looking good

Looking Stupid

<June 28/08>

I’ve written elsewhere about “looking good,” & how the Landmark Forum folks say that’s what our lives are pretty much organized around. For sure, I think they’re onto something big...

We dread looking stupid, don’t we? You can try & tell me you don’t care about looking stupid. For one thing, I won’t believe you, & for another, if you are one of those exceedingly rare people who really doesn’t give a darn about looking good/looking stupid, I’m going to tell you you’re so rare as to be merely the exception that proves the rule (maybe from another planet, even!)

I know darn well how badly most of us dread looking foolish. It’s possible I’m a little less obsessed about “looking good” than most folks, but like pretty much everyone I know, I sure don’t exactly relish looking stupid.

When we feel as though we look stupid, what is it that's really going on inside us?

I think we feel alone.

I’ve thought lots about feeling alone – & I’ve felt alone. There have been times in my life when I’ve felt not just alone – not just lonely – but abandoned; bereft. It’s the worst possible feeling I can imagine.

I’d better not get started here, or I’ll be off on a lengthy lecture about how human beings evolved to be tribal creatures, & how bereft I think we’ve all felt ever since we abandoned our tribal existence, 10,000 years ago…

When all I really set out to talk about was how awful it feels to feel or look stupid, & how very, very hard we work to avoid that sensation. Actually, I think the more we try to not look stupid, the more stupid we sometimes wind up looking. Y’know? I suspect that this feeling/looking stupid business, & also the feeling alone part, are all too darn common.

I’m going to point out that I’m writing this little item on July 1st weekend, & that all the “long” weekends – the holiday weekends – the “family” weekends – bring up complicated emotions for me. For a variety of reasons I needn’t go into, I generally wind up feeling somewhat alone/abandoned on these weekends, & that can make me feel as though I “look stupid.” Fortunately, I do a lot of talking to myself about this kind of stuff (stern little “pep talks”), & I keep it pretty much under control…most of the time.

It might be useful for all of us to do a little honest delving into our thoughts & feelings about “looking stupid” – because I think when we’re caught up in worrying about looking stupid (which for all I know is, for some folks, a lot of the time), we’ve got ourselves hemmed in by fear.

We become afraid or incapable of relating honestly with people, & we wind up doing or saying some pretty dumb stuff that actually probably does make us look stupider than if we just acted like who we really are, & owned up to the truth. What is the truth? We’re all lonely sometimes – lonely, insecure & afraid, & we all need to surround ourselves with people who help us feel good about ourselves, instead of trying to make us feel bad, or stupid, because of their insecurities.

And, we all act stupid sometimes. We all do dumb stuff, we all make mistakes, we all have vast holes in our knowledge, & we all want & badly need to be loved, accepted, affirmed & appreciated.

As long as we walk around being incapacitated by our need to “look good” & not “look stupid,” we’re liable to continue to do – & say – lots of pretty dumb stuff. Including some seriously planet-damaging things…

I say, let’s all work at finding ourselves a tribe – one that not only helps us feel good about ourselves (& each other), but also helps make the world a better place for all of us, while we’re at it.(1)

Whaddya think?


(1) F.R. Scott, poet & professor said, “The world is my country. The human race is my race. The spirit of man is my God. The future of man is my heaven.” I think people for whom that resonates could maybe constitute a tribe…

Good Girls & Boys

<June 2008>

I’m in my mid-50's now. I guess somehow, when I wasn't looking, I became an “elder.” We begin to see things a little differently at my age – once all the career fol-de-rol & the parenthood fol-de-rol & the great, wondrous roller coaster of life have slowed down a wee bit & given us time to think, reflect & …. be. (Menopause may also be a factor.)

Something that has struck me recently is the notion that we are all (well, most of us, I think) trying very, very hard – & have been trying very hard all our lives – to be such good boys & girls.(1)  We’ve tried so hard to please our parents (many of whom were, truthfully, rather nasty people & outrageously bad role models, not to mention utterly impossible to please!); we’ve tried so hard to fit in, in this culture that places such conflicting & impossible demands on us (be yourself, but make sure you “keep up with the Joneses”), that we have done a real number on ourselves.

