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Why I don't understand other people

Further thoughts inspired by Ron Suskind's New York Times Magazine article "Without a Doubt" (discussed in my last post) and by Teresa Nielsen Hayden's excellent discussion of The Culture of Motivation in light of said article.

My problem seems to be that I can see a little bit of truth in everything but I don't tend to think anything has the whole truth. So when confronted by a motivational poster of the type Teresa discusses--
—It is the size of one’s will which determines success.
—Victory goes to the man whose desire is strongest.
—Believe in yourself and anything becomes possible.
—Vision is not seeing things as they are but as they will be.
--I automatically take it as a metaphor (hm, that's not the right term, but I'm not sure what is) that points at something true but I don't take it as a statement of fact or absolute belief. (The bit of truth I see is that motivation can make a difference in achievement. But other factors contribute and often matter more, so the statements aren't literally true.)

And I assume that no one else literally believes such statements either. I assume they aren't intended to be literally true; they're just intended to be tools for focusing oneself.

But that may be the part I'm getting wrong. Maybe a lot of people really do literally believe stuff like that.

Teresa suggests that it's men who come from privileged backgrounds who tend to have this literal belief in the omnipotence of the individual will. But it may be more widespread than that.

Comments

( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
mittelbar
Oct. 20th, 2004 01:21 am (UTC)
I've had some related but vague insights into people's belief in a literal god, but I have lost track of exactly what I thought I was understanding.

Foo.
firecat
Oct. 20th, 2004 11:02 am (UTC)
Yeah, I can see how they might be related in a lot of cases.
rmjwell
Oct. 20th, 2004 08:22 am (UTC)
As someone who subscribes to the idea that motivation or belief is the starting point for achievement, I can appreciate the posters somewhat. But only the context of action: too many individuals or organizations use the phrases as pallatives in lieu of actually, you know, doing anything.

I wonder if the the literalist interpretation comes from people who have only seen the slogans disconnected from action?
firecat
Oct. 20th, 2004 05:34 pm (UTC)
Yes, that too. And I think that people who don't frequently act may be more likely to take the literal interpretation of such things for lack of contradictory experience, but I'm not sure.
auntysocial
Oct. 20th, 2004 01:53 pm (UTC)
Those motivational notions sound to me like they came right out of the 19th century, or even earlier, with the Puritans' idea that God rewards the righteous with worldly success.
firecat
Oct. 20th, 2004 05:36 pm (UTC)
With possibly a load of Calvinism thrown in, yeah.
tedesson
Oct. 20th, 2004 07:11 pm (UTC)
finger pointing at the moon
There's a Zen saying that the moon isn't the finger pointing at the moon (sorry for the paraphrase, but I think that's right). It's about not confusing the map with the territory, or language with reality.

I read _The now habit_, which is about procrastination. The idea was to identify and relieve the anxiety you feel about the activity you're putting off doing.

I take motivational posters like that, not as literal truth, but as a reminder to relax and be mindful (because doing that actually helps).

Motivational talk could be thought of as spiritual talk, in that they share the same goal to wake us up out of the ordinariness of life, a least for a moment.

I've been consciously letting a lot more of that sort of 'success-talk' into my life over the last several years. I'm not sure if it's had much effect, but as a choice it's better for me than making room for more negative thoughts and slogans. It's the difference between listening to Rush Limbaugh or the Dalai Lama. One of them is life darkening, and one of them is life enhancing.

But I don't take any of it as literally true, I'm not sure that it's meant to be thought of in that way. The idea that you have to try something in your own life, and if your life is better after you've tried it, then you've found a truth for you, which is something very basic in Buddhism, is very appealing to me. Having to check my intellect at the door, as much Xianism requires, as exemplified by the current administration, does not make my life better.
firecat
Oct. 20th, 2004 08:06 pm (UTC)
Re: finger pointing at the moon
Well said.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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