What's RIGHT with You?
January 1, 1970Dear friends,
I've been preparing for a talk with a group of students at a girls' prep school here in LA, and I thought I'd share with you one line of thought that I want to offer them...
Have you seen the Cingular ad tagged “Mother Love” that “changes the conversation” about cell phones? “I have NOT had it up to here with you, young lady,” the mother shouts, to which her daughter replies, “Why do you insist on treating me like an adult?” As the mother hands her a cell phone, the teen snarls, “I love you,” and the mother answers, “I know you really mean that...you grateful little --”
The commercial makes vividly clear that we need to change the conversation about much more than cell phones. We need to challenge the script that so many of us follow without thinking in our families, our culture, and with ourselves. Instead of screaming, “What’s wrong with you!” we need to pay attention to what’s right -- in all of us.
This is not easy to do in a society that bombards us with images, messages, standards, and demands that fake perfection. We grow up thinking that models and movie stars actually look like their air-brushed and digitized photos. We tell ourselves that a lower-middle class kid from the Bronx has the same chance to graduate from an Ivy League college as the child of wealthy executives in Greenwich, Connecticut. We pretend that every American has the same chance to become President that George W. Bush had. Then, when we discover that, no matter how hard we try, we never seem to look like those magazine photos, or leap freely across class lines, or rise to the same position of power as those to the manor born, instead of questioning the definition of “perfection” our culture has sold us, we ask “What’s wrong with me?”
We don’t all ask this outright, of course. Some proclaim to anyone who will listen how “well” they are doing because they’ve just been promoted, or had their picture in the local paper, or bought a big house on the better side of town, or enrolled their kids in the same school Donald Trump’s kids attended. Others pretend that fashion magazines and American Idol, reality TV and talk shows are “just entertainment” that have no effect whatsoever on how they see themselves. Still others withdraw to small towns or the country in order to block out the constant chatter of look-at-me-be-like-me influences. But in our culture it takes a tough hide not to suffer some version of a media-induced inferiority complex.
Women, in particular, tend to express this sense of inferiority by punishing themselves – through eating disorders, compulsive exercise, substance abuse, cutting, and social isolation. If we are ever to stop this cycle of self-abuse, we must change the conversation we have with ourselves and with our society. We must stop asking “What’s wrong with me,” and start demanding, “What’s RIGHT with me.”
I’m not proposing that we all turn into narcissists, admiring ourselves in our vanity mirrors. Far from it! By what’s “right” I mean what comes naturally; what feels real and true; what brings genuine joy and creates calm; what gives each of us individually a sense of purpose and meaning. This changed conversation has nothing to do with looks or achievement or possessions. It has nothing to do with how we appear to others. It has everything to do with the inner sources of strength that we are born with and that we can choose to cultivate – or neglect.
I cannot see in any mirror what is right with me. But I can feel it in the way I respond to the rhythm of waves at the beach, the stretch of my muscles as I swim, the curl of my toes in the sand. I know it from my satisfaction when I turn out a well-crafted or insightful sentence, when I find the right words to mentor a student out of confusion. I bask in it when my son confides in me and listens to my response, and when I fall asleep holding my husband’s hand.
What’s right with you cannot be found in any photograph, report card, or shopping mall. It cannot be bought or sold. What’s right with you can be nourished and nurtured, but not if you are constantly asking, “What is wrong with me?”
You need to change the conversation. So do I. So do all of us – now.
Take care to thrive,