I think the vast majority of us are trying so hard to be good girls & boys – with our careers & our families & our 100% buy-in to a (mostly dysfunctional) culture in which “looking good” is the be-all & end-all, that we seldom stop to think about whether the life we’re leading is really making sense – or satisfying us very much at all.

Are we really doing – really living – the kinds of lives we really want to live?

Are the things we’re doing – the jobs we’re doing – the things we are endlessly buying – really bringing us joy – satisfaction – fulfillment?


Or are most of us on some kind of gigantic treadmill, running ‘round & ‘round in circles, just doing what the materialistic & superficial & voraciously consumptive culture we’re immersed in tells us we ought to be doing & finding our fulfillment in? In the way that fish very likely haven’t any concept of water, in which their whole lives are conducted, do most of us ever really think deeply about the culture we live in – & whether any of it really makes any sense – or are we so fully immersed in running in the prescribed circles that we haven’t noticed it is utterly destructive to people & the planet that is our only home?

Well, we’re odd critters, we human beings, no doubt about that.

Even so – & even though I suspect our culture/civilization (I use the term loosely!) is headed at a pretty fast clip for a very unforgiving brick wall – even so, even so, I find our sincere & often quite well-meaning (if misguided) efforts to be “good boys & girls” really rather touching – rather poignant.

Many of us have worked ourselves half to death – with workaholism & various & sundry other “isms” & addictions – in what I think are lifelong (but mostly unconscious) efforts to prove to those gods & goddesses, Mommy & Daddy  (who, as previously mentioned were often utterly hopeless role models, & besides which, many of whom are now actually quite dead!) that we are good girls & boys.

Perhaps it’s time for us to stand back – take a pause from the craziness that is life in the western world in 2008 – & ask ourselves, “Is this really what life is meant to be about?”

As a church signboard in my neighbourhood said so wisely one time recently, “Plan ahead! It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark.”

We all know tough times are coming down the pipes at us, one way & another.

Let’s make sure we’re getting ourselves ready for them!


P.S. on October 6/09 – i.e., 6 months after posting this item:

I just spent a weekend learning about civil disobedience (loved it!). One of the presenters Greenpeace had invited is a lawyer – an awesome, feisty woman full of piss & vinegar (as they say) & in her presentation helped us see that it isn’t just our parents who try to keep us “in line” – the entire legal system (not to mention the whole society) is structured that way.

Think about it: we are socialized to not want to stand out, to be different. Our legal system (I never call it a “justice” system, because it has very, very little indeed to do with justice. Several years working as a federal parole officer provided me with some first-hand experience in that regard) – the courts & the police & the whole darn set-up is designed to intimidate – to keep us “in line.” Of course, we know there are “good” people working as judges & lawyers & cops – but that doesn’t change the fact that the system they work in is set up to maintain “order” at all costs.(I’ve written elsewhere that all our human-made systems are broken. Political – legal – religious – health – educational – industrial – economic; have I missed any?? I often recall that great quotation “There isn’t a problem with the system. The system is the problem.” Sadly & ironically, all these broken systems are being propped up by many, many “good” people. Is it not so? Give it some thought, hmm?)

It’s all a “pretty mess,” as they say, hmmm?

I think more of us need to start “colouring outside the lines;” maybe even taking part in acts of civil disobedience.

Why the heck not???

P.P.S. I've posted an item called ‘We are TOO (freakin’) polite’ that is somewhat relevant on this score.

(1) I think we do this because when we are “growing up,” our parents are our very god & goddess. We want so badly to please them, & do what they will reward us for. We are such simple creatures, at bottom, aren’t we??

Looking Good!

<October 2006>

About a year ago now, I attended a Landmark Forum weekend at which those of us in attendance were encouraged to articulate what we see as the central underlying or organizing principle of our lives (& those of everyone we know).

After we all hemmed & hawed & beat around the bush for quite some time, our fearless leader said two words: looking good.


So much of what we spend our lives engaged in is really an endless attempt at “looking good.” Is it not so??

Oh, of course we do all kinds of wonderful, worthwhile, laudable, lovely & necessary things too. We do great jobs & are devoted parents & we do great socially-minded projects.

But at bottom, the single major preoccupation of most of us in western civilization is “looking good.” Our houses & cars, our clothes & vacations, our yards, & certainly our public face is mostly about “looking good.”

