I read about a person who works herself to the bone, forcing herself to take on more and more, until her back is breaking – and her heart. She did the same thing with a physically laborious project, driving herself to total exhaustion. Only then did she stop, physically and emotionally annihilated. Her cry to the cosmos was “I need some help here”. My thought was “you’ll get the help when you ask for it, and stop equating your value with crucifying yourself”.
This western culture is quite weird. We’re programmed to “work hard” and “be independent”. Doesn’t matter what it does to us, because we don’t see that consequence as important. In other words, doesn’t matter how much we abuse ourselves. However, we see abuse of other people as the worst crime.
And, to give is seen as the highest form of interaction. Doesn’t that mean that some people have to receive? Which means they’re not independent or “working hard”. We don’t laud them, we don’t say “well done for reaching out, well done for asking, well done for acknowledging your vulnerability”.
I went to a series of seminars once on metaphysical interpretations of the bible. The basic idea was that biblical stories are metaphors. One story was of a farmer who needed labourers. I don’t remember the exact tale, just the basic premise, so I’m telling it in my own way.
At the start of the day, some men arrived and were told they’d get 1 penny for the day’s work. They said okay. At midday, another group arrived looking for work. They were offered 1 penny to work for the rest of the day. They also agreed. At mid-afternoon a third group came and were also offered 1 penny to work for the rest of the day. They were fine with it.
At the end of the day, when everyone got paid the same mount, the men who’d worked all day were furious, and shouted “not fair, we’ve been manipulated, discriminated against” etc. The guys who’d worked for half a day were also a bit disgruntled. The men who worked for a couple of hours for a penny were perfectly satisfied.
We were encouraged to look at our own reactions to the story. Some were outraged at the unfairness, and some thought the men who got the best deal were smart, but they weren’t admirable, they were chancers. Nobody thought of them as being men who knew how to take care of themselves. Nobody thought that that was admirable and that they had the most integrity.
But the person who takes good care of themselves, physically, emotionally, spiritually, is the one who is best able to be empathetic towards others in a real way, best able to appreciate other people’s dilemmas and challenges. I don’t think we do ourselves or others any favors when we push ourselves beyond our limits. Who the heck are we pleasing when we do it? Why have we got emotions and bodies that protest, that tell us when we’re going too far if we’re not supposed to listen?
The moral of the farmer’s tale of course was that the deal you accept is the deal you get. When somebody’s got a real gun to my head, then I’m going to accept whatever deal they make. But most of the time that gun is an idea I have that I have no other options.
What makes us accept these ridiculous ideas that are either contradictory or directly promote self abuse? We have bodies and feelings that tell us all the time “please stop, I’m tired, I’m uninspired, I don’t want to live any more, I need rest, I need to play; I need input, guidance, love; I need to give love, I need help, I’m hungry, I’m thirsty, I’m lonely” and we just ignore them. For the sake of the idea that ignoring ourselves either somehow makes us noble or will help us survive better.
It doesn’t. It makes us ill. Nothing noble about that.
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