Thursday, 18 September 2014

Self Pity And Other Vices

When delving into the philosophy of how best to live life in midlife and beyond, many bloggers stress the importance of remaining productive, being positive, keeping busy, working for others via charitable deeds, and practicing gratitude for everything life hands out, every breath we take, every additional day we are granted. Idleness, self-indulgence, a bout of self-pity, a moan about ’the unfairness of it all’, some healthy self-interest, are castigated as unworthy, foolish, sinful. There’s that little word ‘self’ again. Perish the thought it should get a foothold!

Well, I don’t agree. Not in the blanket, no-deviation-allowed-ever way.

What did the ancient Greeks call a person who takes the afternoon off instead of concentrating on filing her (overdue) tax return? A lotus-eater! A diet not to be sniffed at in my opinion. What’s the point of having reached that famous midlife and beyond point if I’m still flogging myself into a frenzy of activity?

I am looking up poems for tomorrow’s poetry group meeting. The subject is ‘Happiness’, which, according to the advocates of all those virtues mentioned in the first paragraph, is the sure-fire result, if only you practice what they preach.

Guess what, not a single poem on Happiness I found, praises relentless positivity, busyness, rattling through the days on a quest for achievement, aching muscles and a to do list with every item crossed off. A bunch of lotus-eaters if ever there was one, these poetry merchants. They are happiest lying on their back in the grass, watching drifting clouds,  their reverie interrupted by the cries of a flock of geese. That’s all they need to set off a train of thought ending in something as fleeting and immaterial as a poetic idyll. (Unless they are enclosed in an attic, starving and warming their hands on the pitiful flame of a candle stub.)

I’m all for it. (The lying in the grass, not starving in a garret)

As for the most vilified sin of all, self-pity, who can say that they are entirely free of the occasional bout? Why is it considered to be particularly disgraceful? I see it as neither a virtue nor a vice, but simply an inevitable emotion. Others may sympathise with our misfortune, but the moment affairs of their own divert their attention, we are alone again, unconsoled. We have to be sorry for ourselves: nobody else can sympathise with us as steadily, as loyally as we, and it is from such sympathy that we draw strength to put a decent public face upon our misfortunes.

I’ll allow gratitude. Aesop, another ancient Greek, said ‘Gratitude is the Sign of a Noble Soul’. But I doubt he meant it in the sense of being grateful for all the nasty surprises life has in store for us. When the people of Delphi sentenced him to death on a trumped-up charge of temple theft, he cursed them. After they’d thrown him to his death off a cliff, the Delphians suffered pestilence and famine.


  1. You are a realist Friko and there is much in what you have to say. Relentless optimism and achievement can be very wearing - balance is key. I find near-death experiences put everything into context, but not too often...

  2. We must indulge ourselves in all these things as it is normal and natural. Time for "just ourselves" is at a premium when we are young but as I age, I find that there is now room for "me". Sitting under the Willow tree and doing nothing other than eating and drinking things that I shouldn't is just fine and feels so good. There are times when we have reasons to go into a deep funk and have ourselves a pity party. I try so hard to move away from that quickly because I know what follows is an even deeper black hole that is hard to escape. Did that once, will never do it again. Now I cry my tears, lash out at the unfairness of life, and then try to pick myself up and live life as best I can. It is not always easy, but I there is no alternative.

  3. Your post brought to mind the poetry of Mary Oliver, and in particular Morning Poem -

    Every morning
    the world
    is created.
    Under the orange

    sticks of the sun
    the heaped
    ashes of the night
    turn into leaves again

    and fasten themselves to the high branches--
    and the ponds appear
    like black cloth
    on which are painted islands

    of summer lilies.
    If it is your nature
    to be happy
    you will swim away along the soft trails

    for hours, your imagination
    alighting everywhere.
    And if your spirit
    carries within it

    the thorn
    that is heavier than lead--
    if it's all you can do
    to keep on trudging--

    there is still
    somewhere deep within you
    a beast shouting that the earth
    is exactly what it wanted--

    each pond with its blazing lilies
    is a prayer heard and answered
    every morning,

    whether or not
    you have ever dared to be happy,
    whether or not
    you have ever dared to pray.

