Language is powerful. Language creates new worlds. Language leads ideas and people. AND language destroys lives and leads to despair.
I touched upon the impact of language in the past. Here, I want to explore a danger that is flooding our society. I wish to share my perspective around a pernicious lie that harms many of us without our knowing.
This lie is the idea that we somehow “deserve” to live a beautiful, happy, wealthy, in a word ‘grandiose’ life.
The other day I saw on Facebook an add for a webinar called “Create The Life You Deserve.” In this vast economy of helping others, there is commonly a use of language that boasts positivity, breeds motivation and fuels hope. You’ve come across it many times. You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? This language, broadcasted by people with beaming smiles, glittering clothes and dollar signs with lots of zeros behind them… You see the type. It doesn’t matter whether we are talking about internet marketing, creating apps, investing in properties, building a startup, earning $1,000,000 using free online traffic, developing your interpersonal skills or learning to vibrate at the same frequency as the universe.
The problem is in the language used to present these… “methods”. They will supposedly help you “Create the life you ‘deserve’”. AS IF earning sh*t loads of money by not doing any type of real work, developing your mental capacity or improving how you behave with yourself and others were ways to access some kind of terrestrial nirvana that was your birthright.
I’ve been exploring the world of human improvement for the past 3 years. I hate to tell you this, but you (and I) don’t “deserve” anything. It is not because you (and I) were born that we had a birthright for a perfect extraordinary existence, with tons of money, happy relationships and never-ending love, passion, adventures and travels.
This webinar embodied the utmost example of what is wrong and dangerous with personal development (and education) nowadays: entitlement. I fell into this trap myself when I began my journey; thankfully, I got out of it early on. This type of approach sells on people’s hopes, and insinuates that you have access to something greater, just because… well there’s no real reason, frankly, so one is made up: just because you’re YOU! Isn’t this amazing? This kind of language preys on the “quiet desperation” that David Thoreau was talking about. Indeed once the magical effect of novelty dissipates, when life takes its own rights once again, in other words when sh*t hits the fan, what people are left with isn’t nirvana. It is misunderstanding, hurt and despair.
The Ancient Greek school of Stoic philosophy understood better than we certainly do today that there are two kinds of things in life. There are the things we have control over – our thoughts, our actions, and… well, that’s pretty much it – and then there is everything else. Long story short, the Stoics encouraged to live a life where we did our best with what we could control, using reason, and then learnt to accept that everything else was just what it was. If something is not in our control, there is no point moaning about or being hurt by it. By the way, this “everything else” includes other people’s beliefs, decisions and actions; the loss of money, job or a person we love; and other events like earthquakes, diseases and alien invasions.
The Stoics saw life as the unfolding that results from the convergence of a proactive force, us, and a random occurrence of events that unfold totally outside of our influence; what they called ‘fate’. This wave of causes and effects lying outside of our sphere of control brings chaos to our existence, while we strive to lead orderly and structured lives. As a result, the life we have simply cannot be something we “deserve”. It just is a combination of what we strive to achieve and a chain of events occurring outside of our own sphere of influence.
I was lucky. I had a pretty good life (so far). I did not go through unbearable pain, and I accomplished many things I wanted to. But assuming that I “deserved” the life I’ve had is simply ridiculous. Yes, I worked hard. Yes, I tried to do my part well – constantly striving to improve what I could control: my thoughts and my actions. But I was lucky. Very lucky. That’s the part I don’t control. Neither do you. We have to give it credit too. One day, it will change. Like everybody else, I will soon lose people who are very close to me. I will soon face crushing pain and loss. When life takes its own rights, I don’t want my whole world to come crashing down because I was deluded in thinking I “deserved” something else.
You (and I) don’t deserve anything. Our responsibility is to keep making the most of what we’ve got, regardless of what life brings at us. This means striving to do our best with what we can control, and remembering that everything else is out of our hands.
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