Tuesday, July 19, 2011


"Last summer, on the Channel Island of Jersey, on a cliff overlooking the harbour, I came upon a worn, mossy covered  bench. A century ago, when Victor Hugo was in exile, ill, persecuted by his beloved France, it was here that he climbed every evening and, gazing into the sunset, gave himself up to profound meditation, and at the end of which he would rise and, selecting a pebble of varying size - sometimes small at other times large - he would cast it, with satisfaction, into the water beneath. This behavior did not escape the notice of some children who played near-by, and one evening a little girl, bolder than the rest, pushed forward. 
"Monsieur Hugo, why do you come here to throw these stones?"
The great writer was silent; then he smiled gravely.
"Not stones, my child. I am throwing self-pity into the sea."


This past week having been home seeing my family in the Blue Mountains, I've spent the gap in between talking talking talking, reading a conglomeration of 'bits'. This quote from an old book was one such bit. I find it interesting to hear how the past, even the ancient past, thought on and dealt with the things we are still struggling to handle today.
"Self-pity," is it still in existence, or is it that it has new names today? To reverse it and think of it as pity of one-self, could help.
I suffer with it, I think everyone does. May be it's due to our in-built character or because of a disappointment or expectation of a person or situation not working out in our favor, as we had hoped.
How have we become vulnerable to self-pity?
  -  it's an unrecognized behavior that's become a habit for through practice
  -  we have copied the habit because it's lived out in our family
  -  we suffer from a glum perspective on life
  -  because of our overly high expectations on ourself
  -  its our response having experienced repeated 'raw deals' through life
  -  because of an unforeseen let down, betrayal or dumping by someone close
  -  due to our under developed skill to get a bigger picture on the situation
  -  we have a belief that our view, method, plan WAS the best and deliberately was ignored
  -  we are agro, that even by using clever pressure, we didn't get what we wanted
With children, self-pity is due to their immaturity to handle their own character failings or control their temper or other negative behaviors.
Sometimes with children and adults there is an agenda in our self-pity - to put pressure on another to give way, 'change their mind' .... and we may even succeed. The practice however can not be depended on to get that result, because it doesn't always work, and we just go on moving toward an automatic uncontrolled habit of self-pity.
In families like mine, the things that cause adults and kids alike to spiral down into a bout of self-pity, are often simply pathetic ~
 *  "Everyone always eats up the best breakfast cereals first and leaves me the rubbish"
 *  " I'm the only one  round here who puts the empty toilet roll in the bin, AND gets out a new roll!"
 *  "It's no use me playing soccer/tennis ..... I'm hopeless. I can't control the ball ...."
 *  " The coach never spends anytime with me, he's only interested in the good players."
 *  " He's happy to play when his friends aren't around, but as soon as they arrive he doesn't want to know
"So many of us, despite our many advantages, have developed to an inordinate degree the capacity for being sorry for ourselves. We are forever alert to find cause for personal grievance in the ..... small things and the great - a late train, the threat of nuclear annihilation ...... we dwell on the difficulties and dangers ..... of modern life."
We often expect that others around us should simply cope with it when we are in the zone of self-pity. But it is a wild expectation. No one finds it attractive to live and watch it. It brings a shut out to relationships and gives nothing positive to the self-pityer.
One writer says, "On it would go, until I felt beaten down mentally and physically and she, at the end, diffused an intolerable sense of the misery of being alive. In truth, she had little to complain of, but by brooding on her troubles, real or imaginary, she had magnified them out of all proportion to their importance, and simply could not escape from them."
"Doubt and fear, the great enemies of human advancement, are born in the darkness of self-pity, and if we yield to them we thwart ourselves at every step ..... (we need to get out thoughts) away from ourselves."
The ancient writer Seneca said, "In thoughts of self-commisseration, a man will discover no advantage but will rather incline towards deterioration and softening of himself, and with this there will come upon him a growing indifference to his fellow man."
Seneca seems to be saying the essence of self-pity is selfishness, and that sorrow for self, prevents and blocks an adult or a child from ever feeling and knowing true sorrow for others.
An ancient Greek saying is, "As a man thinketh, so is he."
Another person said, "Our thoughts have the power to make or unmake us."
Recognizing self-pity in ourself and helping our children to recognize it in themselves, is a start.
So, how can we as adults and how can we show our children, a way, away from self-pity?
1. You could read together stories and biographies of people through history who have lived well through terror, challenges and disappointment. "Consider how countless unknown, ordinary people have overcome illness, hardships, continuous pain and lived their lives cheerfully, successfully, in an unsung epic of uncomplaining heroism." I have always been stunned by the life story of Helen Keller and her teacher Annie Sullivan.
2. You could watch movies as a family - "The Pursuit of Happyness" and "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader". The first is an amazing life story of hardship where the option of self-pity was not considered. The second movie has a character who chooses self-pity, lives with its consequences through which he is changed for the better.
3. Because self-pity is a habit, you can us Charlotte Mason's method of changing habits. A run down of her method is - (a) Talk with your child about a future which could be theirs where self-pity controls their life. Give specific examples using the situations they now resort to self-pity in, speaking of how life for them would feel and affect others around them. The aim is to convince them they want to work at change now.                (b) Then get them to identify what regular situations in their life result in them turning to self-pity.          (c) Offer help in a specific way - a plan of action to help them choose to not spiral down into self-pity. Charlotte Mason says it's like a wheel caught in an old rut and it keeps travelling along, gouging a deeper, harder to get-out of track. What is needed is that the wheel be lifted out and put on a new track - a new habit started with assistance to maintain it and develop it.

THISWEEKWITHTHEKIDS ~ the habit of self-pity CAN be changed. The practice of it is optional. We can choose to practice self-pity or not. Our children can be taught how to change.


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