Raghu's Weblog


Self-(Insert Anything) — Oxymoron Exemplified?

If you’ve ever been in a place in life where you’ve had to reach for one of those Self-<Insert Anything> books, you know what I am talking about.

  1. Self-Love: Feels neither like loving someone, nor like being loved.
  2. Self-Help: Feels neither like helping someone, nor like being helped.
  3. Self-Care: Feels neither like caring for someone nor like being cared for.
  4. Self-Forgiveness: Feels neither like forgiving someone nor like being forgiven.

The interesting thing, however, to note here is that despite the clear indication of the utter uselessness of these words, they somehow seem to survive. It is as if these words—such as “Love” and “Help” and “Care”—cannot stay alone. Or more appropriately, the people who use these words have some kind of compulsive urge to direct these words at themselves.

And I feel this raises an important question, that is, why do people feel the need to create such abominations when it is so clear that it makes no sense at all whatsoever to combine these words?

The obvious answer to me is that the people who propagate these ideas are charlatans whose only interest is to make money off of other’s insecurities. But then I also feel that there is something deep here i.e., the focus towards the externalization of the self.

How can you otherwise reconcile the spread of such a fundamentally paradoxical idea?

I mean I could be wrong here, but aren’t (forced) paradoxes basically a way of evading responsibility? Take for example the case of “Self-Care”. Although you could say that it helps you take responsibility for yourself and hold yourself accountable if you don’t take care of yourself. It also follows from the same logic that you should be taking care of yourself when you fail to take care of yourself, isn't it? Thus, defeating the purpose of coining such a term in the first place?

The problem I see here is not that these ideas are bad in themselves, but that they do not make any linguistic sense whatsoever. For eg., if you split the word “Self-Care” into “Self” and “Care”, what you’ll see is an endless recursion in the first word, and an opportunity to blame the recursive self from a third-person perspective in the second. The software engineers(if any) among my readers will know this as the famous Halting Problem, but in life, you don’t have to keep things cyclic, for there are endless possibilities and directions you could take that can help you get out of this recursive rut.

The point is that the freedom you enjoy from being introspective and by being responsible for your actions heavily outweigh the benefits of mollycoddling yourself into externalizing the suffering self and pitying that self. Don’t believe me? Go see for yourself the rise in the mindfulness movement. Isn’t it evidence enough to realize that these linguistic gymnastics is not it and that you have only two options for anything in general, that is, either you can change things or accept it and move on. And for those of you who think mindfulness is about accepting yourself, it is not. Mindfulness, which is an offshoot of the Buddhism-based Meditation Technique, is phenomenological in nature, that is, it is more about the nature of experience than the experiencer himself. The interesting difference between this and the dualistic/monistic dance that you see with the self-<insert anything> type group is that there is no way out of that recursive rut if you do not make way for including one without excluding the (contradictory) other. The other, which could easily have been eliminated if we only knew that languages are fundamentally broken and that using them for anything other than their intended purpose only complicates it further, whether it is with good intent or bad. So, the next time you think about reaching for one of those self-help books, think about how your end goal is never just satiating the temporary urge to externalize yourself, but to handle the experience in the most graceful(meaning aware and equanimous) manner possible.