Self-esteem & happiness are not the ends.

In the last two weeks of my culture theory class, we were reading this guy who talks about "the therapeutic culture" a lot. The book (it's good) is essentially a genealogy of that culture. He says that it is the dominant one in the Western societies at this point in history — a culture centered on the individual pursuit of self-expression and the fulfillment of one's desires.

I want to say something to distance myself from that. Because it is NOT my ideology, but I have blogged about body image and happiness from time to time and those are topics that often fall into the territory of that ideology.

In the case of "body image," for example: I think that the (female, in particular) relationship with the body and the self in general is an important topic not because poor self-image interferes with the ultimate end of happiness and self-love, but because it interferes with the ability to engage in the truly important human pursuits: justice, love, the realization of grace. The whole body image advocacy thing is a fail if the ultimate result is individuals who approve of themselves. The point of the whole body image advocacy thing ought to be, in my opinion, to clear away the barriers to doing things that actually matter.

Neither self-love in itself nor self-loathing is a meaningful pursuit. To be at peace with oneself ought only be an entry point into getting down to the meaningful business of life — engaging in the struggles and stories that extend beyond the individual.

This kind of ties into my personal peace with antidepressants. When I think about it, I don't really like that I have to take them, that there's something wrong either with me or with this world that requires my brain to inhabit the chemical equivalent of a very spacious padded cell, but I take them. Not in order to be happy, but in order to function. Because I have THINGS to do. You see?

Self-loathing is a hindrance in life, but it's a hindrance to more than happiness: Happiness is not my telos. I don't believe it's anyone's.

15 comments:

Q 5/03/2011 9:30 PM  

YES.

Dawn 5/03/2011 9:40 PM  

so true!

Georgia 5/03/2011 11:09 PM  

not anyones?

Holly 5/03/2011 11:39 PM  

Georgia - Mm, I don't think so. I would say that when you're doing what you're supposed to do, it probably does feel fulfilling, but the feeling isn't the point of it.

sui 5/04/2011 8:06 AM  

mmm... as I read this, I felt myself being challenged a little, but as I look up what the word "telos" means, I realize I actually agree. none of it are ends, but they are necessary to be on the journey to where you go. it's a matter of being able to take care of yourself in the most basic ways so that you CAN do important work, create, and give value.

I don't see self-love or happiness so much as a pursuit as something we need to learn to do in order to be sane and functioning.

thanks for prodding me a bit with your words :) in the best possible way.

Jenica 5/04/2011 2:40 PM  

"Neither self-loathing nor self-love is a meaningful pursuit. To be at peace with oneself ought only be an entry point into getting down to the meaningful business of life—engaging in the struggles and stories that extend beyond the individual." Word.

Shelley 5/05/2011 8:42 AM  

The purpose of life is to do meaningful work, so whatever allows you to do that is good.

You're succeeding.

aipingplum 5/05/2011 9:50 AM  

Thanks for the clarification. And that sounds like an awesome book, I need to check that out!

Holly 5/05/2011 1:18 PM  

sui - Sane, yes. The basics. And thank you for joining me in this think. :)

Shelley, I feel like a newborn sometimes in terms of how much there is to simply LEARN before anything else, but thank you--thank you for that affirmation.

aipingplum - I will loan it to you. Emailing.

sui 5/14/2011 11:46 AM  

holly, I wanted to thank you (again) for this post. I keep on thinking back to it. it really challenged certain things in me, certain things I was ignoring. you are so, so right, and this post is inspiring. gah!!!... I will probably link to it or write about it sometime. <3

Holly 5/15/2011 11:59 AM  

sui - so welcome! i'm glad it came at a good time for you. i'm looking forward to hearing more of your thoughts in post form. <3

Erin 5/20/2011 6:11 PM  

I love this, I love this, it is just so good, you are so good at saying things.

Holly 5/24/2011 11:43 AM  

Erin - My. Thank you. I so appreciate your presence here, Erin.

KatieP 2/16/2012 2:51 PM  

Oh my word ... I just found this post at the bottom of a rabbit hole and it's like you just switched on a light!
I knew there was something not working in the whole self-love pursuit and you just articulated it for me.
Thank you so much. There are so many new ideas now bubbling in my brain. x

Holly 2/19/2012 12:55 AM  

Katie - Well, then I am glad that you did find your way here! You're most welcome. Thanks for dropping a comment to let me know you were here. <3

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