Oh bullshit. I’m so tired of that trope and the whole notion that any of us is wholly responsible for our success. It’s classist and ignores the collective knowledge that mankind has gained off of the backs of others. It rejects the notion of role models, mentors and teachers and utterly fails to consider the opportunities afforded to those who are economically and racially privileged.
Yes, it’s that time of year. The New Year seems to encourage an avalanche of Bullshit Positive Affirmations shared on Facebook. BPAs are the annoying things people post and say that are supposed to encourage you to be the best person you can be. The illogicality of them frustrates me. I’m not sure if people actually believe this magical thinking, or they just think they should believe it.
No. No, it’s not.
That is embracing the ridiculous notion that everything is within our control.
That’s saying that people born into poverty choose to stay that way if they are unable to break the cycle. That’s saying children in marginal schools could have a better education if only they tried harder. It’s saying that the children of privilege don’t have 2 legs up on everyone else when it comes to college and student loans.
Then there are the things that happen when we’re adults. Sometimes unexpected shitty things happen to us out of the blue. Sometimes a spouse leaves and takes all the money. Sometimes the stock market crashes because people you have no control over sold unsound financial investments and it wipes out your 401K. Sometimes you find yourself unemployed and unemployable when your job has been outsourced. Sometimes you get sick.
Life is not a static arrangement of events that can be planned. Life is messy and often catches you unaware.
I swear I am not making this up.
Someone actually posted this piece of cruelty to their timeline on New Year’s Day. I suppose they thought it was inspiring. Instead, it just sounds like they’ve been lucky enough not to have had something really bad happen to them.
Let’s see how his proclamation holds up, shall we?
“No more whiners. If you have cancer it’s because you let it get that way.”
“No more whiners. If you’re depressed it’s because you let it get that way.”
“No more whiners. If your company eliminates your department it’s because you let it get that way.”
“No more whiners. If you were hit by a drunk driver it’s because you let it get that way.
Oh, I could do this all day, but you get the idea.
Really? So I can be an astronaut? What about run a 4 minute mile or be the President? I can conceive being a trillionaire, are you saying that’s possible? It’d be nice to be a supermodel. I’d sure like to win a gold medal in swimming.
The problem is, no matter how much I can conceive or believe, those things aren’t going to happen. I could do everything possible to achieve any of those goals – everything possible – but none of them will happen.
That’s because there are things we can’t do. I know it’s hard for the snowflake generation (I’m looking at YOU boomers) to hear that, but it’s true. Not all of us are exceptional and there are limits to what we can do and it’s time we accepted that fact.
I hate this one most of all.
It’s especially galling to those of us with depression. Oh – I could just wish myself better? I can choose whether I have this disease or not? Why didn’t you say so! That really would have saved me a lot of trouble had somebody told me sooner. I feel just like Dorothy with her magical ruby slippers – the power was in me the whole time!
People think they’re being helpful when they post BPAs, but they’re not. Those of us who have had life intrude on our well planned path understand that these clichés are not helpful, and only serve to make the reader feel negative when they read it. The notion that you can think your way to success is foolish and doesn’t benefit anyone.
It seems like people who share BPAs are looking for an easy answer to the tangled reality of life. The problem is that hoary bromides don’t straighten out tangles or cure diseases.
It’s not to say that you shouldn’t try to be positive nor have happy thoughts. But, I’d prefer my positive affirmations to be less filled with bullshit and a little more realistic. I prefer my affirmations to be things we can all actually do.
Manners – it could become a cause of the day and go viral like the ice bucket challenge. People would be posting videos of themselves waiting patiently in line to say please and thank you to supermarket workers and food servers or being polite to random strangers on the street. The cool thing is that you wouldn’t have to pledge a damn dime, and it would bring a wealth of benefits for society. Although it would involve a greater effort than hitting the share button for a useless platitude, it could work.
Or, even simply:
It could happen.
All I’m saying is that if we’re going to encourage ourselves to do better lets aim for things we can actually do that make our little corner of the world a better place.
Let’s avoid the BPAs. They’re worthless and may serve to just make someone feel worse.
I have to admit there is one positive thing I don’t mind sharing. It’s something I really believe in, a cause close to my heart, and it’s something that I would really encourage everyone to do.
It doesn’t cost a penny, and doesn’t ask you to do anything unethical or immoral. It’s something that can be practiced without show in both public and the privacy of your own home.
It is, in fact the antithesis of a Bullshit Positive Affirmation:
Now, that’s something I can really get behind.
**Originally published Jan 5, 2015 – Republished Jan 3, 2018, with minor edits**