“Privileged white middle class existential self help”.
That’s what my post represented to the person who left the comment.
I wasn’t surprised that type of comment came my way. But I was surprised that it came from a good friend, someone who I believed had my back. They have since clarified their intentions behind it and they edited their comment. So this post is not about them. But it did give me pause to reflect on how I feel about, and how I deal with criticism.
I knew when I started speaking my truth and putting myself out there I would attract some ‘haters’.
I knew there would be some that are challenged by my perspective. Some who are threatened. Some who are triggered.
I understand that some are sceptics and look at the world through a really strict lens.
I realise that some are comfortable with life the way it is.
I realise that some have spent a lifetime pushing their darker emotions down so they don’t have to feel them. And building up their defences so they don’t have to risk being vulnerable to them or to others.
Some have even become comfortable and resigned themselves to playing small, and relying on the ‘victim’ card to justify to themselves and others that they deserve to be treated gently.
I know. I’ve been there. I’ve done all of these things and more. And trust me, the victim role suited me very well. I felt like a victim because I was bullied. I especially felt like a victim managing adrenal burnout and fatigue for years. And being from a privileged white middle-class background, oh boy, I was aware of the irony. I felt like a victim while simultaneously hating myself for feeling like a victim!!
Who was I to feel sorry for myself? The problems and traumas I faced growing up were nothing compared with what others have faced. How dare I feel entitled to emotions like self-pity? Anger? Grief?
I think differently now, but before we get to that there are a few things I feel it’s important to clarify:
- I don’t advocate ‘self help’. Get a coach! Or a therapist! Or a healer! Or a support and process group! Better yet, get one of each. This work is not for the feint-hearted. Personal Development takes an incredible amount of courage and a team supporting you.
- The work I champion is not my own (I’m not a life coach, therapist or healer). I spread this message because I truly believe in The Work and want to see more people liberate themselves. This is not a cynical play to attract a flock of paying clients.
- The wisdom I wrote about in the article that attracted this critical response came from a friend of mine who immigrated from a third-world country and was raised with very little, who experienced traumas much much deeper than mine, and who has worked incredibly hard with the support of others to gain that level of wisdom and constructive outlook. So this was not ‘privileged white middle class self help’. This was deep human wisdom, trialled and tested by the cruelest of fires.
- The form of attack used in the comment to my post is called ‘ad hominem’. It usually happens when the hater can’t find a way to legitimately attack the message, so instead they sling mud at the person delivering the message. It’s considered a fallacy of argumentative reasoning because it has no bearing on the validity of the message itself (ie it’s not a valid argument). For example, this is what is happening to Greta Thunberg when people attack her appearance or cultural differences, rather than her message.
But even when a comment is inaccurate, and invalid, it can still leave a mark. It hurts because it’s personal. For example, the comment attempted to invalidate not only my current message, but all of my messages. It strongly implies that how I was raised and my racial background means my perspective can never be valid. Which sounds like racism to me (or at least stereotyping).
But this post is not here as a defence. I am not enlightened. I am human, and I don’t always get things right. I am always very open to constructive feedback because it only helps me improve how I communicate my message in future.
This post does not come from a position of judgement or superiority. I present only my perspective, that’s all I can do. The world isn’t black and white. I just present the most helpful and valuable perspective I’ve discovered so far, IMHO.
This post isn’t about managing perceptions. I aim to be as detached as possible from what people think of me. Even friends and family, but I must admit, that’s not easy.
I write this post because it has a message.
To be honest it’s a message for me as much as I hope it’s valuable for you.
I also want to own where that message comes from…
I am a privileged, white, middle-class, and entitled, millennial male, who’s deepest pain comes from being bullied at school (so yes, there are far worse traumas than mine). And I say ‘entitled’ without judgement or passive aggressive sarcasm. There are certain things I do feel entitled to (outlined below).
Now if my background invalidates my perspective for you, please feel free to not read on. Reading this post is entirely optional.
Fair warning, here we go…
YOU ARE ENTITLED…
You are entitled to your perspective. Your racial, cultural background, how you were raised, your gender, your sexual preferences, none of this has any bearing on the validity of your message.
You are entitled to understand your story, to unpack it, in detail if necessary, to share it, and to feel it, as you work to gently let it go.
You are entitled to grieve for your pain. No matter how much or how little trauma you have experienced in absolute terms compared with anyone else. Pain is not a competition, let’s not fetishise it. It is what it is, and relative to your experience, your pain is 100%. And you need to allow it and express it to heal.
You are entitled to your emotions, whatever they are. Whatever comes up for you. Feel them, let them come and go. It’s good for you. And use them as clues for where to focus your healing work.
You are entitled to be happy, and to feel good about yourself and be positive and constructive in the world. Yes this is easier for some to achieve than others. But when you do achieve it, you know you’ll feel ready to pay it forwards and help others. In fact, I believe it’s up to us, the privileged few to do this privileged work near the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs so that we can then help the less privileged without having one foot on the brake the whole time. It doesn’t help the less privileged if I suffer the way they do, or in a different way. It only helps them I I reach ‘self-transcendence’ at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy so I can bring my full energy and passion to help heal and transform the world. This is how we change the world for the better, for everyone.
And finally: Don’t let the haters shut you down. Continue to speak your truth.
Sam Harris does this beautifully. He attracts a lot of criticism, and he rarely gets defensive or triggered. But he also doesn’t shy away. He keeps speaking his truth and has even given haters a platform in the past to openly and fairly debate him.
The challenge is then to back yourself. Trust that you can handle whatever comes your way!
After all, we know there are only two emotions, love and fear. So we know that hate is just an expression of fear.
“Realize that behind anger there is fear. Something is going on in their lives that is bringing up a fear. And they indulge the fear by having an anger towards you. By projecting their own fear onto you. For a brief moment, you become the monster that has been hiding inside of them.”—James Altucher
This is one of the defences that people use when they are feeling threatened or challenged. Afraid of what your message is bringing up for them. Perhaps your message implies they may be playing the victim. Or they might need to drop their mask. Or they might benefit from doing deep emotional healing work that can be so confronting.
Whatever your message, if it’s in truth, then it’s likely to trigger someone, somewhere.
I leave you with the wisdom of Tim Ferriss, arguably the person who influenced me first and most deeply on my personal development journey:
“Focus on impact, not approval. If you believe you can change the world, which I hope you do, do what you believe is right and expect resistance and expect attackers,”
And let me know… Have you ever attracted this sort of feedback and criticism? Do you hold back your truth for fear of what others might think or say? Or for fear of being cut down like a tall poppy? (It’s ok if you do, it’s not always easy to speak up).