  4. Not sure if we're on the same page if you saw what I saw… Greetings, earthling. Because I was an actual NDE on the outskirts of the Great Beyond at 15 yet wasn’t allowed in, lemme share with you what I actually know Seventh-Heaven’s Big-Bang’s gonna be like for us if ya believe: meet this ultra-bombastic, ex-mortal-Upstairs for the most extra-guhroovy-bold-paradox, pleasure-beyond-measure, Ultra-Yummy-Reality-Addiction in the Great Beyond for a BIG-ol, kick-ass, party-hardy, robust-N-risqué, eternal-warp-drive you DO NOT wanna miss the sink-your-teeth-in-the-rrrock’nNsmmmokin’-hot-deal. YES! For God, anything and everything and more! is possible!! Meet me Upstairs. Cya soon...

    1. Upstairs, downstairs ... does it matter? ... cuz matter will always be matter ... nothing ever disappears ... and obviously you haven't ... where were you? ... welcome back :)

  5. Well, Friko, and not for the first time, we are singing from the same no-nonsense hymn sheet. No one is better at pitying our self than ourselves. Someone has got to do it. And the Polyanna brigade can go and drown themselves.

    Happy and yours,

  6. I think you're on to something here, Friko. Lately I've been berating myself because I haven't been very busy. But when I think back to the 30 years I spent in the same office, beavering away on account books, and raising a child, and running and remodeling a house, and caring for my aging parents and dealing with a loved one's depression -- just the thought of it all makes me feel exhausted and ready to lie in the grass and watch the birds fly by. So maybe that's what I'll do today -- after I've picked up the soap dish for the bathroom remodel, returned the blouse which doesn't fit, met a friend for lunch, and checked in at the doctor's about my inflamed bug bite. Some of us never learn, and never change. Oh well, there's always tomorrow!

  7. Hi Friko - I couldn't write the way you do ... with the feelings you let us feel ... and how perhaps sometimes we need to understand other selves ... we need to work things through ourselves ... quite often I step off the bandwagon and do something different for me ... but I probably should relax more ... but certainly being around and reading thoughtful posts such as this, I learn to appreciate others' moods ... with thoughts - Hilary

  8. Self-pity sneaks in, as you say. The trick is not to be someone who wallows in it, who sees life only through the lens of self-pity. The self-involved ego is such a small part of who we truly are. A worthy goal is to transcend the ego self. Happiness is not guaranteed as a result of such transcendence, but a good measure of peace is highly probable.

    Gratitude for life's nasty surprises is difficult, but we can be grateful for the wisdom, strength and support we have to deal with such surprises.

    Life truly is about the lens we use to observe our world. Perspective is all. Just in case I haven't mixed any metaphors yet - many of us are trying to negotiate life in shoes too small. If we see life only through the lens of the myopic ego - our shoes are too small and the pain and accompanying self-pity usurps all our attention - all of our life.

  9. After years of self-pity, I have learned to laugh at myself for the mistakes made and un-earned or earned criticism. It is the only way, I have found. God has granted me His grace and I need to accept it on a daily basis.

    I do struggle with falls and tripping, but eventually I laugh.

  10. I stay very busy here by the woods
    until noon
    lunch time
    Then it is my time.
    No self-pity
    at this time
    for this one.
    Been there - done that.
    Just happy to be
    where I wanted to be
    in these last years....

  11. I'm having a day of self-pity and so I understand ... have not been thrown off a cliff ... but it sort of feels like it ... an hour from now maybe i'll have risen above this, but for right now I'm wallowing with nobody to tell me I can't ...

  12. Some days 'give us this day our daily whinge' is what gets me through. And a sense of humour. Often black, but always present. Paddling in the pity pool is often an essential respite. I try not to wallow, but do paddle. Often.

  13. Well that was sort of a barbarous way to kill someone! How awful. I guess all of us do get into the pity part bit. I am getting much better at saying no to things I really don't want to do. I got a call today to ask if I might be interested in some accounting contract work, and I said no way! I don't have to add anymore stressers to my life.

  14. Well stated, as usual. I spent decades running around being crazy. Now I still run -- when I want. But I spend a lot of time reading a book in the daytime (gasp!) or watching a movie on telly when I should be gardening or cleaning the basement (horrors!). And recently as I have slugged it out through a very unpleasant and sore something that is too much info for a blog comment, I had the "why me, why now?" moments. My happy is Lizzie, sunshine, time to create things, more time with Rick, having time to take time. And yes, I'm grateful for it and much more. But not the icky things! Somethings don't make you stronger. They make you grumpy!

  15. I firmly believe that looking after everyone else doesn't preclude looking after me .
    And I do definitely allow myself to moan . Ask my family !

  16. Bunch of lotus-eaters all....sometimes these days I feel I am dragging myself to being one - despite all the clamours for my attention and action. Can it be I have found a champion advocate in your brief blog? For some strange reason I feel this is our raison d'etre. So well put, thank you.

