“Make a child smile—kill a counselor.”
A passable joke and an admirable sentiment. Face it, a kid cannot even fart these days without being offered counseling or Ritalin. We are enfeebled by prevailing victim culture, brought low by its burgeoning support industry of hand-holders and quack fixes; we are considered remarkable—borderline freakish—should we actually manage to cope.
The price paid for the bullshit peddled is high. Dignity is replaced by dependency, reserve by emotional incontinence; humor has given over to grim earnestness, stoicism and grit to flaccid self-pity. To ‘have issues’ is to be interesting (it used to be called flakey), to be ‘troubled’ is now the default excuse for any who intend to behave like an asshole. And happiness and contentment are nowhere.
There is much to commend the stiff upper-lip. After all, sixty years of driveling to therapists has failed to render a swathe of Americans any slimmer or less drearily self-absorbed. Things have gone so wrong, have become so gloomy and over-complicated, when on the face of it they should have gone so right. We have never been richer, safer or more pampered, never lived so long, never endured the privations and horrors of total war, never suffered the child mortality and loss to disease of a previous generation. In short, we have never had it so good. And yet…
Maybe my stepfather had it right. As a young surgeon he endured the London Blitz, operating on hundreds of civilian casualties in the heart of the East End and using his spare time to kick German incendiaries from the roof of the Royal London hospital. Later, as a paratrooper, he jumped into Normandy; later still, as a Commando, he was with the first medical relief team to liberate the notorious Changi Jail POW-camp in Singapore. Ever humble and easygoing, he went on to become a legendary surgeon of his age. And one of his favorite expressions was: ‘I don’t do psychological’. How quaint. How old-fashioned. How inflexible and out-of-touch. How utterly refreshing.
Our problem is we invent problems, pluck them from the ether to validate our foolish lives. In doing so we forget the simple things, ignore the advice of comedienne Joyce Grenfell to ‘live for the minute and thank God you’re in it’. She had a point. We are shallow and spoilt, have evolved into a pygmy race that prefers collectively to study its navel than to lift its eyes to the horizon.
People are no longer told it is their fault, their actions that cause the effects. Their flaws and failings, their weakness and absurdity, even their criminality, can be excused and explained. The liberal-left and its psycho-twaddle franchise hold out the apparent answer. Everything is a condition or disorder, an illness or syndrome, an addiction or compulsion; everything can be blamed on someone or something else, on the system or situation, on society, on discrimination, on your vulnerabilities, on your not being breast-fed, on your mother preferring your sister, on your being undervalued and a third sibling or having attention-deficit or low self-esteem. Hell, it might even be ME. Blah, blah, blah. Grow a spine.
Our sense of wellbeing and our very souls—our capacity to accept reality and see the truth—are corrupted by this bullshit. Individual responsibility is abrogated and elsewhere, proportion and perspective are dropped. Look at those who wailed and screamed along the funeral route of Princess Diana—a woman they did not know—while her own young sons walked behind the cortege and showed heroic self-control. It should be obvious which form of behavior was the more laudable. Yet by her own deeds, Diana reflected and legitimized an approach to life that says it is okay not to think or to know anything just so long as you Feel. A popular belief and one that infects all walks of life. Consider the contemporary art scene. Forget skill and draftsmanship—simply vomit out your inner angst. It is all so self-indulgent.
They now teach ‘happiness’ classes at my old school. God help us (or at least preserve us from this faux-empowerment claptrap). I’m beautiful, I’m special, I’m talented, I’m worth it, I’m unique…They are in for a rude shock. What should be taught is expectation management, that success and disappointment are part of the whole, that rigor and toil and excellence are the stuff of fulfillment, that no one escapes pain and loss and setback (and nor should they). We develop best when we push against adversity or resistance. Conversely, we collapse fastest when things become too easy and we grow too soft. Crap happens and happiness is not a right. That is the human condition and what our youngsters are not told.
Ultimately—however much we believe ourselves special—we are still each of us the ant pushing uphill a grain of salt before the boiling water of eternity washes us away. Accept it. At that fateful hour, the fripperies and foibles, the neuroses, hang-ups, envy and pride, the hours spent blaming and complaining, will mean nothing. Family, friends, flowers and a little faith are all that count. So be grateful and be joyous. Take life on the chin, stare death in the eye, and laugh. For you are blessed. And get up off your knees.
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