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A very dubious look at "6 Harsh Truths" - Input Junkie
December 24th, 2012
02:03 pm


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A very dubious look at "6 Harsh Truths"
Recently, I saw a number of recommendations from more or less independent sources for 6 Harsh Truths that Will Make You a Better Person by David Wong. Having read it, I found it to be a bunch of half truths that I consider unlikely to work well as advice.

The Cracked article starts out promising that it's good advice for everyone whose life isn't going superbly.

David Wong says he wishes this was advice he'd been given. In other words, he hasn't checked on whether it's advice that works for anyone, nor does he actually know whether this advice would have been good for him back in 1995. I've sent myself an email reminder to post in six months asking about what effect that article has had on anyone's life.

The basic theme of the article is that you're only well-treated for what you bring to other people's lives. You're worthless otherwise.

This is a half-truth. What you bring to other people's lives matters. However, the reason I'm posting about this is that I believe framing the message that way is actively dangerous for depressed people. The thing is, if you don't believe you're worth something no matter what, you won't do the work of making your life better.

I realize not everyone will read the article the same way. It's even possible that I see it as a comprehensive attack because I'm fucked up. However, the article is addressed to what the author believes is fucked up people, so I think some thought should be given to what that audience is like especially since part of the theme of the article is that nothing matters but results. If you're trying to help people live better lives, and the actual result of your effort is to leave some of them in worse shape, perhaps you should be interested in actual effects-- especially if your message is that nothing matters but results.

Part of what was driving that negative self-talk I mentioned above was the feeling that there were huge numbers of people who were enthusiastically despising me, or at least they would if they knew me. This is taking things personally in a way that doesn't make sense, but I do think that contempt is common currency for a lot of bloggers and trolls.

It's true that not having faults isn't enough.

"Don't like the prospect of pouring all of that time into a skill? Well, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that the sheer act of practicing will help you come out of your shell -- I got through years of tedious office work because I knew that I was learning a unique skill on the side. People quit because it takes too long to see results, because they can't figure out that the process is the result."

This is false, or at least seriously incomplete. Just grinding leads to some improvement, but actual excellence takes thinking about what you're doing and experimenting to make improvements. For a lot of people, this is even harder than grinding, but it's important to know the difference.

"You Hate Yourself Because You Don't Do Anything"

This is another of those half-truths. Not doing anything can lead to self-hatred, but there are accomplished people who are depressed anyway. This is not a suggestion to give up on doing things, but depression can have mental causes other than inactivity, and it can be a physical problem. Depression may need to be addressed as a separate issue from doing things.

Part of what was making me crazy about the article was that it seemed to have a message of "You're not good enough to be trusted to have any worthwhile motivations. If someone superior kicks you hard enough, maybe you won't be a piece of shit." On a reread and in a calmer state of mind, it doesn't seem quite that bad, but it does seem like more than a bit of a superiority dance.

I'm interested in hearing about times you've given or taken advice (preferably with some information about tone and whether you think it mattered) and it worked at least well enough for the recipient to try it.

This entry was posted at http://nancylebov.dreamwidth.org/1001296.html. Comments are welcome here or there. comment count unavailable comments so far on that entry.

(6 comments | Leave a comment)

[User Picture]
Date:December 24th, 2012 08:48 pm (UTC)
This is a classic example, distilled to its concentrated essence as only the Internet can do, of the kind of post that used to trigger the hell out of me. Last year this would have left me completely ruined the day I read it.

Of course, these days I have so much drama in my life that I don't have the spare energy to get upset by a Cracked article.

But yeah, it's mean-spirited triggery crap that is really destructive to depressives (and the rest of us sub-clinical guilt-trippers and recovering melancholiacs).

Some people seem to thrive on kick-in-the-pants rhetoric. These are generally folks of a much more robust temperament and the privilege of an environment where they can take for granted that they'll be respected. They mostly weren't raised on a steady diet of "You're not good enough to be trusted to have any worthwhile motivations. If someone superior kicks you hard enough, maybe you won't be a piece of shit." If you've spent your formative years getting that drilled into you, god knows you don't need a Cracked article to remind you.
[User Picture]
From:Michael Vassar
Date:December 25th, 2012 08:49 pm (UTC)


I totally agree that this article is largely bad advice, somewhat malicious, and unlikely to be helpful, and I say that as someone who has endorsed http://inoveryourhead.net/maybe-you-should-just-stop-being-a-fucking-pussy/ on Facebook, so I don't dislike the general style much.
[User Picture]
Date:December 24th, 2012 10:04 pm (UTC)
I started hating well-meant advice as a kid when the adults would exhort one to "Smile and the world will smile with you!" No, it didn't. Also, I noticed that boys didn't get told that, only girls. (You asked for personal experience; I've no doubt there are plenty who will attest to the opposite.) Girls were also exhorted to smile and be sweet or you wouldn't get a husband, yadda.

