Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Hurt Feelings And The Perverse Modern Demand For Invulnerability

Have you seen that comic strip that shows the guy hearing all kinds of praise and one bad thing, and how in the course of the day the praise fades and fades to nothing, 'til when he's lying in bed and all he can think is of that one bad thing?

Here it is:

I think about this comic all the time, because I am very susceptible to this. In the comic, the one negative thing the guy can't get out of his head is "you're a jerk," but my negative things range over all types and categories and can include both comments from other that, for whatever reasons, hurt my feelings, and also vicious negative self-assessment.

Anyone who teaches students can tell you about experiencing this with course evaluations. You can read one positive comment after another, sheet after sheet where the only negative feedback is "the readings were dry," and then you come upon someone who says you're incompetent or boring or disorganized or behind-the-times and -- WHAM. I promise, that is the comment you'll be thinking about for the next few weeks, or maybe forever.

I discuss this comic strip with people often, because it's important to remember what a widely shared experience it is and to keep in mind that feeling this way doesn't make you weak or weird or over-reacting or anything. It's just human nature.

When I share this comic strip and think about it, my mind often turns to thinking about how crazy it is that as humans hyper-sensitive to negative feedback, we've basically created a system in which people are constantly subjected to it. You'd think if we were people like the guy in the comic strip that we would find a way to create a society in which we are surrounded by praise and positive comments and only hear negative feedback in the gentlest and most constructive way.

But it's not like that at all. It's like the opposite. Most of us are surrounded with critical evaluation from all sides and only hear praise if we're lucky enough to have people around who love and care for us.

Worst of all, the people who are -- or who act -- the most impervious to criticism are often the people who are most successful. They exude positivity, and they prop up their personal brand and likability.

It is one of those strange states of affairs: we have massive human vulnerability, and modern society is set up for massive invulnerability. Like we set up society for people radically unlike ourselves. WTF?

I don't know how you undo any of these complicated systemic things that no one really designed, and that seem to emerge out of the always churning blend of capitalism, the Human Resources industrial complex, and people just needing to lord it over other people. But wouldn't it be nice if we could shift things around a little?


Linda Palmer said...

....When I saw this Patricia, all I could think was, You rock, and you are an inspiration!

About your discussion of how the systems we live under are set up (or developed, evolved, or however best to describe how they came to be), there's these two separate articles about a visit to Cuba I ran across in 2005 or so, which I've been thinking about ever since, in which both journalists (from the US) independently described this to-them amazing and surprising feature: people seemed to be not afraid of one another. In a social way; a kind of default assumption and experience of a certain warmth, kindness, and acceptance. Something, they said, they didn't even realize or notice usually surrounded them until they were out of it, like a fish out of water. If I hadn't read that I'd have assumed that what you describe is totally inevitable given human nature. But, if these reports were legit, then it seems that this feature can be more or less emphasized and brought out by a culture, or the opposite.

Janet Vickers said...

Thanks for this article. It is good to remember we are all vulnerable, even those who seem to be so sure of themselves. The absolutely sure types underneath their bluster are probably even more fragile than the vulnerable. I suspect this because there was a time when I felt I had to prove I was right because making a mistake was unacceptable. That's a brittle world to inhabit and can lead to mental, emotional or physical breakdowns.