Custom-Made Wisdom for Living
A broad-minded psychotherapist with a taste for philosophy is likely to view those pearls of wisdom as useful therapeutic guidelines with a power to redirect our thinking along more constructive and life-supporting channels. Actually, most of truisms in psychotherapy could find their match in those slogans of immortal wisdom about man and his life.
Due to an easily acceptable logic in those truisms, they became a treasure of street-smartness and a savvy way of interacting with others - which could also be called "common sense". They also became a model for people's "personal principles" to live by.
However, what is unforgivably overlooked in all that setting of the "norms of normalcy" is the fact that we are all very different, and what in those therapeutic and guiding truisms may apply to some of us, may be completely wrong for others.
In this article I'd like to show how "common" is not the right word in a good procedural psychotherapy, and those treasures of perennial wisdom are not a universally valid currency.
I am not talking about those which form a solid basis for a moral coexistence, but rather those that are supposed to help us in forming our mindsets, our emotional responses to life, as well as our attitudes in interpreting ourselves, others, and life.
Logic Works Differently for Different Folks
Let's start having fun with some of those shiny examples of immortal wisdom and their therapeutic overtones with that well known saying: "Don't cry over the spilled milk". It certainly sounds like a nice and useful reminder that whatever is done is done, and we can't turn the time backwards to edit it.
A position like that may help those individuals who found themselves emotionally stuck in some past incident involving their "big and unforgivable mistake". Elaborating on that slogan therapist can really give some closure and peace of mind to a guilt-ridden patient.
However, there is another possible type of mentality who constantly makes thoughtless mistakes and finds instant excuses led by that very slogan. "Don't cry over the spilled milk" to him sounds like a convenient "Que serra - serra" attitude allowing him to always promptly "sweep it all under the rug".
Taken Both Ways Crosses Them Out
"The only thing to fear is fear itself" is another sweet delusion that many have bought from a war time American president - posing as a universally acceptable wisdom. On one hand, yes, it has a potential to be beneficial to those folks who out of a habit worry about anything at all, as a reminder that no boogie-man is lurking from the uncertainties of future to damage their life.
But then, the slogan could also be taken as an encouragement to a certain type of hot-heads to mindlessly dive into a danger. Something of that wisdom prompted that religious fanatic in Germany a few years ago to jump into the lion's den in the zoo - getting instantly killed by the beast. Well, obviously " the spirit of Daniel didn't bother showing up to prevent it".
Indeed, cemeteries and penitentiaries are full of those who followed the wisdom of "fear is not a good reason to stop me".
A Bit of Pessimistic Wisdom
Let's see the next priceless piece of wisdom, this one pertaining to friendship: "Don't confide to your friend what your enemy is not supposed to know". Even with this obvious touch of irony, the advice could apply to those overly trusting folks who will disclose those most intimate and potentially self-damaging details of their private life to their friends.
However, to a great number of others it would be a paranoid position preventing them from a close friendship and all that it stands for. It is not uncommon that women will share with their close female friends some stuff that they wouldn't with their husbands. And "boys will be boys" as well, talking about things that their wives might not see as appropriate, exchanging experiences and advices that are for male ears only.
My Own Unintentional Contribution to Therapeutic Confusion
Allow me to insert an explanation - not an excuse - for my own apparent contradictory statements within the diversity of my articles. While not fancying to be anybody's therapist, I write about human nature and psycho-philosophy of living as I understand it - mostly trying to positively inspire my readers who may need an inspiration.
Being my own version of an individualist, I don't like generalizing and making any slogans sound as if chiseled in stone. There is no "one-fit-all" approach to what we usually call "human condition", so I am bound to make some statements from article to article that are contradicting each other - having in mind that enormous variety of mentalities. Psychology at its best is only an interpretive art, not an exact science, and it's all a matter of a most useful perspective.
You might even compare it to doctor's prescribing different remedies for same symptoms with different underlying causes. It doesn't mean that "he can't make up his mind" or something. And since I am not in a position to know personally all those readers with different issues, I have to let them "intuitively self-medicate" - choosing of my writing what best appeals to them.
Thus, someone reading my article about "letting all emotions flow naturally by their own course" may find it unacceptable for their kind of emotionality - but will find an inspiration in another one which is talking about "our power to consciously choose what we feel".
In my studious efforts to understand human nature I never made myself a "follower" of any particular "school" which might dictate a model of interpretation covering everyone's needs. Hence this apparent contradiction which you may find in my different articles.
However, I haven't made it a secret that my favorite approach, which I utilize in my own self-discipline, is the one of personal sovereignty which includes an urgency that we trust our own healing capabilities and use our own minds, free of suggestive influences from society and culture market.
This allowing different approaches also happens to be the main theme of this article.
What Relaxes One - Makes Another Restless
Those among the wisdom slogans that are oriented towards being therapeutic are the main target of my critique. For example: "Relax your troubles away" is not specifying "how" to relax. To most of us relaxing means doing nothing and turning down the volume of that inner chatter that makes us tense. And indeed, many of us may draw a lot of psycho-physical benefits out of it, which has been proven time and time again.
However, there are folks who feel much better when "in their element", engaging in some activities which may even involve a physical stress. My late father was a maintenance mechanic who passionately loved his job. There he felt as "somebody", being respected for keeping those machines running.
After our returning from a two-week vacation in Cancun, we were showing off our photos, with each one sighing in regret that it was all over - when my old man said: "I see, you had a great time there, but to be honest with you, I would die of boredom at a touristic resort." He worked till he was 76, and only quit after he got a bleeding ulcer at work.
Another example was the one about a reporter who was testing his ability to produce pleasant alpha brain waves hooked on bio-feedback machine. The more he relaxed, the less of an "alpha" was being displayed on the monitor. Then the experimenters asked him to think of the most dynamic situations on his job - and there went a lot of those pleasure waves on the screen.
No Eating by the Book - Listen to Your Own Body
What has become a "common knowledge" in the field of nutrition might as well be renamed into "common ignorance". Tons of books are telling us what is an optimal way to eat, to lose weight, to get more energy, and to heal our bodies.
To be honest with you, I am always suspicious whenever I see this magnitude of literature about "how-to", as one question starts bothering my mind: if something is definitely proven to be right, it all fits into one medium size book, not shelves filled with books.
It would even be plausible if the authors bothered to mention something in my style, like "try it for a while, and if it doesn't work for you, try something from another book". But wait, that would ruin their authority in the matter, as it would resemble the weather forecaster who would say: "It will be sunny - unless it rains".
So they have to make themselves sound like real experts stating something like "it's the ONLY right way to eat." As we all know, what may be a treat to one person may send another to the Intensive Care. With so many allergies, food sensitivities, and constitutional individualities among us, no one should really go so ambitious as to claim their recipe for health to be the "only" right one.
In the Relativity of Everything
So, how to go about all that mess of half-truths, opposites being equally true, and all that confusing wisdom of ages? Four words: using our own minds.
The only square root of wisdom derived from it would be to go more relativistic in life and junk those views that are suggestively leaning towards absolutes of any kind. It's all really a matter of balance that allows a grey area in all aspects of life. Nothing is "necessarily" the way it imposes itself as obvious at the first glance. And logic may be used in different ways giving us oftentimes opposite results.
That's where our sense of individualism has to overrun our collectivistic tendencies to accept whatever appears "good for everybody". And, if I would want to make it a little funny - as I often do - let's be wise about being wise.