Wednesday, February 3, 2010

QBQ! Chapter Six: "Why Is This Happening to Me?"

The question (incorrect question! incorrect question!) that serves as the title for this chapter was introduced back in Chapter Four, wherein Miller said it was "not a very productive thought," one that makes you feel "powerless, like a victim" (and between then and now we sure learned what a terrible thing it is to be a victim!). I begged to differ.

Here's how Miller frames his in-depth, less-than-a-full-page-of-text investigation into why this question is "incorrect":
Stress is a choice. Do you buy that? Some people have a hard time with the idea. They think it's the people and events in our lives that stress us out...but it isn't true.

Yes, bad things happen: The (sic) economy sours, our business struggles, the stock market tumbles, jobs are lost... Life is full of these. But still, stress is a choice, because whatever the "trigger event," we always choose our own response.
If you're wondering what I removed with the ellipses, it's just boring lists of interpersonal difficulties: "someone doesn't follow through," that kind of thing. I left in the portions of the list that I left in because I find it illuminating that these bad things that Miller tells us "happen" are not things that just happen. His phrasing reminds me of these plaques they have up at the rest stops on the New York Thruway: "History Happened Here!" These things aren't natural disasters or random accidents. The economy souring and jobs getting lost? That does not just "happen."

People with vast wealth and power make these things happen in their efforts to gain still vaster wealth and power for themselves. Because "the economy"? It doesn't exist. It does what it does because people decided that it does that. Sure, there may or may not be a central cabal of people consciously running things this way, but there sure are a handful of people who could just decide one day to stop.

I'd also love to see Miller have his big house in Denver with the living room bigger than a convenience store and his wife with the Sarah Palin jacket he spent several years of my income buying her and his seven children (three adopted!) and all of his speaking engagement fees and the respect from the corporate world and his appearances on Fox News programs all taken away. What kind of "decision" about stress do you think he'd make?

Now pay attention:
Stress is also the result of our choices. When we choose to ask a question like "Why is this happening to me?" we feel as if we have no control. This leads us to a victim mindset, which is extremely stressful.
Do you see this?

I'd like to point out first that Johnny G-Man does not actually explain why asking "Why is this happening to me?" leads to feeling out of control. The reason he doesn't do this is that it's impossible, because his premise makes no sense. In fact it is diametrically opposed to reality. In reality, "Why is this happening to me?" is a response to feeling--more to the point, actually being--out of control. Things happen that are beyond our control, and we ask, "Why is this happening to me?"

And as I said in my commentary on Chapter Four, this is the most empowering question we can possibly ask. So long as we don't duck the question with "everything happens for a reason" nonsense (a bit of "folk wisdom" designed to serve the ruling class every bit as much as "money can't buy happiness"), asking the question is an important step into becoming aware. And the more people who are aware, the more likelihood there is that we can work together to change things.

This, of course, is exactly why John G. Miller and the people he serves don't want us to ask the question, why they try so hard to convince us not to. As a matter of fact, Miller addresses this very truth directly, if opaquely, in the final sentence of the chapter:
Even in cases where we actually are victims and our feelings seem justified, "Why me?" thinking only adds to our stress.
As we are told time and time again in this excrescence/excrement of a book, self-education, awareness, and efforts to retain our humanity are terrible things to be avoided at all costs, no matter how justified these actions might "seem."

QBQ! Table of contents


JRB said...

Ethan, you make me laugh. Thanks for bringing humor into my life!

Unknown said...

Miller believes that it's a given that we have no power to change our circumstances and there is no hope of ever doing so, so the only means by which we can attempt to retain our sanity is by purposefully blinding ourselves to that reality. He says we "always choose our own response" but the unwritten part is that our response is the only part of our lives where our choices can have an impact. Quite the nihilist, really.

thebaronette said...

Wow, yeah. He certainly is a pusher of passive nihilism, isn't he?

JRB said...

That's a great insight, Rachel.

Ethan said...

Jeez, yeah it is. And the thing is, his premise (that we have no power to change things) is partly true. But because he wants the premise to stay true, he wants us to resign ourselves to it nihilistically rather than attempt to gradually maneuver ourselves into a position where we could, theoretically, eventually, maybe, have the power to change things.

JR, I'm glad you came back and said that to Rachel because for a second I thought you'd been assimilated.

Soj said...

I love reading your analyses but I'm starting to wonder if you're over-thinking this QBQ. To me it sounds like a re-write of the Book of Job only in this case God is the CEO of your company and Satan are things that "just happen".

Ethan said...

Hmm...could be, though I find it hard to believe that the humble John Miller would set up a scenario like that in which he wasn't god.