“…are you suggesting that we bear some responsibility for this girl’s state?”
[Originally published on MySpace on April 7, 2010]
“A thirteen year old adolescent tries to commit suicide despite the fact that she lives in a nice house with plenty to eat and do, with two parents and a sibling who all love her, she’s smart and funny with a well-rounded set of developable talents and inclinations—yet she’s completely miserable.
What’s the problem here? What happened? What other questions might we ask besides these first two?”
When I posed this scenario on March 13, I got a lot of really interesting, thoughtful responses—ones that made me think, which is what I really like. I also met quite a few new friends, which I also really like. Thank you to all who responded for your generosity and willingness to have a say; to spend a little time thinking about something that was (at least superficially) hypothetical.
All of you nailed down some excellent points in your responses to the last blog. The general consensus included possibilities like the onset of adolescence and what that implies for one who up to that point has been a child, that child’s relative invisibility to the larger social context (i.e., no one has yet noticed that she’s not quite a child any longer and that she needs validation on that point), that child’s difficulty in reconciling what she perceives as contradictions between what she has been taught to “know” and the evidence of her own eyes, a sense of feeling trapped (another sensing of contradiction on her part—who she is in her own eyes and who she’s supposed to be in the eyes of others are at odds in her own mind and she can as yet not see any avenue for reconciling this, so instead she looks for escape in attempting suicide).
Some of you pointed out that maybe she’s looking at the world with the scales having fallen from her eyes and is appalled at what she sees, which point blithely and matter of factly assumes there are some major problems with the world and she simply has yet to adjust to the horror of it all. (I call this the No Such Thing As Santa Syndrome, which implies that not only is there a victim—the child herself—but that even folks inclined to be sympathetic become part of the problem, because the assumption is that this is a given rite of passage for everyone, and thus is the underlying problem trivialized and even rendered invisible.)
One person speculated that the girl might see that there are people in need and might thus be wondering “why don’t her parents help [those individuals]?” In other words, the girl perceives what she believes is a lie (another example of contradiction), but in her position as a child her freedom to protest or take other action is truncated to the point that she feels betrayed and impotent at the same time.
A thought that occurred to me to wonder has to do with consumerism. What impact might a “consumerist mentality” have on families, particularly the younger members?
Finally, one of the last people who responded to the blog said, “So. If how we think and what we do has an effect, and is “embedded in a cultural context” (ours, presumably) then are you suggesting that we bear some responsibility for this girl’s state?”
Yes, this is what I’m suggesting. This is pretty much the answer to the trick question, granted it is itself yet another question.
Please bear in mind that I don’t equate “responsibility” with “guilt” or “blame.” Both of these have become so much a part of the arsenal of the unscrupulous that they’ve all but lost their usefulness in promoting healthy behavior in individuals and within communities.
Nonetheless, the reason this teenage girl is in the position she’s in is because not only do we live in an historically constructed culture which intrinsically provides for just such a circumstance, but we all in the here-and-now tend to help perpetuate this culture, because each of us to one degree or another unquestioningly buys into various of the underlying agendas that are the foundational cornerstones of this same culture, and in so doing we collectively create a web of action, reaction, and interaction between each individual in the community with each other individual in the community.
I believe, in fact, that this is safe to say about any unfortunate circumstance, real or imagined, that presents itself to our perception this day and age.
Of course, I have absolutely no right to suggest as much, never mind that anyone do anything about it, not having any claim to The Right Answer beyond what anyone else has. And in a blog, there’s a limit to how much detail you can include in your explanation of Life, the Universe and Everything before you start losing (or never gaining to begin with) readership.
Still, anybody wanna take a stab at developing a livable degree of personal responsibility for the community we live in, just on the off chance you might save somebody’s life (maybe even your own) at some distant remove in time or place? Or even right next door, as the case may be?
If you do, my recommendation is start with small bites, although feel free to ignore this and do as you see fit.
Here’s a small bite, to get you started:
“Life is full of contradictions.” I use the word ‘contradictions’ a lot, so I figured it’d be a good place to start. I have NO idea who the first person was who said this, but I didn’t make it up, and in fact it is a cliché in our society. The cool thing about a cliché (at least for sociologists) is that since it IS a cliché, you can pretty much tag it as a cultural “given,” rather than having to twist your brain around all the “reading between the lines” kinda stuff that you often have to do to determine whether a system of logic is consistent with its own precepts, or even simply to determine what those precepts are. It is, in other words, representative of foundational cornerstones in our culture.
Bearing in mind that I have defined the quote above as a cliché, that is to say, that there is a body of common wisdom that most people agree on regarding what this statement means, what does this statement imply in terms of actionable behavior? Or even in terms of what to think, granted thinking can arguably be considered a form of action?
Feel free to argue with me below in the comments, but here’s MY opinion: what this statement tells us at best is not to allow ourselves to be overwhelmed at the number of problems we perceive around us. Fair enough, eh? Another interpretation that rides on the heels of this is the idea that we should pick our battles, since it’s likely we each of us may not be able to fight them all. Works for me. But this statement also suggests the very dangerous idea that there’s nothing much to be done about this state of affairs.
What do you think? Does this interpretation of mine ring true in your minds?
What does this cliché imply about the nature and degree of our responsibility toward ourselves, each other, and the larger community? Who stands to lose if we adhere to this interpretation in the choices we make on a daily basis? Who stands to gain?
As I said, you can respond to these questions below if you like—I’d LOVE to hear your opinion. But what I’d also like you to do is look around and find a pet cliché or two or your own, take a sharp look at ‘em, and bring them here to tell the rest of us about what you think.
Does this seem a bit distant from the original exercise? Not terribly heroic, eh? Kay, well, anybody know any clichés about heroes? *grin*
Again, no flaming please. Feel free to email if you prefer, and also feel free to argue with me about anything it occurs to you to argue about.
8:10 AM 9 Comments 4 Kudos