Madison Avenue (by which I mean the advertising business) realized this decades ago. Advertising & television & media in general have spent decades making a bazillion dollars out of pushing product – all of it designed to make us … look good.

The way we dress, the make-up we wear, the obsessive zeal with which we look after those “perfect” lawns & houses – the way we go around in society, always asking “How are you?” & answering “Good thanks…and you?” – we are all very, very busy doing our best to hide – & hide from – those dysfunctional childhoods & families & our (often) currently dysfunctional relationships…& world…

And our pain & our loss & our loneliness & the deep, deep holes inside us, & our gnawing homelessness (yes, I believe many of us who have very comfy homes do indeed feel somewhat homeless…).

We live in a world that worships style over substance – appearance over reality – & by the time we are…hmmm….about seven years old or so? – we’ve grasped that the really big game here on Planet Earth is “Looking Good.”

So we work hard at it. Very hard…

Most of us are pretty good at the game; some of us are experts! We certainly all look up to those celebrities & sports figures & Big Business types who seem to have it all together; after all, they have lots of money & for sure they…look good.

“Looking good” can hide a multitude of sins: sadness, broken hearts, pain, loss & loneliness.

But we don’t really want to know what’s underneath; it’s only the packaging that matters.

Don’t take my word on this. Think about it. Poke & prod at it & see what it yields up for you.

Think too about the kind of world we might be living in if we could all begin to re-direct all that energy we expend on “looking good” into pursuits such as being good – being strong, & resourceful, & helping others, & maybe even “changing the world” (which means changing ourselves as well, of course).

There is magic all around us – we human beings truly are capable of quite amazing feats! But when we spend all of our energy & time on money-related pursuits that are really aimed primarily at making us “look good,” the magic is not so very easy to invoke...


p.s. If you don’t think you’re one of those people who is obsessed with “looking good,” could be you’re right. But muse on the way most of us spend buckets of money on clothes that are, frankly, mostly about “looking good.” Hairdos. Women (& men) not wearing hats when it’s 30 degrees below zero (for one small example). What are these things about, if not trying really hard to “look good”? There’s also the way we are all so afraid of being caught making a mistake, & “looking stupid.” Why are we so afraid to look stupid? Because if we look stupid, we’re not “looking good”…


Everything is all About ME…right?

<written Oct.’06/Dec.‘07/Jan.’09> <much later & similar-in-intent posting called 'Head Up Arse Disease'>

I guess there are a few things we could point to as the root cause of all the messes in this unbelievably mixed-up world we live in, in this the year of our Lord (as they say) 2009.

One of the things that strikes me as a largish problem is that so many of us seem to operate out of a mindset that whispers seductively inside our head – silently, but endlessly – “Everything is all about ME.”

We seem to have (in so many cases) lost the ability to see ourselves as members of a tribe upon whom the wellbeing of all depends – & we seem to think life here on Planet Earth is all about our own very personal gratification.

I think there are at least a couple of major contributors to this very unhelpful (and destructive) mindset.

One is that so many of us are products of terribly dysfunctional families – families in which our most basic needs were not met. We may have been given enough food to get us by, but so few of us were properly nourished – properly cherished.

We learn how to be – how to love and how to be – in our “family of origin.” Far too many of us didn’t get what we needed – what we deserved – & as a result, many of us have tended to spend the rest of our lives trying to fill up the hole that was left inside of us.

Post-World War II, along came television and the advertising business – primed to make us all “look good” through materialism. Pushing product was their raison d’être (a mighty profitable one, I might add), and now we’re all saps for products that promise to make us rich/attractive/thin/happy – but which in fact very seldom indeed live up to those endless seductive promises. (1)

Why did our parents mess us up the way they did? Why have our families screwed up so badly?? Well – they were only passing along what they had learned, Gentle Reader; they were doing the best they could under very-much-less-than-ideal circumstances of their own. And so on, and so on, back through the generations. Think war, Reader – generation after generation of patriarchy and wars that crippled men and fathers and women and families and children… on & on & on…

What can we see in our mind’s eye if we peer way, way back in human history?

A time when human beings lived in tribes – in very small communities. A time when it was neither expected nor even conceived of that the so-called “nuclear family” – one mother, one father & a bunch of young’uns – could ever be enough for each other.