  17. As one who espouses a lot of what you enumerate in your first paragraph, I am also the first to stay it's important to stop and smell the roses. And it's also crucial to take care of yourself first -- like they say in the airplane, when the oxygen masks come down, put yours on first, because you can't help anyone else if you can't function yourself. As for self pity? That's what all those old sappy songs are for. But a little bit goes a long way.

  18. I think the Mary Oliver poem above says it all so beautifully. I am not one for self-pity because I feel worse if I start down that path. I do not think keeping busy is everyone's panacea either. I need peaceful times where I am doing something like daydreaming, drawing, reading, writing. Something away from the energy suck of people. But one must be fair with oneself and love oneself at the end of each day.

  19. Aesop ended that way? You DO know quite a lot of interesting stuff!
    "What’s the point of having reached that famous midlife and beyond point if I’m still flogging myself into a frenzy of activity?" Gosh weren't my best pal and I saying JUST this today at lunch!! Yes, I am guilty for putting the smiley face on life in my posts, but I hope the despair and tones of grey and graphite DO lend a depth to the proceedings. Actually your honesty about you darker times resonate with me in an altogether positive way. Glad we've met. I'm learning!

    ALOHA from Honolulu
    =^..^= . <3

  20. I agree with you. Take some time and smell the roses. Lay back and watch the clouds. Find the rainbow. Sit and do nothing. It refreshes the soul. and without soul, we are nothing.
    Work, work, work, is not how life was meant to be lived.

  21. Moderation in all things, eh? And where's the boundary between self-pity and "self-compassion" (i,e., not beating yourself up over things)?

  22. I like to find a balance between lotus-eating and busyness, if I can. Your top picture evokes the laid-back approach beautifully.

  23. A small wallow in self pity is acceptable. As for happiness, I'd rather strive for contentment such as that brought about by laying in a field or curling up with a book and to hell with 'shoulds'.

  24. I lay in that field often and watch the clouds, read a good book, stroll on the shore to see what has been left by the incoming or outgoing tides. I offer help occasionally, am kind and considerate. I have been on that "busyness" trail when I was younger and had more energy and now I am happy to sit back and look at clouds......but then, that "helping another" or just doing it for the fun of it or the pleasure has a way of sneaking into my very being now and then. Self-Pity - AW, just don't have time for that, but would understand and step away. Post very well done for the "thinker" :)

  25. The Greeks said and did it all. I figured out long ago that everything we do is selfish, so get over it. I hate the phase givivpng back. Giving back what measles? Pascal said we humans engage in ceaseless rounds of activity to better avoid thinking about life. So true. I can stay busy dui g the daylight hours but the ghosts come at night when I'm stretched out on my bed. At heart I am a stoic who takes what life hands me and does the best I can with it. Or maybe I am a fatalist.

  26. Friko, I am smiling as I read this post. My early morning laundry is done. The drillers are doing their deafening drilling right on the other side of the wall to my right. I am about to flee outside in search of lotus for eating.


  27. Wow you go amongst the philosophers ! I never pitied myself, I can feel sorry for me sometimes, and happiness ? That depends on moments ! Impossible to feel happy a whole day ! (Vom Himmel hoch jauchzend, zu Tode betrübt) :)

  28. Even a large wallow in self-pity is allowable in my book, enough to bore me enough to climb out of the pity pot and with fresh eyes and, yes, simpatico, be prepared to lotus-eat for another day.

    Who is anyone else to tell us how to manage our lives?

    Only we, ourselves, us, are experts.

    Carry on.


  29. I don't see it as self-pity, but as realism. Cockeyed optimists are just that. Cockeyed.

  30. You sing it, Sister!
    In AA they say, "Move a muscle, change a thought," and that works . . . but if moving muscles is only a way to deny feelings that are in there, that isn't good.
    In my family, Feeling Sorry For Oneself was just about the ultimate sin. And in my family, any one of us had a perfect right to feel sorry for herself. Genetic predisposition may lead to the ability to recognize just how miserable we have been . . . and may lead to the dreaded "wallowing." Better to feel it, get it out, weep over the sad stuff until we're cried out and then take a nap. And then get up and move that damn muscle.

  31. I agree. I like the idea of giving all the feelings a chance to be heard/felt and then moving on once I'm ready. This usually works fine, because wallowing is not my favorite thing to do. As a result, i don't fear it much.

