Convo with Joel yesterday on the beach. Here is what he said (he has confirmed that the core idea below is what he was saying). I have mostly left out my counter-arguments because I’m trying to listen to the value in what he has to say rather than find the weaknesses – first, anyway. I have removed the niceties and softening of his words and got to the point of what he was saying:
- You read self-help books because you’re discontent with yourself and insecure. You have attached your happiness to what other people think of you. There is another way of living and it’s so different it’s like another way to breathe.
- Say your goal is to get fit, it is possible to have this as a goal while still believing that it will not increase your value or sense of self-acceptance at all. There are positive forms of motivation – self-care, healthy desires etc that can make you want to get in shape. If you believe that you’re less acceptable as a person if you aren’t keeping fit, then you are ruled by fear of man and your motivation is essentially fear. This reveals that you don’t really accept yourself as you are, you believe you need to do something, be something, in order to be acceptable. Essentially, you are motivated by a belief in your own inadequacy.
- If it was the case that people that didn’t accept themselves found contentment through their efforts to improve themselves / their life out of this fear, then the world would have a lot more happy people! Many who live this way are perpetually discontent. In fact, often this lack of self-acceptance is not fixed by achievement, and when it is fixed, it is replaced by another big problem called pride. (I have written about how insecurity and pride stem from the same source elsewhere).
- I made the interjection that ‘fear of man’ and ‘discontent’ can be useful drivers that lead us to improve ourselves and our world, and that contentment can lead to complacency, which is not admirable or good. My instinct is that although I can argue this case, it’s only rhetoric obnoxiously stifling truth so I should shut the fuck up and listen.
- It’s easier for someone that accepts themselves to get fit and achieve many other things than it is for someone insecure. Do you really think fat people are fat because they accept themselves so much they’ve become complacent? No, it’s more likely that they are insecure and do not have the self-care to want to treat themselves properly.
- Joel went on to make a distinction between the recognition that not all is well in the world with a feeling of inadequacy in yourself. You can be motivated to improve the world around you while feeling content in your own skin! He pointed out that it would be far worse to make positive change while feeling discontent with yourself and that it is not necessary to drive you to take action. Here’s the difference: do you see a problem in the world and say ‘that sucks, I want to help’, or do you see a problem in yourself and say ‘I suck, I’d better do something to help the world to make me acceptable’. The second approach is obviously a worse way to live, yet many people feel obliged to make something of themselves, as if they are not enough unless they do. They are essentially saying that they suck unless they are ‘successful’.
- He then went on to ‘do you think Jesus died on the cross out of fear?’. His point was that if we take that act of selfless love as the pinnacle of human achievement (which I accept even if the crucifixion is not literally true), then clearly great achievement cannot be motivated by fear! Fear and feelings of inadequacy would not have set you up to do something like that. It would take a different form of fuel to stick with a pro-social enterprise even when it is not in your interests. Fear may be a potent motivator, but it can only lead to selfish achievement, because it is about self-preservation not love. Let me apply this to my own life. I want to get my body fat to around 14% so that I am more attractive to my gf. This project is driven mainly by fear that I will not be able to compete with others for her attraction. It’s also driven by pride – why not take pride in your body? It’s better than letting it decay. If I accomplish this, I will become proud of my body, hopefully. If I don’t, I will feel insecure. Joel’s approach is to accept myself with my current body. With his approach, if I want to get fit because it feels good and is good, then great, I can go do that and feel good about the whole thing. Let’s say that I became a eunuch in a car accident and my dick was left on the side of the road, or more realistically, if me & lu broke up and I wasn’t interested in girls for a while. Since getting to 14% body fat wasn’t really about the health benefits, or loving my partner, but was about insecurity, I would be left with no reason to do it and would become fat. What this illustrates is that using fear to achieve genuinely good things is problematic, because with success you become proud, with failure insecure and when shit hits the fan which it inevitably will in life, you don’t have the right fuel for the job! In more concrete terms, your motivation is not really to look after yourself, or love yourself, and so you won’t end up doing either of those things, even if you state that that is your intention. It is what the Bible bangs on about all the time. Without love you are nothing. Nothing you do means a thing without love, even if it has positive social consequences. If it’s not about love, it’s about fear. Fear is a powerful form of fuel, but it doesn’t get you to where you want to go. I saw the secular version coincidentally on my FB newsfeed eradicator – “Great achievement is always born of sacrifice and is never the result of selfishness”. (not happy with how well I have explained this)
- It is easier to love others once you love yourself. When you have accepted yourself as you are, you won’t judge others so much. If you believe you are inadequate because of your fitness level, you will judge others and think they are inadequate also. If you cannot accept yourself this can make it harder not to accept others, too. Judgementalness sucks.
- To start with, if you pin your wellbeing to what other people think of you, or because you feel inadequate, there’s no guarantee you will reach the desired state – the outcome is not entirely in your control. For instance, you might get ripped to look good for your partner and they could leave you anyway. That’s trying to control somebody else. Cancer can hit you. ‘The best laid plans o’ mice and men so often go awry’. Given that this is reality, it is foolish to wait to accept yourself until you meet some criteria. You make yourself vulnerable to the arbitrary forces of the world when you do that and make your identity insecure.