I don't read very much, for reasons that I don't feel like reporting here. However, when I do walk around in the large Academic Bookstore renowned for its variety of foreign publications, I can't help but notice that most foreign books are American. I won't go into the issue of fiction, because all I know is that the situation is a bit different. If I have time and energy when I'm in this bookstore, I check out the self-help and spirituality sections, and see books from America or books that have hit the best seller lists in America and have therefore been translated. Luckily, there is quite a bit of non-fictional Swedish literature imported for the Swedish-speaking population in Finland, and these are usually available in the libraries too. Even though all these American books are proficient enough and sometimes interesting, I can't help wonder what foreign thoughts pass unnoticed by the rest of the world simply because they don't catch on in a way that would help them become translated for us to read?
Most people educated in the human sciences would agree that narcissism is very much a sign of the times. In a child like way, people want to have the things they covet at once. Society is also highly competitive. Actually it all seems paradoxical. On the one hand people are very concerned with their individual selves and devour self-help books, on the other they yearn for more wholesome relationships and really love following fictional as well as real therapy sessions that deal with relationship issues in books and on TV. Of course, what they really want is not so much to become more altruistic than to have the love and attention that they crave. Surely it doesn't take much brains to realize that. On the other hand I admit that most people carry deep scars and that all this is probably part of the healing process. I just hope that we'll start to see signs of deeper compassion within a reasonable amount of time... this state of being, which is most likely intermediary, is painful to be part of. In the midst of everything there are a zillion voices that try and direct you towards the idea of unconditional love. While that's a very beautiful idea, I am not sure people in general are ready to open up to that just yet, in a real and full sense. My guess would be that only a tiny percentage can identify with that high an ideal in a true sense. On the contrary there's the danger that it creates undue pressure on people who are in a particular phase that they need to go through in their own time, at their own pace.
I saw a blog post today on a Chinese expression here. The expression apparently goes: "Do not remove the fly from your friend's forehead with an ax". Pretty nice, huh. That's exactly how I feel when people come onto me very strong with their belief systems and want me to do this or that. I feel that I have to run away from the ax!
The internet makes it oh so much easier to spread a belief system and people don't hesitate to use this medium in order to try and persuade others to follow their path. This is the thing that concerns me. Especially the American society is very marked by religion and alternative forms of spirituality, as well as a highly assertive and competitive way of communicating. I don't think anyone would deny that it's the real paradise for the growth of methods of self-help as well as the spreading of these ideas through books in a language that so many can read.
Take for instance the book on adult children to alcoholic parents (Janet Geringer Woitiz). Turns out, that this book was originally a best seller in the States and therefore translated into Swedish. Now I won't say it isn't an okay book for those who are still very unaware of the patterns inherited from their dysfunctional childhood. I recognized the very self-confident and assertive style as being translated from American even before I knew it was indeed an American book. Of course, self-help books are notably assertive in order to give the impression of real scientific research. I find it worrying, that there were many imperative statements and not that many sentences containing the word "probably". For instance, the impression was that if you received ambiguous messages as a child then you are very likely a proficient liar to date. Oh, rewind a bit - I just noticed on checking this out that there is one tiny paragraph stating that some children go against the pattern of lying that they learned at home. Well, truth to say I didn't feel there was much room in the book for a different point of view or reality. I personally received confusing messages as a child but I find it almost impossible to lie unless I truly have to. One should maybe also keep in mind that I am of a culture where honesty is a virtue by which Finns are reknowned abroad. I admit we could use a little more self-confidence though, but it's coming... If we try and apply all the presumptions about a culture's behaviour onto another, we run into trouble. It is tricky in the case of American culture because the more you are exposed to it, the more you might believe that you can identify with it. It's my own first hand experience that there are subtle differences that can be critical enough. I hasten to add, that I do have first hand knowledge of many of the good things about the USA as well! I do however wonder how Americans feel about the fact (and this I heard as a fact) that virtually no literature is being imported into their country from abroad?