  32. Honestly, I don't like pity at all -- not directed toward others, and not directed toward myself. A little empathy, a little compassion, a little gentle loosening of demands in order to recover from this-or-that? Perfectly fine. Perhaps I'm way off the beaten path on this one, but pity seems to imply judgment: e.g., "It's a terrible experience you've had, but of course I would be smart enough to avoid that sort of thing.

    When we start acting that way toward ourselves, we're on the downward slide, as surely as poor Aesop at the hands of the Delphians. When it comes to their famine and pestilence, I can't help remembering a cherished Texas saying: "What goes around, comes around."

  33. Thank you for visiting. Oh my, you have so much I want to read. I could take a lesson from your writing...the lotus-eaters and so much more.

  34. Hello, Friko, it's a pleasure to read you after a long while.
    You know what lines spang up in my memory when reading your musings? "What is this life, if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare..." I tend to agree that lotus eaters are happier than those ambitious creatures obsessed with achieving whatever goal it maybe. Yet I’m sure, or rather know it from my own experience, that it is the combination of activity and idleness that makes you happy. And makes sense of how best to live life in midlife and beyond. I know that when you lie down with a book after doing something, whether it is finishing an article or washing the floors, you feel you deserve it, sort of being rewarded for your efforts.
    And it is certainly absurd to blame anyone / anything for ’the unfairness of it all’, to make your life a misery by nagging how ungrateful the world is. No one owes you anything. You feel better when you accept this.
    I didn’t mean to sound moralizing, dear Friko. It is just that your post made me ponder on it.
    Drop in at my blog, if you’d like to read fresh reading and travelling impressions. Have a nice week ahead!

  35. I believe we have a need to feel self pity at times. Our bank of emotions is quite large and it is a natural process to explore what we can do with them. I suppose the outcome ought to be bliss but alas misery can also be lurking. Happiness is a wonderful topic to explore. Do tell what poems come up.

  36. We have to be sorry for ourselves: nobody else can sympathise with us as steadily, as loyally as we..." Oh, Friko, you make me chuckle and smile. I consider myself to be a realistic optimist, so that includes allowing myself days for self-pity and general enthusiastic moping--LOL! One cannot be happy all the time. That's crazy talk! Even though I am happier or more content than I was a decade's a percentage not a label. If I judged my happiness on my accomplishments and productivity--my life is total misery--ROFL! I have been forced into more cloud watching. Happiness, to me, is not that you never fall down but that you can get back up faster than you used to. ;) Have a really happy damn day, Friko, my friend. ;) *hugs*

  37. I don't see happiness as relentless positivity. I see it more as the ability to find joy or contentment on a reasonably regular basis.

  38. Nothing like a little self pity to set you right when you've dwelt in it long enough. And happiness? It's always right there, I think - we just obscure it with unhappy thoughts, which, given we are humans with tippy emotions, isn't all that bad. We get to uncover it (happiness) over and over.

    Your writing always impresses me with its forthrightness and clear sighted views. You impress me!

  39. I'm eating a bunch of grapes from my garden, picked yesterday and dropped directly into the bowl. The grapes are delicious. In the last five minutes two tiny spiders have emerged from the grapes and moved across the rim. I left them alone.

  40. Self pity? Absolutely not. If I thought about my life in this way (with my husband’s incurable disease) I would be desolate – no, no self-pity or desolation here, can’t have it. But I can spend hours unproductively and be positively happy. I do love to spend a good amount of time watching clouds drifting by and think everything is OK with life, no problem (as young ones keep saying…)

  41. Dear Friko, I'm not at all sure what happiness is. I know what joy is because late one May evening in 1968 I experienced its fullness and that's a never-to-be-forgotten moment of my life. I do know self-pity and gratitude. And I do know contentment. And I also know that all these feelings can whirl around in us within a few days. Sometimes I feel like a boat at sea with calm waters, then a gentle wind wafting and then the gale of a wind. But underneath the ocean's surface there is deep quiet. Stillness. Silence. And that for me is what contentment is. It underlies are the other feelings that can ruffle and wave the surface of the sea. And contentment for me has come from a long journey of searching for who and what I am. Peace.

  42. i believe very firmly in constructive grumpiness.

    also in being happy. i find it useful to be upset about upsetting things, do what i can, and move on to the next thing.

  43. Lying in the grass gazing at the clouds and indulging in a little bit of self pity now and again --- nothing wrong there that I can see. We are human and moody which these "advisors" on how we should live often seem to forget. Go advise some robots..... Self pity today, get it out of your system, start over tomorrow

  44. Relentless positivity is very hard to live with. And what's wrong with feeling sorry for ourselves sometimes if it's considered admirable to feel sorry for others? Don't we count as much?


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