My daughter often experiences a great deal of stress in her life. Although she loves her friends and loves school, she also finds the world of high school to be very challenging. She sat down for dinner a few weeks ago and announced, “I’m in a terrible mood. I’m mad. I even hate that plate because it’s telling me what to do.”
This was the plate she was pointing to when she made those statements:
The plate has sayings written on the edge like, “Have fun. Give thanks, Count your blessings. Create memories. Enjoy the journey.” And all of the statements are in the imperative. Zoe is right. The plate is telling her what to do. I almost laughed at what she said in part because she was half joking but mostly because I saw myself in her reaction.
I don’t like the plate, either. It was bundled together with something else that I bought several years ago as a “bonus gift”. I kept it because it is a very handy size and shape. I like the platter but I dislike the sayings and I have a knee jerk rejection of the imperative mood in which the statements are made. “Don’t tell me what to do, Platter of Platitudes!”
I feel the same way about those motivational business posters, “Aim high!” “Reach success!” “Take risks!” I feel irrational irritation. “Don’t tell me what to do, Poster of Platitudes! You’re not the boss of me”
I have a confession to make. Although I am a practicing clinical psychologist, a blogger, and an active reader of blogs, I read only one mental health blog. I have actively disliked all of the others that I have read especially the ones that are life coaching oriented. I like don’t like a blog post that tries to tell me how to live my life even if I agree with everything it says. I have a particular issue with the use of the second person voice, for example, “What goal will YOU make today?” “Don’t tell me what to do, you bossy boots!”
The irony of my attitude in light of the fact that I advise people for a living is not lost on me. I do not, however, think that I am closed off to receiving help from others or considering another way of living my life. I love a good self-help book. I’ve participated in psychotherapy from psychologists and religious counseling. If I remove my knee jerk rejection response I also don’t begrudge people who find a lot of value in these media.
Marshall McLuhan famously said, “The medium is the message.” My understanding is that part of what he was saying is that the medium in and of itself not only impacts the content of the message but it is also part of what’s communicated.
Posters, platters, and blog posts are short. As for a blog, although it can have a cumulative impact over time, develop themes, and burrow itself into deep places, they are typically not read from start to be finish. Consequently, a blog reads more like a series of essays. Individual posts tend to be self-contained. Regular readers may be able to see the narratives that emerge over time but the posts themselves have to stand on their own so that a new reader will not get lost.
Short writing tends to be prescriptive, declarative, and bullet pointed. And the mental health blogs are attempting to use a short medium to convey truths that apply to a broad group of people. This tends to result in pictures of life that are simple or incredibly idealistic. Short writing about life also tends to be tidy.
And you know what else? A lot of life, especially life change, is about relationships and trust. I am very relationally oriented even when it comes to the way I view myself. I have mentioned in the past that prior to being diagnosed with cancer, I had wanted to write a psychology blog. But I just couldn’t figure out how to make it work so that writing it would be enjoyable for me and potentially useful for other people. There are specific skills about which I could write and I have done that in the past in my work in curriculum and standardized intervention development. But you know what? That is hard hard hard hard work to do well. At least for me.
When I got cancer, I decided to blog at the suggestion of my mom. Cancer is a life changer that made me think about how I wanted to live my life. I made a lot of changes in my thinking and behavior. I reached for success, I took risks, I almost all of the things I see in the “short message” media. But since my blog is a personal blog, it is written in the first person. And my life is complicated, messy, and interpersonally connected. Some people get great comfort from short messages. But I am one of those people who is often distressed by messages that are tidy, simple, and idealistic. That’s because I have a hard time seeing the world that way and further, as a recovering perfectionist, ideals instead of being aspirational, often lead me toward a lack of acceptance of my short-comings. I get a lot of comfort from the real world. It reminds me that there is a great deal of beauty without the requirement of perfection.
I have come to realize that by having a personal blog about cancer and my life, I have a great deal of freedom. I don’t have to write truths that apply to a wide cast of characters. I speak only for myself. What a gift. I can start off this post being irritated with a platter and end up not only feeling incredible gratitude for what I have in my life, but gaining a little more acceptance for the different ways in which people approach happiness and life change.