Improving Ourselves to Death

New YOrker offers a series of quickie overviews of books on self-improvement, periodically spiced with sharp observations on the trends in self-improvement. Here’s one of the reviews:

“In a consumerist society, we are not meant to buy one pair of jeans and then be satisfied,” Cederström and Spicer write, and the same, they think, is true of self-improvement. We are being sold on the need to upgrade all parts of ourselves, all at once, including parts that we did not previously know needed upgrading. (This may explain Yoni eggs, stone vaginal inserts that purport to strengthen women’s pelvic-floor muscles and take away “negative energy.” Gwyneth Paltrow’s Web site, Goop, offers them in both jade and rose quartz.) There is a great deal of money to be made by those who diagnose and treat our fears of inadequacy; Cederström and Spicer estimate that the self-improvement industry takes in ten billion dollars a year. (They report that they each spent more than ten thousand dollars, not to mention thousands of hours, on their own quests.) The good life may have sufficed for Plato and Aristotle, but it is no longer enough. “We are under pressure to show that we know how to lead the perfect life,” Cederström and Spicer write.”

 

The New Yorker authors note this self-improvement thing is heavily influenced by culture and era, and they go back ten years to show a different idea about self-improvement (wishful thinking, basically, from The Secret).

It’s not that self-improvement is all that new, but what we view as self improvement does change over time.  Note the differences between Benjamin Franklin’s system of self-improvement and our modern approach:

“It was about this time I conceived the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection. I wished to live without committing any fault at any time; I would conquer all that either natural inclination, custom, or company might lead me into.”

INcidentally, my favourite commentary on the virtues Franklin chose is what he has to say himself about his failures in the pursuit of order:

“My scheme of Order gave me the most trouble… Order, too, with regard to places for things, papers, etc., I found extremely difficult to acquire. I had not been early accustomed to it, and, having an exceeding good memory, I was not so sensible of the inconvenience attending want of method. This article, therefore, cost me so much painful attention, and my faults in it vexed me so much, and I made so little progress in amendment, and had such frequent relapses, that I was almost ready to give up the attempt, and content myself with a faulty character in that respect… for something, that pretended to be reason, was every now and then suggesting to me that such extreme nicety as I exacted of myself might be a kind of foppery in morals, which, if it were known, would make me ridiculous; that a perfect character might be attended with the inconvenience of being envied and hated; and that a benevolent man should allow a few faults in himself, to keep his friends in countenance.

In truth, I myself incorrigible with respect to Order; and now I am grown old, and my memory bad, I feel very sensibly the want of it. But, on the whole, tho’ I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it, yet I was, by the endeavor, a better and a happier man than I otherwise should have been if I had not attempted it; as those who aim at perfect writing by imitating the engraved copies, tho’ they never reach the wished-for excellence of those copies, their hand is mended by the endeavor, and tolerable, while it continues fair and legible.”

The self improvement he sought was focused on 13 virtues he determined to work on through out his life. They included: Temperance, Industry, Frugality, Sincerity and Justice, as well as orderliness.

So did Marcus Aurelius.recommend the examined life, and so have many others before and after him.

I always am suspicious of any program for self improvement which requires spending money and buying stuff as part of the first step.

I am likewise suspicious that our culture tends to substitute improved accessorizing for improving our personal virtue and habits.

But now I am wondering about the cultural aspects of self-improvement as well.

Having just finished the lecture on being vs doing cultures in David LIvermore’s Cultural Intelligence series, I was struck by how very ‘doing culture’ our modern self-improvement courses programs are, which makes sense.  Livermore explains:

“Our upbringing and culture strongly influence the importance we
attribute to taking care of ourselves, being productive, and striving
for work-life balance. All cultures value time, but it’s what we do
with our time that is strongly influenced by our cultural backgrounds. ”

There are being cultures and doing cultures, and they influence how a culture views the role of
work and the use of time.”

Another explanation I found online:

“Here are some very broad characteristics of doing cultures:

  • Status is earned (e.g. the work you do in your job). It is not merely a function of who you are (e.g.  birth, age, seniority).
  • Status is not automatic and can be forfeited if one stops achieving (e.g. you quit your job).
  • Great emphasis is placed on deadlines, schedules etc.
  • Tasks take precedence over personal relationships in most cases (e.g. your family may not like it but they understand if you have to miss a family birthday party because you have work to do).
  • People are supposed to have a personal opinion, which they are expected to verbalize.

And here are some very broad characteristics of being cultures:

  • Status is built into who a person is. It’s automatic and therefore difficult to lose.
  • Titles are important and should always be used, in order to show appropriate respect for someone’s status.
  • Harmony should be maintained, and therefore direct confrontation or disagreement is to be avoided. Saving face is highly valued.
  • Relationships often take precedence over tasks. Much time is spent on greeting and farewell rituals or getting to know someone before agreeing to do business with them.

Of course, most cultures are a mix of both doing and being.

But, in general, they tend to lean more towards one extreme than the other.”

Me, I’m more in the being camp and always have been, I just didn’t have a name for it.  Other people had a name for it. They called it lazy.  I reject that now and henceforth and shall explain to those people they are being cultural imperialists and exhibiting a hegemonic hostility toward my ‘being’ culture.

