth, where the young Narcissus looked into a pool and fell in love with his own reflection. That pool that Narcissus gazed into is still here today, only in the form of mirrors and self-facing smartphone camera lenses, rather than old-school water. But I would argue that selfies and the millions of photos plastered across social media of girls in their bedrooms showing off their make-up, outfits and even their bodies is only surface level narcissism. How many of those girls are showing off in front of the camera because they are genuinely in love with their physical self, do you think? I would wager that it is only a small percentage. This kind of behaviour is born of a need to compete and look pretty to live up to a set of standards that society and the media have cooked up in order to keep selling us products.

If you ask me, this isn’t narcissism because it stems from insecurity.

Narcissism operates on a sub-level. It’s the act of showing off to the world and subconsciously shouting for attention that is narcissistic, not the photographs themselves. We crave those Likes and positive comments on our pictures. We want our oh-so-dramatic status updates to pique the curiosity of others and get them asking questions or sending us their best wishes (if said status alludes to a bad experience). We want every piece of trivial, meaningless shit that we upload to social media profiles – amusing gifs, memes, reactions – to contribute towards wrenching the spotlight away from somebody else.

It makes us feel important.

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It would be unfair to say that social media is the sole reason that we, as a society, have allowed our sense of self-importance to grow and swell until it dominates our decisions and thought processes, but it has a hell of a lot to answer for. The thing is, the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have given anybody with access a platform to speak to the world and blurt out their opinions and rash reactions to events, seconds after they have occured. In ye olden days, if something really fucking offended your principles or seemed worth pushing back against, you’d have to get off your arse and organise a physical rally or protest march. It took effort and organisation. However, social media allows anybody to scream and bawl about anything at all that they perceive to be a wrong, an insult or a problem. Anybody can whinge about anything and when like-minded users begin to agree, an echo-chamber effect amplifies the loudest of voices and, suddenly, the original issue appears to be a huge thing. Massive, even.

Back in REAL life, you are unlikely to meet that many people – if anybody at all – who are talking about the latest cataclysmic outrage that is tearing the internet apart. Why? Because it isn’t actually a big deal at all. If you had to physically organise a meet-up or go out and do something about a perceived problem, how many people do you think would actually bother? How many of these “issues” do you think would even be worth discussing in public?

People’s self-inflated sense of importance gives them the idea that their opinions are important; that THEY are important. And neither is true. Many people can’t deal with somebody challenging their opinion either. The default response is to shout and scream back at the other person, insisting that they are right and that the other person is absolutely, categorically wrong. It’s the equivalent of putting your hands over your ears and shouting, “LA, LA, LA…I CAN’T HEAR YOU!”

You’ve no doubt seen it before, first-hand. Look at the comments sections in Youtube or any sort of debate/discussion on social media or in the comments sections of news articles and there is a distinct pattern. Raging, never-ending back-and-forths where nobody is capable of listening to other viewpoints or taking onboard rational, critical counter-arguments. Sure, some people concede or admit that their viewpoint may be flawed, but this is the rare exception to a rotten rule. Usually, it’s all about repeating your opinion relentlessly, and any sensible discussion is more or less guaranteed to devolve into hurling insults.

It’s the final line of defence that sees our supposedly intelligent race regress to the level of apes and start flinging its own shit around.

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This happens because an exaggerated sense of self-importance also extends to one’s opinions. Narcissistic people simply cannot have their viewpoint threatened or challenged by another person. They don’t know how to deal with this and thus revert to a childish state where they ultimately throw a tantrum because they aren’t being allowed to have their own way.

In a previous post entitled, ‘You know nothing (and that’s okay)‘, I went into how it’s healthy to be open to the fact that you could be wrong. It’s an attitude that keeps your mind open and allows you to learn. It doesn’t mean that the criticism and opposing views of others are right, but you should be prepared to shut your mouth, listen and analyse what you’re hearing. There might be flaws in your view(s) that you have overlooked or you might actually be wrong. You also need to be able to question yourself at all times and, ultimately, you have to be big enough to accept that you were incorrect and that somebody else’s input was actually useful.

