In my last post, I reflected on the introduction to Daring Greatly by Brené Brown. I wrote about how I think of resisting vulnerability as a strong identification with ego, and I identified times when my ego is attacked and I respond defensively so that I don’t have to feel vulnerable.
In the chapter I have just finished (ch 1), Brown discusses the culture a scarcity that we live in. It’s actually a culture of perceived scarcity – we feel more scarcity than we actually experience; it’s rooted our cultural perspective. We hear in the media (or have noticed ourselves) that people have become increasingly narcissistic of late, and the cause of this, according to Brown, is not a moral failing. The cause is a culture that tells us that we must be extraordinary in all that we do. Our inner dialogue mirrors those cultural messages, and we tell ourselves that we are not, or do not have, enough.
Monday morning I read a Becoming Minimalist blog post that Joshua Becker wrote about his reaction to the messages sent by the advertising played on the Super Bowl over the weekend. At least three of the seven myths he noticed prevailing in the ads directly relate to the idea of scarcity. After all, to be motivated to by something, we must believe that we need something we don’t have. Advertisers feed this scarcity myth and thrive on it. Not unlike a virus, they insert this bit of information into our minds until we start perpetuating it ourselves and becoming sick from it.
1. Not happy enough. (Becker’s “Happiness is for sale” myth.) Advertisers assume that we realize we are not happy enough, and if we just had a Coca Cola, we could “Open happiness.” If we just had a VW, we could “Get Happy.” How would our culture be different if we all believe that we were already fully equipped for happiness?
2. Not extraordinary enough because we are not confident enough to become extraordinary. (Becker’s “Self-confidence can be quickly found in the right purchase” myth.) Advertisers tell us that their product will make us into the person that we want to be, because who we are now is certainly not enough. We are too ordinary, our family lives are too mundane, our jobs are too routine, and our success is too minimal. If we just had more confidence, we could figure out a way to really shine. How would our culture be different if we celebrated contentment and human connection instead of longing to stand out and be “awesome”?
3. Not young enough. (Becker’s “Youth culture represents the pinnacle of life’s seasons” myth.) Getting older is portrayed as a process of losing worth. Advertisers sell us skin-firming creams, gray-covering rinses, and wrinkle-fading make-up. Celebrities, who are also victims and also are complicit in this culture, fight aging with plastic surgery and Botox and thus perpetuate the “not young enough” myth of scarcity. How would our culture be different if we celebrated the joy in every stage of life?
I work with college students, and find myself walking a tough line when helping young people make decisions about their lives. They see messages that they should “find their passions” and stand out in the crowd. Some get so caught up in how their resume will look that they forget that they should focus on growing and developing character, not on amassing a list of things to put on a C.V. Some actually realize that they don’t need to wow everyone to be happy, but struggle, wondering what is wrong with them that they are not shooting for stardom. Many see choosing a less stressful but more balanced life path as a failure.
I struggled for a long time with accepting ordinariness. Having been very successful in high school and revered by my peers for my accomplishments and chances for success, I attended a very good private liberal arts college and graduated with high honors. I was used to feeling that there was something awesome about me, and was told that I was smart all through my youth. When I hit adulthood and real life happened, I was lost for a long time, wondering why my life was so ordinary now when, before, I was always extraordinary. It took years before I was content and measured my happiness by how my life looked from the inside out, instead of how I thought it looked from the outside in.
It is a constant battle to fight the culture of scarcity. My children feel it despite not being exposed to much advertising. They want a certain fleece jacket that their friends all have, new technology gadgets, a television in the house, a bigger house, and trips overseas like their friends take.
I’m interested to see where Brené Brown takes this in Daring Greatly. I think the best antidote is gratitude. Interesting how two major spiritual issues have already risen from my reading of this secular text: ego and gratitude.