Imagine a time when each baby was born into a tribe of people who looked after her every need from Day 1. She was fed, clothed, held & played with – & her village was a community of people who cared for her and for all her brothers, sisters and cousins. All of them people s/he could trust. Parenthetical thought: for some folks on the planet – unlike for me and my white fellow citizens & our ancestors – this kind of life has existed almost up to the present day, although of course those of us reared on the “Everything is all about ME” philosophy have been relentlessly eradicating such conditions as we speak… We want their land, we want their diamonds, we want their oil, we want their uranium. We have wanted and we have been helping ourselves to all these things for hundreds of years now (colonialism and capitalism, yes?), & on we go, wanting, & wanting & wanting...

So…most of us are not properly nourished as children, & we then go on to fail similarly with our own offspring. We tell them that clothes & houses & cars & machines & toys & gadgets will fill them up – & we rape & pillage our way all over the face of the Earth in our desperate attempts to prop up an entire civilization (I use the term loosely) predicated on the notion that “Everything is all about ME.” And we fail to properly nourish our children’s innocent, trusting, incomparable souls…

Well…so what? you ask. What else is new?

What’s…well, not new, exactly, but pressing, very pressing surely – is the state of our world today, on the eve of another year. I think there cannot be too many intelligent, thoughtful people among us who think things are just ducky here on Planet Earth today.

What are we all waiting for? Are we waiting for “Someone Else” to effect our own transformation & the other transformations that are required? No one & nothing can transform us but ourselves, people.

Change begins where we are. We can begin our own with as simple a practice as the frequent self-reminder, “Everything isn’t all about me.”

We are all on this lovely Earthship together, dear Reader, as surely as rivers & lakes & sky don’t recognize borders & air & water pollution know no boundaries.

We are all connected, the way the spokes of a wheel are connected & necessary to one another and to the functioning of the bicycle.

The world’s religions (some of them, anyway) have been trying for thousands of years to help us grasp the deep mutuality of everything and everyone on the planet, but our tendency (both individual and collective) to be petty and small-minded mires us in self-serving rules and regulations and nonsensical notions about exclusivity. (I recall once seeing a cemetery with a sign over the entrance that said “Christian Cemetery.” I thought “Omigoodness, how absurd is that??”)

I don’t say organized religion is useless (although I do believe it has done and continues to do much harm), just that we need to transform or transmute the divisiveness that much of it seems all too determined to perpetuate. (I like to joke that I don't like organized religion & much prefer the unorganized kind...)

What if we try living out the radical notion that God/Allah/the Creator/the Great Spirit/the Goddess/Christ is in-side us rather than out-side?  This challenges us to act well at all times & in all situations, not just on “holy days” or when someone else is watching – or, at the very least, it can help us strive to be the best person we can possibly be – all the time.(2)

“Everything isn’t all about me” as a mantra, often repeated, reminds me frequently that my thoughts & actions matter, that sometimes (often, even) my own selfish desires & schemes & agenda may have to be set aside for the sake of a greater challenge or good. It’s also true that when I think and behave well & unselfishly, the benefits come back to me just as much as they benefit those toward whom I’ve behaved well or unselfishly. “What goes around, comes around,” as they say, hmmm?

I can think of a hundred things and situations – a thousand! – that can and will benefit if more of us begin to recite this simple mantra regularly.

Dysfunctionality is all around us – no question. It’s in every family, every institution humankind has created (think health care, government, politics, bureaucracy, educational system, “justice” system…and any other system you care to name) – but it is not an incurable disease.

Much, much help, and much, much healing are available.

Actually, they aren’t just available; they’re all around us! And in-side all of us. They are no further than our very own thoughts.

Miracles and transformation are really only a breath – a thought – away.

Change begins where you are.

Make that two new mantras that can help us all!


(1)  Watch the 20-minute video ‘The Story of Stuff’ for some powerful insights on this score… 

(2) I think we ought never to discount the power of our personal conscience. I think we need to make it a personal discipline to live according to our conscience (assuming we have one) – not by some seat-of-the-pants ethic of “Well, everyone else is doing it, so I guess I might as well do it too…” I find it a very useful personal guideline to act according to my own conscience, then detach from the outcome. What comes out of what I do is not the point; doing what I believe is right, is.