“We cannot be distinguished from our situations, for they form us and decide our possibilities.”
— Jean-Paul Sartre
Here’s your gentle nudge to make your week more interesting, thoughtful and productive. You can always talk to me more about these ideas by replying to this email.
Self-Help With A Grain of Salt
Our social environment influences our behaviour. It’s a given. So, for example, your propensity for we vs me would depend on how exposed you are to the ideas of individualism and how well you relate to them. Your view of justice (equity and equality) may depend on your leaning towards capitalism or socialism. In fact, all of those leanings would stem from your personal social environment, which includes your upbringing, familial environments, neighbourhoods et al.
Taking that view further, we follow self-improvement advice and philosophy blindly. We adore those who can manage to stick to their habits, talks about discipline as if it was some godly ability (not arguing it isn’t, but I believe there’s no need to be pompous about it), or you know, the casual throwaway keywords of “grit”, “work”, et al.
But do we ever pause to consider if that advice—not limited to habits but how we interact with others or how much we value ourselves over our social concept or whether our environment pushes for individual achievement or collaborative work—would probably not apply to us and our context?
The thing is, self-improvement and self-help have only one goal: to improve your existence in your world. It is then important to consider where someone’s thought is coming from and what their world looks like. Before you take any idea, it may pay to ask:
Where is this person coming from? What social and personal values might have made them reach here? Is their advice a simple case of survivorship bias? Would this work for my context, for I have to exist in a place this person has probably never lived in? What can I take from these ideas without fully internalising them?
Of course, it isn’t always necessary to play by the rules of your environment, and in some cases, you might need to break the status-quo to improve in any way at all. However, it is important to ask those questions before and not after the fact. In things as complex as philosophy and self-help, no two people under the same -ism can be on the same page, let alone people on different books altogether.
When consuming self-help, always keep the salt shaker handy.
What’s On My Mind?
The further you grow up, the more diverse the pie chart of your life starts to become with new sections being added by the day. The more that happens, trouble in one section often fails to disrupt others because you have a certain responsibility to keep the rest afloat. Yet, if you don’t pay attention to the issues plaguing some pies before you know it, the entire thing can go haywire. Perhaps, we need to make sure our responsibilities are taken care of but if there’s something awry, it’s fixed quickly too. Being “grown-up” can often distract us from the larger issues that come back to bite us later.
I hope this added some value to your week. Stay safe, stay inspired, and I’ll talk to you next week.
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