The seventies were supposed to break through all that programming, but what was most consistent around me was that if you didn't sleep with any guy who asked, you were a fucked up prude with "baggage." And if you did sleep with them, you weren't to expect anything because that was "putting your baggage on them."

I'm already starting to simplify too much, but yeah, basically, sound=bite type advice mostly drove me batshit, making me wonder why it worked for everyone else but not me.

The things that did work for me were older, but that's a whole nother topic, and I suspect not at all appropriate here.
Date:December 26th, 2012 01:02 am (UTC)
I've enjoyed Cracked.com a lot, but personally I stick to the funny trivia about movies and pop culture. The rest I just roll my eyes at. Sad as it sounds, the guy who wrote the article probably thought he was being funny.

I don't give advice as often I used to, and probably less and less as time goes on. It's not as if I got out of life what I intended to, so I usually just stick to helping my students with organizing essays and correcting their grammar. And I can name off the top of my head some very rich writers who would be unknown today if they took my advice on how to write a better novel, just because I didn't like their novels but lots of other people did. About the only think I really feel comfortable advising people about is weight lifting, since I use myself as an experimental subject, but even then I tried to help a friend lift weights and discovered he would need about a year of yoga to get enough mobility. WHen I look back on my life, I really wish I'd kept my mouth shut more often.
[User Picture]
Date:December 30th, 2012 11:53 pm (UTC)
Well... it IS Cracked.com, after all; not a counseling site, survivors-of forum, or motivational consultant firm. What can one reasonably expect from a site that also has 'serious' discussions of the Zombie Apocalypse?

The argument that " framing the message that way is actively dangerous for depressed people" is an example of an appeal to consequences. Anyone so depressed that they are actively endangered by the opinions of some guy on Cracked.com is in need of some sort of intervention - seriously, consider the source; it's like saying someone could be 'endangered' by Mad Magazine.

I see a whole lot of people whose depression is specifically based in their sense of entitlement. As adults, they still expect unconditional love, praise for their least efforts, forebearance when they make no effort, tolerance for their tedious traits, accommodations for their countless 'issues', and respect for their 'potential', however unfulfilled. Since, as adults, they are never going to see these expectations fulfilled, they camp out in Maladaptive Schema Domain #1, 'Rejection and Abandonment', eating worms.

Of advice I have received: from my mentor Mrs. Weinberger, back in 1971, the advice to stop viewing human behavior as good/bad, right/wrong, or logical/illogical, but rather to frame it as appropriate/inappropriate in context.

From my friend and counselor Maya Brutton, considerable advice on what to wear or not wear; how to sit, stand, introduce myself; what to say, how to carry on a civil conversation in good society - basically, how not to look like a gawky teenage geek, despite being precisely that.

From my High Priestess, Lady Nakomis, more good counsel than I could recount, including "You're not fourteen now" when I was whining (at age 21) about what had happened back then.... "Thou shalt not try to make sense of 'crazy'; it's 'crazy' because it doesn't make sense".... and "Confusion is what you do when you're trying not to know what you know."

To that, I would add a corollary: "Depression is what you do when you're trying not to feel what you feel." Of course there are physical causes - most commonly, years of bad nutrition, insufficient hydration, poor breathing, poor posture, poor sleep, ingestion of toxins and allergens, constant exposure to bad frequencies of light and sound, insufficient or incorrect exercise, and chronic adrenal arousal from emotional stress. In which case, the only remedy is 'doing something' to live a healthier lifestyle, even if it's only the tiniest first step like drinking some water or taking a walk.
[User Picture]
Date:January 11th, 2013 07:33 pm (UTC)
I think a lot of times people who are emotionally sound don't understand how terrible advice that works for them can be for others. This reminds me of the objection to TDT that the teachers didn't seem to notice at Minicamp, mainly that if you tell someone who's depressed that if they fail once they're going to fail forever, that is REALLY BAD.
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