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Why I don't look at some people's journals

Debius Broojs

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Here's a passage from the book 12 Rules of Life by psychologist and Harvard/University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson: 


Rescuing the Damned 

People choose friends who aren't good for them for other reasons, too. Sometimes it's because they want to rescue someone. This is more typical of young people, although the impetus still exists among older folks who are too agreeable or have remained naive or who are wilfully blind. Someone might object, "It is only right to see the best in people. The highest virtue is the desire to help." But not everyone who is failing is a victim, and not shortage of oppressors among the downtrodden, even if, given their lowly positions, many of them are only tyrannical wannabes. It's the easiest path to choose, moment to moment, although it's nothing but hell in the long run. 

Imagine someone not doing well. He needs help. He might even want it. But it is not easy to distinguish between someone truly wanting and needing help and someone who is merely exploiting a willing helper. The distinction is difficult even for the person who is wanting and needing and possibly exploiting. The person who tries and fails, and is forgiven, and then tries again and fails, and is forgiven, is also too often the person who wants everyone to believe in the authenticity of all that trying. 

When it's not just naivete, the attempt to rescue someone is often fuelled by vanity and narcissism. Something like this is detailed in the incomparable Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky's bitter classic Notes from the Underground, which begins with these famous lines: "I am a sick man... I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man. I believed my liver is diseased." It is the confession of a miserable, arrogant sojourner in the underworld of chaos and despair. He analysis himself mercilessly, but only pays in this manner for a hundred sins, despite committing a thousand. Then, imagine himself redeemed, the underground man commits the worst transgression of the lot. H offers  aid to a genuinely unfortunate person, Liza, a woman on the desperate nineteenth-century road to prostitution. He invites her for a visit, promising to set her life back on the proper course. While waiting for her to appear, his fantasies spin increasingly messianic: 

"On day passed, however, another and another; she did not come and I began to grow calmer. I felt particularly bold and cheerful after nine o'clock, "I even sometimes began dreaming, and rather sweetly: I, for instance, became the salvation of Liza, simply through her coming to me and my talking to her.... I develop her, educate her. Finally, I notice that she loves me, loves me passionately. I pretend not understand (I don't know however, why I pretend, just for effect, perhaps). At last all confusion, transfigured, trembling and sobbing, she flings herself at my feet and says that I am her savior, and that she loves me better than anything in the world." 

Nothing but narcissism of the underground man nourished by such fantasies. Liza herself is demolished by them. The salvation he offers to her demands far more in the way of commitment and maturity than the underground man is willing or able to offer. He simply does not have the character to see it through - something he quickly realizes, and equally quickly rationalizes. Liza eventually arrives at his shabby apartment, hoping desperately for a way out, staking everything she has on the visit. She tells the underground man is that she wants to leave her current life. His response? 

" Why have you come to me, tell me please?" I began, gasping for breath and regardless of logical connection in my words. I longed to have it all out at once, at one burst; I did not even trouble how to begin. "Why have you come? Answer, answer," I cried, hardly knowing what I am doing. "I'll tell you, my good girl, why you have come. You've come because I talked sentimental stuff to you then. So now you are soft as butter and longing for fine sentiments again. So you may as well know that I am laughing at you then. And I am laughing at you know. Why are shuddering? Yes, I was laughing at you! I had been insulted just before, at dinner, by the fellows who came that evening before me. I cam to you, meaning to thrash one of them, an officer; but I didn't succeed, I didn't find him; I had to avenge the insult on someone to get back my own again; you turned up, I vented my spleen on you and laughed at you. I had been humiliated, so I wanted to humiliate; I had been treated like a rag, so I wanted to show my power.... that's what it was, and you imagined I had come there on purpose to save yo. Yes? You imagined that? You imagined that?" 

I knew that she would perhaps be muddled and not take it all in exactly, but I knew, too, that she would grasp the gist of it, very well indeed. And so, indeed, she did. She turned white as a handkerchief, tried to say something, and her lips worked painfully; but she sank on a chair as though she had been felled by an axe. And all the time afterwards she listened to me with her lips parted and her eyes wide open, shuddering with awful terror. The cynicism, the cynicism of my words overwhelmed her.... " 

The inflated self-importance, carelessness and sheer malevolence of the underground man dashes Liza's last hopes. He understands this. Worse: something in him was aiming at this all along. And he knows that too. But a villain who despairs of his villainy has not become a hero. A hero is something positive, not just the absence of evil. 

