The “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” expectation continues to bother me. How realistic is that, really? As social beings hugely impacted by our social spheres, when we pretend that each individual ought to possess the internal fortitude to simply rise above all of life’s challenges and pain by oneself we’re just fooling ourselves. Those who manage to pull themselves up typically do have social support networks in place (regardless of how much they might take those for granted) OR perhaps they possess a different kind of drive altogether that propels and motivates them, like placing faith in the acquisition of money to help set things right. But to expect this of anybody and everybody I do believe is asking too much.
And when one comes out and tells others of their suffering, there’s always the risk of being given a hard time for not playing stoic. The phrase “personal accountability” gets bandied about oftentimes. While I can grasp that we each make decisions that play into what arises among our own set of circumstances, no human is an island. Plus, pain appears to be cumulative and has the nasty habit of paying forward even in ways we might not be personally aware of.
This makes me think of two things I reread recently. One being an excerpt from Otto Rank where he talked about the love-ideology and how being loved makes us feel as though we are “good” while not being loved gives us the feeling that we are “bad.” That being a bastardization of the notion of God’s (agape) love where it’s reduced down to our interpersonal sphere and we wind up playing the role of “Personal Jesus” for one another. The other pertains to an excerpt from Erich Fromm where he discussed how the choices we make at any given point in time (whether as individuals or as collectives) limit the options available going forward. When we open this door it then closes behind us and we’re left only to deal with the options presented beyond that point. I can see where such a situation could lead an individual into a labyrinth they eventually can’t escape and are severely limited in their options to improve.
For example, let’s take someone who grew up in rough conditions and learned escapism as a strategy from a pretty early age. In this hypothetical situation this person, through his/her escapist ambitions, winds up affiliated with people who use drugs to achieve that aim. Once this person begins taking the drugs as well, not immediately but eventually he or she is likely to wind up addicted to the substance(s) in question. And let’s say one of the drugs he/she ingests regularly is PCP. Now, perhaps 5 years on down the road this person wishes to clean up and change directions, but due to years of routine use of a damaging substance, he or she isn’t quite the same person anymore. This individual’s faculties are permanently altered and he or she may be experiencing health problems as a result. So this individual is no longer at the starting place he/she once was and is unable to return to that point. That door was closed, others were opened, time moved on, and the person in question wound up permanently affected as a consequence.
The drug analogy makes this more clear to understand, but such happens to all of us in all sorts of complex ways just in terms of our social relations and interpersonal pain both experienced and inflicted, plus in terms of how we navigate in general. I’ve often wondered how someone can come through so much pain as a child and quite miraculously seem to move on and rise above it, whereas someone else remains mired in it and unable to develop sufficient coping skills despite years of trying. This leads me to acknowledge that individual differences in personality must also play an important role, since it’s quite obvious we’re not all constituted identically and thereby don’t all possess the internal reserves and resources needed to arrive at the same place on down the road.
And another consideration that often gets left out of such talk is the role luck plays. Never underestimate the importance of luck — it can prove tremendous all unto itself because it provides new options that we can’t necessarily manufacture for ourselves through our own solo strivings. Yet people like to downplay this aspect, as though it somehow were trivial. While I recognize that it’s also a matter of how one plays his/her cards once a lucky opportunity presents itself, that still doesn’t negate the good fortune of having been presented with a lucky opportunity to begin with. Can people make changes so as to help improve their odds? Sure, but even that doesn’t come with a guarantee.
That makes me think of a close friend who exercised and remained very active his entire life while eating right and avoiding harsh drugs and alcohol and a high-stress lifestyle, only to wind up plagued with a series of major health problems on down the road anyway. Not his fault — just the luck of the draw. Some of his ailments are believed to be genetic in origin and others probably pertain to how environmental substances acted on his unique biology, but either way, they are not a direct result of anything he did or failed to do. And yet, he still must cope with this outcome.
We probably all know examples of this sort, as well as examples running in the other direction. Like those who receive great fortune purely by chance, whether it seems they deserved it or not. Life’s not fair — never was and never will be. That’s a fact of life it’s best to come to terms with, and the sooner, the better.
So, in a round-about way, we’re all “victims” of circumstance to whatever degree. Divvies up differently across the board, but the fact still remains. Some say we shouldn’t view life in such a way, that to do so is disempowering. But I find it just as disempowering to incessantly berate people for the circumstances they happen to find themselves in. There’s always a series of causes involved, whether we have access to that information or not. I can understand where some people deserve more sympathy than others, but I also see how people have a tendency to operate according to their biases and preferences rather than assessing the individual situation as it personally stands. In other words, we are inclined to project onto others in accordance with our own ideals or in an attempt to not zone in on areas that make us uncomfortable about our own luck of the draw.
Just some thoughts this morning…
One more thing before I head off. The topic of “strength” and “weakness” is very often mired in illusions. Because one adapts well doesn’t automatically mean they are “strong,” just as the reverse doesn’t automatically signify someone is “weak.” It’s generally a matter of perspective. Strengths and weaknesses play out in different ways even within one individual. One can be strong in this setting, and yet fall apart in that one. Such is life, apparently. And plenty who play the game well aren’t necessarily self-starters who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps but rather are simply those capable of adapting to a scheme they gained access to. That’s not meant as an indictment of anyone in particular, just something that runs through my mind over the years.