way in which we have structured our society has turned us all into losers, says
Susan Erasmus. Competitive losers, but losers nevertheless.
an early age, the competition is on. Whose baby walks first and talks first?
Comparisons are vicious and there can be only one winner, one kid at the top of
the Grade 1 class, one kid who is chosen as class leader, one kid who gets to
be soccer captain.
message is brutal: you're in there on your own and there can be only one
winner. The rest are losers. There's a pecking order and you need to know where
you fit into this picture, otherwise you will be bullied, or worse. I know
humans all have a competitive streak and that the world is very competitive,
but I think we have taken things much too far down that road.
Whatever happened to
happened to the co-operative spirit and compassion on which early human
development must surely have been at least partly based? Joint decisions, a
team effort? (Forget about team-building exercises in corporate environments –
they almost always try to build up team spirit by pitting two teams against one
short, I simply don't think that our modern society is structured to fulfil
peoples' emotional and social needs. It has become the kind of society in which
it is possible for someone to live a completely isolated life in a city of 10
million people, and where a certain moral indifference has become a survival
have no illusions about the "Good Old Days", but in the last century
or so our society has become a mass society – one that is geared to the needs
of greed and business rather than human needs.
The Empty Self
book by Parker J. Palmer titled "A Hidden Wholeness" ascribes this
indifference to a "fragmented mass society that leaves us isolated and
afraid, an economic system that puts the rights of capital before the rights of
people, and a political process that makes citizens into ciphers".
goes on to say that rather than living in a "cult of me" we live in a
"community that is torn apart by various political and economic forces, and
that more and more people suffer from the empty self syndrome".
"empty self syndrome" is characterised by a "bottomless pit
where their identity should be - an inner void they try to fill with
competitive success, consumerism, sexism, racism, or anything that might give
them the illusion of being better than others".
Self-esteem is not for
live in an age where success and happiness are equated with material things.
Put simply, people are trying to buy happiness, status and self-esteem at the
nearest shopping centre. And these things are not on sale there. Don't get me
wrong – everyone likes nice things and there is something to be said for
aesthetics, but the constant desire for more stuff seems unquenchable in many
people. They hardly have time to enjoy what they've bought when they're already
planning the next purchase.
here's the thing: there will always be people who are richer, better-looking,
more educated and so forth. The quest for material things turns into a game you
can never win.
long as we feel that we are what we have, or that we derive status from putting
ourselves above others, we will continue to miss the basic point about humanity
and human happiness. We will continue to be manipulated by the world of
commerce into thinking that we are worthless without certain possessions and
that life is ultimately a competition in which there are a few winners and
many, many losers.
is the world that spawns mall rats, workaholics, over-indebted consumers, millions
of depressives, and corporate executives who are completely unable to relax and
enjoy the here-and-now even when they are on holiday.
Jumping through hoops
we have lost our way. We have been duped into thinking that happiness, love and
success are just around the corner, but first you need to jump through these
hoops. Guys, the hoops never end.
only you can put a stop to this. Only you can fill the empty self. I am not saying that you need to let go of all
ambition and become a full-time beach bum. All you need to do is to learn to
stand still, absorb the here and now, find what you have and what you are
enough. Take delight in it. Start seeing life as an adventure, not a
competition where the winners end up with the most bling.
the despair of marketers worldwide: how will they get you to buy crap you don't
need if you find yourself acceptable as you are? Inside yourself you have what
T.S. Eliot called "the still point of the turning world".
it is from that point of quiet self-esteem only that we can construct the kind
of society that we all really need to live in. Not from the kind of sick
one-upmanship and greed that has pushed our debt-ridden society to the brink of
social and economic disaster.