This mindset appears to be being driven to extinction however. It isn’t (as I said earlier) all the fault of the social media though. The other major catalyst responsible for this narcissism epidemic is rampant entitlement. So many people feel that they are owed something by society and life in general. They feel that they deserve all the good things in life without actually doing anything to earn them. And when they don’t get them, narcissism strikes again and they can’t cope with not receiving what they believe they are owed.

I’m sure that there are a multitude of reasons for this ugly and utterly flawed way of approaching life but I will try to keep it brief here because, after all, I’m no expert in psychology or social history. First of all, entitlement seems to have crept into western society over a period of decades. The most obvious reason is that multiple generations of people have grown up in peacetime with no wars to threaten their existence. As a result, millions of people haven’t had to learn the hard way that they are lucky to be alive and leading the rich lives that they are living. Growing up and living a long time with access to healthcare that can fix most problems is taken for granted, as is state assistance.

In short, people grow into adults surrounded by safety nets and help. They don’t learn the value of hard work like their grandparents and great grandparents did. Instead, they benefit from their immediate ancestors’ relative wealth. Those previous generations lived through a time where wages were more competitive and they were able to completely pay off mortagages and amass savings. As such, their children were able to benefit from the security and stability.

A lot of people grew up with everything they wanted and increasingly-lax parents that failed to instil any form of discipline or meaningful teachings into their children. Suffering (an incredibly valuable tool for positive growth) was kept to a minimum and a lot of children developed into adults with a resulting sense of self-importance.

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To share a personal example, I remember being at school in the early-mid 2000’s and being surrounded by 11-15 year-olds decked out in designer-branded clothes and £100+ trainers. They had the latest mobile phones as soon as they came to market; all the latest videogame consoles and games, no matter the amount it must have set their parents back. I didn’t have anything of the sort and made do with old, outdated handed-down mobile phones and cheap, affordable off-brand clothes/trainers. When everybody else was raving about the latest Playstation 2 games, I was still using an original, handed-down Playstation and replaying games I’d finished countless times before! But to the other kids, having all of this stuff was viewed as normal – expected, even. I was the odd one out – unable to join in with discussing the latest videogames or mobile phones – and I can’t deny that I felt jealous back then. But now, as an adult, I appreciate the way my parents raised me (a post for another time), and I can see that many others in my school year were already riddled with entitlement.

So people became entitled and now, when life doesn’t treat them the same as their parents and hand them everything on a silver plate, they can’t handle it. Suddenly, their “suffering” (it really isn’t) is the fault of everybody else: society, the government, wealthy people…anybody else’s fault but their own. You’ve no doubt heard people saying, “why is this happening to me?”, acting like a victim. They can’t understand why every little thing isn’t going their way and they falsely believe that they are suffering terribly.

And now, this monstrous sense of self-importance is coming to the fore in mainstream media. Anybody with an agenda is shouting loudly and protesting – be it LGBT rights, #metoo, Extinction Rebellion, etc. – because they absolutely must be heard. Their opinion and cause is incredibly important and everybody must stand up and take notice. And don’t you dare disagree with what they want. Their right to take offence at opposing viewpoints is more important than anything else, including your opinion. They are important people, after all.

I’m not saying that everybody has fallen into this narcissism trap but it seems to be a problem that grows worse with each successive generation and I can’t see it going away anytime soon with social media’s influence now an integral part of our lives. The people who may as well be screaming, “look at meeeeee!” on Facebook are having children of their own and, to those children, this sort of behaviour will be imprinted upon them and become second nature.

There are actually some very worrying theories online from psychology experts and historians who believe that this is all building up to war, the collapse of society and rapidly degrading IQ levels across western society. There’s historical evidence and patterns that back up the theories too.

Worrying times.