The book in question did have a somewhat simplistic air about it, for instance I would really have thought the author would have raised the question of the perpetual disappointments children with alcoholic parents have to endure and how that marks their entire experience of life and people. It also seemed to make recovery into a piece of cake. For instance, people from a dysfunctional background are often over-conscientious and over-responsible, and therefore burn out very easily. Ok, so you rest a little and get over it, was the solution. Wow, I guess most people can't wait to get back to the rat race! My own experience is that once I burned out and let go of the control and self-discipline, I dived straight into chaos and have not recovered to date. There are a few defining moments like that in my life, and the response has been different each time, but the last one was the most difficult one simply because of my age and history. Now the book denies "normality" as a fact by which confused people can orientate themselves, yet talks about people as if everyone is healthy and normal enough to recover in the expected manner. Deviant people like myself are treated with nonchalance. According to the author, I am not "different" from anyone else, just unique. Well... As it happens I have a condition that can be derived from the dysfunctions in my family, and it greatly affects my ability to perform "like everyone else".
I also read a spiritual view on insomnia and that alone was so depressing that I felt myself sinking into a state of defiance and distress. Apparently, if your deep sleep is disturbed, you cannot make the unconscious spiritual connections that you would otherwise. Mind you, I didn't really understand what was being said so I gather you can interpret it in many ways. Anyway, I got into this highly defensive mode where I felt that all I really care to do is go and hide from the axes. Too many voices, too much peer pressure... Although spirituality is such an integrated part of myself, I was ready to renounce it here and now. At that moment, I really hated my own spirituality, that prevents me from pursuing a more "normal" human life. I considered removing the "spiritual" part in the title of my blog. Someone had also just given me a thousand and one good reasons why I shouldn't covet a companion. It was quite the exposé of what all the famous gurus of today have said. I knew they were probably right but I felt like I had to take one of those axes and chop off a piece of myself in order to become liable for the higher spiritual ranks. "It's too much to ask!" I screamed within. I shrank, felt my heart close and got very anxious. It was like deciding to break up from a romantic relationship. In fact I am also still recovering from the unfortunately long and arduous break up from my previous attempt at a relationship - and yes, the hardest thing to get over is the disappointment. Oh yes, some things would definitely be better chopped off straight away, like amputating a gangreneous leg. I didn't have a clue as what to do next except to stay away from the voices and the axes.
Everyone is trying so hard to sell something or other, be it a new way of reaching spiritual bliss, how to learn a new language in ten days, or how to market your website in the most efficient way. The art of making money and becoming a success is definitely on top of the list of best selling services. When I meet people on the internet, I often wonder what they are going to try to sell me next. I think it's a shame that this "thing" has to be in the way of human interaction. Those who have read my previous blogs know that every once in a while I encounter people who try to convert me to their way of looking at things. These are people who are into the feel good movement and who get very nasty once someone pushes the right buttons so that all the denied aspects of their selves push through the gates. I recently witnessed the absolutely most outrageous and uninhibited outburst of all times on one forum where I had mistakenly opened up just a little. It didn't make much sense but it was clear that I was the target. I am not saying that there wasn't any learning or meaning in this for me, I'm just saying that it's pretty amazing what you sometimes have to take just because someone cannot bear the way you are. I am truly tired of this whole spiritual surgery that attempts to get you on a real guilt-trip. This reminds me that in the book I mentioned earlier it was also absolutely imperative that as a child in a dysfunctional family you must have blamed yourself and thought that everyone would have been better off without you. This makes me laugh. I have absolutely no conception of ever having thought such thoughts as a child. It's like when people are assuming that you must have been so sad when your parents divorced. Hell I wasn't! And I sure am not taken to guilt-tripping either.
In fact I really resent that New Age systems especially seem to want people to take the burden of all their own experiences as if all they have to blame are themselves. My hunch is, that we are dealing with a dichotomy of extremes within society, in which you have self-blame on the one hand and victimhood on the other. I think people are subconsconsciously trying to deal with these issues - on a large scale at that - and are therefore prone to projecting it onto anything that moves. This should be resolved when the intermediary is found. It's really good to look at the reasons why you have been drawn into a situation and what part you're playing in it. But there has got to be some rhyme and reason. Common sense, you know. Remember that one?
Artwork: "Crushed Chevrolet", digital photograph by authour, all rights reserved 2008