But Christ himself, you might object, befriended tax-collectors and prostitutes. How dare I cast aspersions on the motives of those who are trying to help? But Christ was the archetypal perfect man. And you're you. How do you know that your attempts to pull someone up won't instead bring them-or you-further down? Imagine the case of someone supervising and exceptional team of workers, all of them striving towards a collectively held goal; imagine them hard-working, brilliant, creative and unified. But the person supervising is also responsible for someone troubled, who is performing poorly, elsewhere. In a fit of inspiration, the well-meaning manager moves that problematic person into the midst of his stellar team, hoping to improve him by example. What happens? - and the psychological literature is clear on this point. Does the errant interloper immediately straighten up and fly right? No. Instead, the entire team degenerates. The newcomer remains cynical, arrogant and neurotic. He complains. He shirks. He misses important meetings. His low-quality work causes delays, and must be redone by others. He still gets paid, however, just like his teammates. The hard workers who surround him start to feel betrayed. "Why am I breaking myself into pieces striving to finish this project," each thinks, "when my new team member never breaks a sweat?" The same thing happens when well-meaning counsellors place a delinquent teen among comparatively civilized peers. The delinquency spreads, not the stability. Down is a lot easier than up. 

Maybe you are saving someone because you're a strong, generous, well-put-together person who wants to do the right thing. But it's also possible-and, perhaps, more likely- that you just want to draw attention to your inexhaustible reserves of compassion and good-will. Or maybe you're saving someone because you want to convince yourself that the strength of your character is more than just a side effect of your luck and birthplace. Or maybe it's because it's easier to look virtuous when standing alongside someone utterly irresponsible. 

Assume first that you are doing the easiest thing, and not the most difficult. 

Your raging alcoholism makes my binge drinking appear trivial. My long serious talks with you about your badly failing marriage convince both of us that you are doing everything possible and that I am helping you to my utmost. It looks like effort. It looks like progress. But real improvement would require far more from both of you. Are you so sure the person crying out to be saved has not decided a thousand times to accept his lot of pointless and worsening suffering, simply because it is easier than shouldering any true responsibility? Are you enabling a delusion? Is it possible that your contempt would be more salutary than your pity? 

Or maybe you have no plan, genuine or otherwise, to rescue anybody. You're associating with people who are bad for you not because it's better for anyone, but because it's easier. You know it. Your friends know it. You're all bound by an implicit contract - one aimed at nihilism, and failure, and suffering of the stupidest sort. You've all decided to sacrifice the future to the present. You don't talk about it. You don't all get together and say, "Let's take the easier path. Let's indulge in whatever the moment might bring. And let's agree, further, not to call each other on it. That way, we can more easily forget what we are doing." You don't mention any of that. But you are know what's really going on. 

Before you help someone, you should find out why that person is in trouble. You shouldn't merely assume that he or she is a noble victim of unjust circumstances and exploitation. It's the most unlikely explanation, not the probably. In my experience-clinical and otherwise-it's just never been that simple. Besides, if you buy the story that everything terrible just happened on its own, with no personal responsibility on the part of the victim, you deny that person all agency in the past (and, by implication, in the present and future, as well). In this manner, you strip him or her of all power. 

It is far more likely that a given individual has just decided to reject the path upwards, because of its difficulty. Perhaps that should even be your default assumption, when faced with such a situation. That's too harsh, you think. You might be right. Maybe that's a step too far. But consider this: failure is easy to understand. No explanation for its existence is required. In the same manner, fear, hatred, addiction, promiscuity, betrayal and deception require no explanation. It's not the existence of vice, or the indulgence in it, that requires explanation. Vice is easy. Failure is easy, too. It's easier not to shoulder a burden. It's easier not to think, and not to do, and not to care. It's easier to put off until tomorrow what needs to be done today, and drown the upcoming months and years in today's cheap pleasures. As the infamous father of the Simpsons clan puts it, immediately prior to downing a jar of mayonnaise and vodka, "That's a problem for Future Homer. Man, I don't envy that guy!" 

How do I know your suffering is not demand of martyrdom for my resources, so that you can oh-so-momentarily off the inevitable? Maybe you have even moved beyond caring about the impending collapse, but don't yet want to admit it. Maybe my help won't rectify anything-can't rectify anything- but it does keep that too-terrible, too-personal realization temporarily at bay. Maybe your misery is a demand placed on me so that I fail too, so that the gap you so painfully feel between us can be reduced, while you degenerate and sink. How do I know that you would refuse to play such a game? How do I know that I am not myself pretending to be responsible, while pointlessly "helping" you, so that I don't have to do something truly difficult- and genuinely possible? 

