Oppression Olympics and the currency of privilege
One of the most famous families in the world has been having a somewhat awkward public spat. Or rather, two of its members have been lecturing anyone who will listen about their feelings.
There are basically two schools of thought on this recent media circus.
School 1 includes those of us who understand that having a fantastically affluent, privileged life enabling thousands of choices which allow you to pay for any mental health or other care you want, to travel in a private jet to hundreds of different destinations at the drop of a hat, to have zero concerns over ever wanting for anything for the rest of your life and good fortune beyond the wildest dreams of most of the world, plus the clear power to simply walk away from any situation you don't like, makes engaging in a public wailing and gnashing of teeth and demanding sympathy ludicrous, if not totally obnoxious.
School 2 seems to feel that the unsubstantiated and repeated complaints of two fabulously wealthy, incredibly fortunate people should result in a show of unexamined belief, compassion and sympathy.
The pendulum swings too far
How did it come to this?
I'm from an era where everybody was expected to take personal responsibility and no allowances were made, even when that was transparently unfair. So you were abused, bullied and had a horrible start in life? Tough biscuits, get on with it. So, someone just died? Oh well, stiff upper lip old chap. Spare the rod, spoil the child was the common mantra, and even teachers were beating the hell out of their pupils on a regular basis.
I don't long for a return to such an environment. For anyone with a remotely gentle nature it was torturous. If the anguish couldn't be seen, a knife wound or a plaster cast, it was treated as though it didn’t exist. Many suffered tremendously and unnecessarily under the regime of "But have you just tried NOT being depressed?" Noxious and destructive stoicism was encouraged. "Well, it didn't do me any harm!" snarled the victims turned abusers in defence of the indefensible.
As with most trends, we swing from one end of the spectrum to the other. Humans can’t seem to help it, we can never find and reach a balance. We have now created the world of the Oppression Olympics. Instead of the correct definition of bullying as ongoing or repeated misuse of power with the intention of causing deliberate harm, we're often told that a push, kick or someone yelling at you, or someone responding to your public declaration with a public declaration of their own, is in and of itself bullying.
Television viewing from the 1970s through to current times is a good barometer of how far the pendulum has swung. Fortunately, we now avoid the overt racism which was so clear in many of our older shows, such as the rancidly racist Love Thy Neighbour, but now are in the realms of bizarrely banning The IT Crowd.
Ghosting has become a common gripe. Those who think it's their right to demand a detailed explanation and gruesome postmortem of events every time someone just wants nothing to do with them seem to have missed the irony that if they could enforce this they'd be stripping their victims of their own right to set their own boundaries. If someone wants freedom from you, take the hint and leave them alone has all but vanished as expected behaviour.
Where mental health issues were once cruelly ignored or deeply misunderstood, now we find people claiming they are mentally ill because they weren't able to get their own way, were ignored or had someone say no to them. Someone doesn't like you? It's adversely affecting your mental health.
I’ve been an advocate for mental health issues and worked in the field for years in various positions, with genuinely unwell people whom I would go to the mattresses to defend, support and assist. I don’t want to return to the 70s.
However, today's voluntary supplicants on the altar of mental health include many who consider being rejected in any fashion an unbearable attack on their "rights". Borderline Personality Disorder and Narcissistic Personality Disorder traits seem to be on the rise.
As many have pointed out, we're now a culture of narcissism, where perpetual affirmation is the currency of the privileged, and wannabe privileged.
And yet, despite an abundance of therapy and relentless discussion of mental health amongst those who find their own selves immensely and unendingly fascinating, there is little incorporation of one basic tenet of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
You can't make people think, feel or behave as you'd like them to, but you do have some control over how you react and behave.
"Although we may not always be able to change the situations in which we find ourselves (or the people we meet), we are in charge of how we interpret events. The attitude we bring to a situation, and the perspective we choose to take, determines how we feel.
It's well within the capacity of most functioning adult humans to cope with being told no, ignored, or disliked, without sinking into mental despair. Unfortunately the current climate encourages validation of self absorption and self pity.
