I don’t understand Arianna Huffington

So I’ve been thinking about participating in this “On becoming fearless” thing that inspired Julia to write a really beautiful post about fearing photos of herself, what this fear may have cost her, and how she’s overcoming it as she grieves for her A. The problem for me as I contemplate this is that I don’t understand the assignment. Because Mothertalk obviously involves a lot of mommy talk and some of us like to avoid that, I’ll summarize. Write about some way you’ve become empowered.

I want to do that. Really, I do. But at the moment I’m annoyed by prescriptive literature encouraging female empowerment. I think that if I did attribute my accomplishments with learning to be “fearless,” I’d be lying. I think much more of it has been luck.

I have a fine motor skills disability, which means a lot when you’re in elementary school and everything is judged for “neatness” and “speed” and when teachers put so much bloody emphasis on holding your pencil correctly. I struggled a lot – in fact I remember writing in my “Ramona Quimby” diary in fourth grade that my worst trait was being stupid. But then, suddenly, when those things mattered less (around middle school), it all changed. I was smart. Straight A’s from then on, high SAT’s scores, great college, great grad school. I didn’t do this for myself, certainly I worked hard, but structural elements fell into place. I finally had the kind of intelligence the educational system valued and it rewarded me. But I never forgot what it was like to be on the outside of that.

Being “fearless” (i.e., believing in yourself) isn’t enough to fix an inflexible curriculum, cure a clinical eating disorder, escape an abusive relationship, make your relationships more satisfying, get you out of poverty, help you overcome seriously sexist superiors or coworkers, cure cancer, or, as is most relevant to me at the moment, get you a live take-home baby. Structural problems, folks, are what I believe these to be and those are the problems I want solved – although I’d also like to permanently rid us of bourgeois prescriptive literature.

Some of the tools of positive thinking may help, really. I believe that. But I’m an incredibly positive thinker under normal conditions. I smile constantly. Smiling and not fearing, however, is not going to get me out of this pregnancy safely and successfully.

If you’ve guessed that this rant was only inspired by Huffington but is really about something else, you’re right. I feel like an outsider again. My body once again has revealed that it won’t fit a certain mold. My pregnancies won’t be normal and I can’t cooperate with the general rules of how it’s supposed to be. Other people, with absolutely no experience in this hell, are encouraging me to relax, to remember that stress isn’t good for the baby. Well, thank you, for trying to create yet a new source of fear. I already expend considerable psychic energy accepting my rational knowledge that I didn’t kill my son, because technically my body actually did. And then I wonder, are you trying to tell me something? Does someone out there think that I did this with my mind? Well, thank G-d, I can rely on my strong sense of self to know that’s bull. But does it help some people out there to think that it’s not, and that that’s yet another reason it won’t happen to them?

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9 responses to “I don’t understand Arianna Huffington

  1. I’d rather see the real you rather than the default. Takes less energy for both of us and makes us brutally honest. That isn’t to say I wouldn’t like to see you smiling if you are really feeling that way on the inside.

    What I am trying to figure out is whether the importance you place on the external (the structure) more important than the internal? If I know anything about you, I am thinking you will come back with: there has to be a healthy balance. Okay, I can buy that. But what is healthy for one may not be for another given where they are on their journey. Soooo perhaps the key is knowing oneself well enough to strike the right balance….and for you that is ever changing at the moment.

    I do hope that sharing of yourself here might give you some other perspectives to consider…maybe even something to hang on to during the winds of change. I hope most of the wind is at your back.

  2. SOB, my browser just ate my comment. LeRoy, by default I meant natural, but I also changed that in the first minute of posting my post. You’re fast!

    I think the question isn’t whether I overemphasize the external over the internal, but rather how I feel about popular emphasis on the individual over the communal.

    I hate prescriptive literature because it so privileges the self. While I usually wouldn’t argue in favor of the past, I really believe that the bastardization of Emerson’s “self-reliance” has destroyed so many promising concepts developed by 19th century and early 20th century reformers, as well as the positive aspects of the Enlightenment and liberalism.

    That said, I just want to see different books on the best selling list.

  3. Thanks for clarifying Sara! Looks like you and I are the only ones on the internet blogging today.

    Perhaps you should write a best seller that develop some of the “promising concepts” of 19th & 20th century reformers. Of course that is when you have the time:)

  4. Sara- I think some of what you are saying here is similar to my analysis of the word willpower. It is the rejection of the idea that if we just approach a situation with enough persistence, determination, fearlessness, and positive thinking, then we will get what we want. And then if you take this theory conversely, if you don’t get what you want then I guess you weren’t really as fearless as you thought you were. As you know, I reject this idea wholeheartedly. Some things, no matter how hard we try, really are out of our control.

    I guess the way the word “fearless” is being put forth by this author is best defined as “believing in oneself” as you said. That is hard for me though, because I read fearless to mean “being without fear.” Personally I wouldn’t be able to identify a single fearless moment in my life by that definition. I have had courageous moments, but I don’t know that I am ever completely without fear even if it is at a subconscious level. And no, I don’t think those very human underlying fears therefore cause bad things to happen to me or my loved ones.