Maybe your misery is the weapon you brandish in your hatred for those who rose upwards while you waited and sank. Maybe your misery is your attempt to prove the world's injustice, instead of the evidence of your own sin, your own missing of the mark, your conscious refusal to strive and to live. Maybe your willingness to suffer in failure is inexhaustible, given what you use that suffering to prove. Maybe it's your revenge on Being. How exactly should I befriend you when you're in such a  place? How exactly could I? 

Success: that's the mystery. Virtue: that's what's inexplicable. To fail, you merely have to cultivate a few bad habits. You just have to bide your time. And once someone has spent enough time cultivating bad habits and biding their time, they are much diminished. Much of what they could have been has dissipated, and much of the less that they have become is now real. Things fall apart, of their own accord, but the sins of men speed their degeneration. And then comes the flood. 

I am not saying that there is no hope of redemption. But it is much harder to extract someone from a chasm than to lift him from a ditch. And some chasms are very deep. And there's not much left of the body at the bottom. 

Maybe I should at least wait, to help you, until it's clear that you want to be helped. Carl Rogers, the famous humanistic psychologist, believed it was impossible to start a therapeutic relationship if the person seeking help did not want to improve. Rogers believed it was impossible to convince someone to change for the better. The desire to improve was, instead, the precondition for progress. I've had court mandated psychotherapy clients. They did not want my help. They were forced to seek it. It was travesty. 

If I stay in an unhealthy relationship with you, perhaps it's because I'm too weak-willed and indecisive to leave, but I don't want to know it. Thus, I continue helping you, and console myself with my pointless martyrdom. Maybe I can then conclude, about myself, "Someone that self-sacrificing, that willing to help someone- that has to be a good person." Not so. It might be just a person trying to look good pretending to solve what appears to be a difficult problem instead of actually being good and addressing something real. 

Maybe instead of continuing our friendship I should just go off somewhere, get my act together, and lead by example. 

And none of of this is justification for abandoning those in real need to pursue your narrow, blind ambition, in case it has to be said.

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  • 3 weeks later...

You are not forced to help anybody  here. The forum exists so that people have a place to create a journal and to get support from fellow quitters when they need support. And "support" can have many forms and does not necessarily have to be a problem. Sometimes it is enough to just have somebody remind yourself of the good progress you are making.

I can totally agree that some people do not want help, nor want to make progress. Some people like to simply vent frustration and do not want to change. Some people like to brag about their sufferings. But a person that does visit this forum on a daily basis to post into his or her journal is already making progress. And if you do not want to read other's journals, that is totally fine. You are here because YOU decided to be here.

Also, I read parts of your journal and I am happy for you that you are obviously making progress, but I will be bold here now, because sometimes I feel boldness is necessary: It is great to be interested in stuff. Everybody should have interests and most people do have interests. But I feel that for you it is extremely necessary to shut down your input for a moment and listen to your own deepest thoughts. In your journal, nothing is really about you. Everything is merely a reaction of you to something you saw online somehow. This thread is called "why I...", yet it is nothing but a quote of Peterson. There is nothing that truly comes from you. You obviously feel the need to express something, so do it. But do it in your own words. Everybody can react to stuff somebody else wrote. And that is what is happening a lot in your journal and I believe that this is one of your issues. I don't know you, but to me you seem to be restless. You want to stop gaming, awesome, but don't put tons of crappy media in its place. Shut down  the PC for a while, shut down all the media for a while and focus on what you can actually change, yourself. Find the reason why you are so restless. For example: Meditation did not help you, you said in another post. I could not truly sleep for years. The reason was simple, I could not let go because I hoarded a lot of negative old feelings inside of me that would not let me sleep at night. If meditation does not help you, you could also try to find out why it does not help.

You will have a high now since you are applying a lot of the stuff Peterson wrote and since you can distract yourself with all the negativity that is happening in the world, but at some point, you will fall down again and than, you will most likely jump onto the next thing that catches your attention. I am not saying you are not making progress. But I truly believe that self-focus would help you a great deal. Sit down for a moment it complete silence, with no electric distraction running and look into your own soul. There was a reason why you were gaming to the point that you wanted to quit and I believe there is a reason why you are overloading yourself with other distractions now.

Also, Peterson put 15 "maybes" into this text alone and not every YouTube personality should be an idol on how to live life. You are the master of your own life. If he thinks you are a loser, that does not make you a loser. You determine success by yourself, like he determines failure by himself. And even though he brags about how helping others is just for your own vanity, he wrote a self-help book for others to buy.

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