In this brave new world where reality and facts have, for some, become less important than feelpinions, nothing less than capitulation, adulation and validation will do.
Rumour has it
Knowing when to shut up is an admirable trait, and one I greatly admire in public figures. I steer well clear of family drama llamas, and generally judiciously avoid family feuds armed with a chuckle, some empathetic ability to assess opposing viewpoints, and a healthy dose of scepticism.
When it comes to rumours and gossip, even among your own family, it's important to remind yourself regularly that if you were not in the room when it happened, or if you did not see the actual text, video or email of the event, you do not know what happened. You only know one person's version of what happened. You'll save yourself a lot of unnecessary bickering and melodrama if you remember that rule.
Self-restraint is not well rewarded in today’s society, but I’m told you can make a good living blurting out your feelings on the talk show circuit, while cradled by indescribable luxury.
We’ve all met the relative who just won’t stop bewailing his personal problems. They drag unwilling participants into their fight, and however time-consuming and harmful their battles, nobody ever emerges the winner. The gossipy, aggrieved member of the tribe always searching for someone to back their play becomes difficult to stomach, over time.
We are what we do
Even as a teenager I had incorporated the reality that people show you who they are, all the time. Note their actions. If you’re thrusting yourself into the public eye and demanding attention, you’re not shy. If you're sitting on the pity pot, writing open letters, making snarky public remarks and offering to discuss vague and unsubstantiated complaints about family members with talk show hosts, you're seeking attention and validation.
We are what we do.
Reframing the defaming
If you find yourself living in another country, estranged from your family and friends and feeling miserable and confused, you should have a good long look at your situation. Perhaps seek independent advice.
To those with a Cinderella complex, nothing will suffice but complete validation from everyone. People who rely so deeply on external validation can never be content to just remove themselves from a situation they deem unpleasant, and get on with their lives. There must be a fanfare to their exit.
Unfortunately, there are many fully paid up passengers on the Poor Me train.
I can't help recalling the words of a wise and self-aware man, the late Paul Newman. He was often quoted on the subject of good luck, was well aware of his great good fortune and attributed his success mainly to that. He went out of his way to help others with no fanfare or expectation of thanks. “I wanted, I think, to acknowledge Luck: the chance of it, the benevolence of it in my life, and the brutality of it in the lives of others”.
If you are one of the few who are incredibly fortunate and want for nothing it is realistic and fair, in my opinion, to show the world an attitude of gratitude, and sort your personal quibbles out privately. Yes, of course being stupendously wealthy affords you privilege. Yes, of course it gives you choices. When you are so fabulously lucky that if you find your inlaws irritating you can simply walk away from them and carve out a luxurious existence in another country, getting on with your life with a bit of grace and humility is a great look.
Unless, of course, the issue isn’t that you want to be safe and happy.
Ut ameris, amabilis esto*
Throughout history, endless complaining has not generally been the greatest way to effect change in those around you. Making yourself unpleasant only works when you have power over the person you wish to defeat.
Fostering an attitude of gratitude, being publicly grateful for your incredible good luck and speaking well of those around you will do more to influence people's opinions than evidence-free, diatribes about someone saying something about something, or not saying something. Or something.
And unless you're being actually abused, think once, twice or thrice about trashing your biological family, no matter who you are.
It might be difficult to close your lips when you're used to receiving sycophantic applause for every thought that wanders through your head. But when it comes to your utterly irreplaceable family, be really really sure that you want to burn your bridges before attacking them publicly.
In the current climate of continual complaining and self-centred pity mongering, one old adage stands out above all others:
Least said, soonest mended.
* If you wish to be loved, be loveable.
NB - if any actual proof of allegations should emerge, I will always incorporate it into my viewpoint.
As always, wishing you fair winds, and a following sea.
Alison Tennent, Queensland, Australia, April 2021
Copyright Alison Tennent 2021, all rights reserved. Scottish by birth, upbringing and bloodline, Australian by citizenship. If you’re reading this anywhere but Medium or The Garrulous Glaswegian, this work may have been plagiarized.