  5. I completely agree with a lot of what you are saying. I haven’t read what Arianna wrote yet (I plan to) but in some ways your reaction is similar to mine about “The S3cr3t” which makes me want to have an all-out freak-out sometimes (for all of the reasons Lori speaks to in her comments/post about Will-Power). However, as I was reading what you wrote I couldn’t help but think “yah, but.” You are absolutely right that structural change is needed, and is primary. But our attitudes do go a long way toward dealing with the bad stuff, and even help us to make a difference in changing the bad stuff. Somehow I am able to see it a little differently when it is described as being *fearless* than when it is described as having a *positive* attitude. (Although I disagree witht the term, because it is impossible to be without fear…it is how we behaive in spite of the fear…)

    Specific to your pregnancy, I can relate to what you are feeling. Even though I haven’t gone through a sub-pregnancy yet, I expect to be worried the entire time. My Dr. has told me that this is *normal* and that they will do everything they can to help me through. My MIL and others have told me that expecting to be anxious and worried is not a good thing, that I should try to relax. They are crazy and clearly have never experienced a difficult pregnancy, much less the death of a child due to, as you put it, a failure of their own body.

    But while I know I won’t be able to be “fearless”–in fact, I will be full of fear–there are things that I know I can do to strengthen me and help me to not be overwhelmed by the fear. That is why I started my blog in the first place actually. Thinking that we were just about to start TTC I started writing because I knew what an important outlet it would be. At the time I had no idea what an amazing support system was out here as well. I also have some key people IRL to talk to, who I know will be helpful. And I did a lot of research about the cerclage, bedrest (just in case) preemies (again, just in case) and other issues that are relevant, because I know that, for me, information is helpful. I could go on about other coping strategies that I have identified for myself for “when the time comes”, but I think you get the idea.

    Oh, and when people try to say that stress isn’t good for the baby they are full of shit. That pisses me off.

  6. Structural problems ARE at the root of most of the problems in society. We as a society have abandoned our fellow man, and have wondered why things don’t work out differently…stupid.

    I agree with you as well on the prescriptive literature, again incredibly harmful, because it refuses to acknowledge societies role in solving problems and puts the blame squarely on the individual.

    Sara, my dear, now you need to start reclaiming that idea. Your body did NOT kill your baby. You did NOT kill your baby. Your hospital, your Drs., your nurses, may be responsible because they didn’t listen to you when you asked for help. The medical world has a lot that they can do to help us all, and they refuse to research, to treat us or to listen to us.

    Can seeing the glass half full instead of half-empty be helpful? Yes, but only if we notice who really spilled the other half of the glass of water and make them clean up the mess.

  7. I have to admit to not having read the book before writing my own post. But I did hear Arianna Huffington speak about the book, and I looked at several of the blog tour stops for reviews. Mostly, to make sure it wasn’t a prescriptive “it’s all in your hands” kind of bullshit book. And I don’t think it is.

    There are things that can be helped by our attitude, and there are those that can’t. My understanding is that the book talks about the things the author and some of her friends were able to do by overcoming their individual fears, although it is unclear to me whether she talks about institutionalized injustices that can’t be overcome by oneself. And I agree with Basilbean that it’s more of doing things in spite of your fear than actually loosing it. The thing I wrote about is something I can deal with. On the other hand, there are plenty of things that I couldn’t do anything about. A had knots on his umbilical cord, and there is nothing I could’ve done to prevent him from pulling them shut one fine day in January.

    I also agree with Basilbean that worrying now is normal (and my doctor told me so too :)). Anyone who tells you otherwise lives in a la-la land. From where I am sitting now, anyone who tells me that if/when I am lucky enough to be pregnant again, will get a complete verbal lashing. But that is just my “fixer” talking– I think that since the idiot has already caused me pain, the least I can do is educate the idiot, so that (maybe possibly) the idiot won’t be so quick to hurt someone else. And it may make me feel momentarily better.

    And yet, I realize that what other people think is one of the things we can’t really change. So yes, I am sure there are people out there who think we did this with our minds. But that is on them. It’s their fear talking, their fear keeping them from showing simple human kindness and understanding. The scariest thing to realize is that this can happen to anyone. People who don’t have the guts to face to that reality are trying to put it back on us. They are not worth your psychic energy. Really, they are not.

    And also? What Aurelia said. Yes! Yes! Yes!

  8. I like the idea of learning to live with the fear.

    I didn’t read the book, just did a browse through it, and what stuck out in my mind was one place where she said it’s easy to understand why women stay in abusive relationships if you realize how much women fear being alone. Huh? That and the predominance of wealthy people and celebrities talking about how they overcame fears and learned to live.

    I just like reading what you all have to say so much better.

  9. Thank you for this insightful rant against bourgeois prescriptive literature.

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