Self-pity is, without doubt, one of the most pointless emotions. It won’t do us any good, because it can’t solve whatever caused the upset, no matter how much we feel justified and correct in being sorry for ourselves.
It also ties in neatly with repetitive, irreproachable victimhood, and that trigger-happy tool of social media – “taking offence”.
I read such an eye-opener last week about this concept. The wisdom stuck with me, and is now stuck on my bathroom mirror. I preach it to myself each morning, as I scrabble for toothpaste and fix my hair in the wintry dark.
Writer Gil Friedman, in his book, Gurdjieff – A Beginner’s Guide (Yara Press, 2011), explains the pith of it: “We have the right not to be negative.”
Based on teachings offered by Gurdjieff, a Russian philosopher, the concept is deceptively simple – much like the negative emotion traps we set ourselves daily, and to which general society gives its blessing.
If you read it several times, you’ll understand that it doesn’t mean having no right to be negative. Of course you do – there isn’t a law on earth preventing people from reacting to challenging circumstances.
In fact, these days, misery does love company, particularly on Facebook and Twitter, where commiseration replaces conversation more often than not.
What it actually means, explains Friedman, is that choosing not to be negative is our birth right.
“Negative emotions are what the world runs on … it is very easy to fall into a negative state and then justify it under the particular set of circumstances that allowed us to become negative.
“When things do not go according to our expectations, we naturally want to blame others, or circumstances.”
Expanding on Gurdjieff’s philosophy, called “the Work”, Friedman explains that we are actually to blame if we are negative – never other people, or circumstances – because only we are responsible for our own inner state.
This makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it? It means that choosing not to see the glass half-empty is your right, regardless of which of your other rights have been infringed.
It means that you can go about righting wrongs, and making the world better, but you can do it without self-pity, or a sour mood.
I wondered why this impacted me so much, as it may appear, at face value, to belittle suffering, that common sling and arrow of outrageous fortune.
But it doesn’t. There’s nothing mean-spirited about encouraging humanity to exercise its mystical right to see the doughnut, rather than the hole.
It has nothing to do with ignoring negative circumstances, such as war, or inequality or gender discrimination.
No matter the weather, or global state, you have the right not to be negative.
And if you choose to swing the other way, that’s your own fault – and nobody else’s.