(You may also like The Sheep that Shopping Shaped)

Posted in culture, Davao Diary | 2 Responses

Cultural difference revisited: time

I cannot say if this is country wide or just accidental artifact of my smallish circle, but of the four local doctors I know of, 3 do not take appointments. They have office hours and it is first come first serve.

The 4th is a white North American psychologist, so he hardly counts at all.

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The Salimba

The salimba, an unusual old and now new again traditional Filipino musical instrument:

How one is made:

 

The unusual story behind the re-establishment of this instrument: http://www.evergreenmissions.com/single-post/2014/09/17/The-Salimbaa

Posted in Davao Diary, Uncategorized | 1 Response

Intra Cultural

Had a delightful dinner with Korean family new to the Philippines.  We ended up singing songs around the table after dinner- they liked Bruno Mars’ Count On Me, I like Jeon In Kwon 제발 (Jaebal, or Please) **

We all love Simon and Garfunkel, and we got started because the father of the other family and I love Kansas’ Dust in the Wind. It was more fun than I can explain, one of those ‘you had to be there’ moments of connection.  They had talked earlier in the evening about how crowds of fans clap, cheer, and chant ‘Oppa, oppa!’ at concerts (this is what younger females call older brothers or just older guys they are close to).    When the dad and I started finished our spontaneous break out cover of Dust in the Wind, their 8 year old son stood up and started clapping and saying “Noonim, noonim!” *  It’s utterly hilarious.

They ask me what Korean Dramas I have been watching.  They aren’t familiar with any of them.  One after the other, I show them pictures of the drama release posters (because they are in Hangul), and the mom’s face falls each time she has to say she has never heard of most K-dramas I like, and doesn’t even recognize the names of most of the actors (she’s really not much into pop culture).

Then her face lights up as she thinks of  something, “But I did watch American show Friends!”
I’ve never seen a single episode.

I don’t know why this cracked us both up so much.

 

 

 

*(Noona is what younger brothers call older sisters, or young males call older girls they are close to- or male fans call female singers.  The ‘im’ ending is more respectful, used for somebody with more authority or higher on the hierarchy).

 

** Of course, I like Big Bang, and can sing snatches of their songs best, but I am pretty sure our new friends are very conservative about their entertainment and this would not be comfortable for them if I break out into my rendition of Ppitakage, which is usually translated ‘crooked,’ but which I understand is more of a word with connotations of wrong, rebellious, defiant, outside societal norms, wrong thinking, wrong acting, wrong headed, and just not good.

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Please, by Korean legend Jeon In Kwon

Melissa Blaire translated the lyrics a couple months in the comments to the above youtube video:

제발 그만 해둬
Please stop now
나는 너의 인형은 아니잖니
I’m not your doll,am I?
너도 알잖니
You know it too
다시 생각해봐
Think about it now
눈을 들어 내얼굴을 다시봐
Open your eyes & look at my face again
나는 외로워
I’m lonely
난 네가 바라듯 완전하지 못해
I can’t be the one you’re hoping for
한낱 외로운 사람일뿐야
I’m just a lonely person
제발 숨막혀
Please,it’s suffocating
인형이 되긴
to be your doll
제발 목말라
Please, I’m thirsty
마음열어 사랑을해춰
Open your heart & love me

제발 그만 해둬
Please stop now
새장속의 새는 너무 지쳤어
I’m sick of being a bird in a cage
너두 알잖어
you know it too
다시 생각해봐
Think about it now
처음 만난 그 거리를 걸어봐
Take a walk on the street where we first met
나는 외로워
I’m lonely
난 네가 바라듯 완전하진 못해
I can’t be the one you’re hoping for
한낱 외로운 사람일 뿐이야
I’m just a lonely person
제발 숨막혀
Please,it’s suffocating
인형이 되긴
to be your doll
제발 목말라
Please, I’m thirsty
마음 열어 사랑을 해줘
Open your heart & love me
난 네가 바라듯 완전하진 못해
I can’t be the one you’re hoping for
한낱 외로운 사람일뿐이야
I’m just a lonely person
제발 숨막혀
Please,it’s suffocating
인형이 되긴
to be your doll
제발 목말라
Please, I’m thirsty
마음열어 사랑을 해줘
Open your heart & love me

According to this:
Deulgukhwa “Chrysanthemum”: For God’s Sake (Please) (1986) // Lyrics & Music by Choi Sung-won // Even though this song itself is disguised as a struggling (more precisely, hurtful) romance, it’s in fact a political satire on military rule in South Korea that ran for just over 30 years (approx. 1961~1993). Deulgukhwa (“Wild Chrysanthemum”) was a legendary South Korean rock band that consisted of Choi Sung-won (vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards), Jeon In-kwon (vocals, guitar), Jo Duk-hwan (guitar), the late Heo Sung-wook (keyboards), Choi Gu-hee (guitar), Son Jin-tae (guitar), and the late Joo Chan-kwon (drums). (Years active: 1983-1989, 1998-2000, 2012-2013)

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