Friday, July 6, 2012

The Great Self-Improvement Debate

You may have noticed some of the negative critiques of my blog and goal to become an EBW. You may have experienced similar negative comments if you are attempting to become more feminine or undertaking any self-improvement journey. I thought it would be useful to myself and hopefully others to present a series of arguments for and against my goals. This will not only help me fully understand and accept my reasons for doing this but it will also demonstrate that I can see the points of those who are critical. The first installment will be The Great Self-Improvement Debate!

Every individual is unique and the way they view the world and others depends on so many factors including: genetics, place of origin, early childhood and lifelong experiences, parent and community socialization (e.g., teaching how to be the ideal member of a gender or "race"), culturally-transmitted views, religion, current events, media consumption, education, intelligence, personality, mental health, career choice, socio-economic status (SES), friends, and individual preferences. I'm sure there are other factors but that is a long list of things that can result in two people reading, seeing, or hearing the same thing and having completely different reactions!

I think that the ideal woman is understanding, compassionate, caring, intelligent, patient, and a good communicator and these traits require that she accepts that all of these variables may influence her reactions and those of others. This means that given an individual's variables (e.g., place of origin, SES, parent socialization etc.) it is understandable that the person thinks the way they do. It is therefore unwise (and just mean) to label someone as stupid, wrong, part of the problem, a traitor, lost, confused, inferior and other ad hominem attacks just because they think a certain way. Given their circumstances their thinking makes sense and will appear "correct" to most people with the same circumstances!

Attacking a person's character based on their opinions or preferences is not only illogical but it makes you an unpleasant person to be around! Others will limit their communication with you if you have a bad habit of calling them names, putting them down, and using ad hominem attacks when they state their views and preferences. A more ladylike thing to do is listen, state your agreement or disagreement based on the topic of discussion, keep your composure, and refrain from insulting the person's character. You may agree or disagree with the person at the moment, but changes in your circumstances (e.g., learning a great deal, living in another country) may result in you flip-flopping and agreeing with something you were once vehemently against! That is fine because it makes no sense to continue believing the same thing after learning new information that changes the situation.

I see most things as being shades of grey not either black or white and most things are neither entirely right or absolutely wrong. Many people are VERY uncomfortable with this uncertainty and are only able to use dichotomous thinking. What's perfect in some situations is inappropriate in others, what you love today you may hate tomorrow, the best solution may be the hardest, the worst solution may be the most acceptable to others and so on. So I think that for myself and others who see the value of becoming an EBW it is important to consider that your opinions and preferences may appear logical and healthy to some but irrational and harmful to others. Therefore don't become weighed down by that possibility and instead focus on whether your opinions and preferences are beneficial to you and will make your life better. You will never please everyone with your opinions and preferences so don't even try but at least you can be pleased with yourself.

With that said I will present arguments for and against trying to improve oneself and a solution that may satisfy anyone who is for or against self-improvement. Certain important assumptions are made within the arguments (boldfaced) but the assumptions are not always true, there possible exceptions, and they are debatable themselves.

Pro: Why Attempting Self-Improvement is a Positive Thing
  1. Not seeking to improve oneself is settling for being mediocre. Many people are unhappy being mediocre and feel happier after they have improved. Improvement increases happiness.
  2. Those who constantly improve themselves by learning more, seeking higher education, networking with new people, looking for ways to earn more money, seeking promotions and career advancement, learning to cope better with their's problems and shortcomings, learning how to improve their's thinking, or learning how to improve their image tend to reap the best rewards in life
  3. If you want a good life you have to work for it. Resources are limited and there is competition (e.g., scholarships, good jobs, loans, desirable partners) so you have to be better than others in order to reap the best rewards. 
  4. Self-improvement involves deep introspection about one's personal goals, where one can improve, and learning many possible methods to improve and achieve those goals. High achievers, successful people, motivated people, and those who wish to improve their circumstances all go through these processes on a regular basis in order to maintain their position at the top or achieve a higher status. If one wants to be a high achiever or successful they should emulate people who have achieved that status.
  5. Low achievers, unsuccessful people, unmotivated people and those without means rarely go through the self-improvement process, do not understand it's value, may expect success and goals to be achieved without effort, expect other people to provide what they need, or believe that they have no power to improve their status. If you reject self-improvement you may stay or become a low achiever or unsuccessful person
  6. Individuals are opposed to the self-improvement goals of others due to personal reasons such as: beliefs the goals are unattainable; concern for others wasting their time or that the improvement will not bring happiness; fear that achieving the goal may harm the individual, the observer, or others; fears of feeling insecure or left behind if others improve; and fear that one will lose status or certain benefits if others improve. (This is an ad hominem attack so although I would not use this in a debate, one should be wary that personal reasons may be behind the opposition).
Con: Why Attempting Self-Improvement is a Negative Thing
  1. There is no need to try to improve yourself because you are your best self right now and perfect the way you are. Someone will accept you as you are so there is no need to try to change in order to fit in, make friends, or find a partner. Trying to improve or change means you think there is something wrong with you and you are not good enough. No one is better than anyone else. You may admire someone else but that individual may be very unhappy with themselves and wish to be more like you (i.e., the grass is always greener on the other side).  
  2. Once you achieve one goal you will move on to another and never stop and just enjoy yourself and your life as it is. Especially if the improvement is something superficial (e.g., appearance, speech) then you will waste time that you could be spending doing something else that is more important. Desire is the source of unhappiness. You may spend a lot of time and energy trying to improve but fail anyways because societal forces and luck determine success more than individual effort.
  3. Improving may bring on new problems (e.g., financial drain, lack of free time, negative attention) that you didn't have to deal with before. You may regret the changes you made but won't be able to go back to where you were before. 
  4. People don't really change. You are who who always will be. So trying to improve means you are trying to be someone you are not and that is being fake. Fake people are unpleasant to be around and you won't feel good about yourself. People won't really be liking you for you so your relationships will be based on a lie.
  5. The malicious influence of society makes you feel like you should change or you are not good enough. Society makes you want to conform to the majority and what those in power want, not out of concern for you, but so that the status quo remains, they maintain their power, and you spend money. It is a form of social control that is harmful to the individual. So if you try to change yourself then you are just caving in to society's pressure and allowing yourself to be unfairly manipulated and distracted from important things.
  6. People should try to be satisfied with themselves and their lives as they are now. Happiness is in the eye of the beholder and it's your thoughts that make you unhappy not your current situation. If you could learn to think more positively about your past, present, and future then you could be happier without needing to change yourself (note that learning implies change lol). 
  7. People try to improve because they have personal issues. They are unsatisfied with themselves, have self-hate and low self-esteem, think other people are better, or they are confused about who they are. They are actually feeling sad so they set self-improvement goals in the hopes of becoming happier. People with high self-esteem accept themselves and don't feel the need to change. (These are ad hominem attacks that should not be used in debates but for some people they may be true but not for others). 
My solution to this debate is a blend of considerations based on all of these arguments and I consider both sides. However, I am more partial to the Pro side probably due to personal reasons. For instance, the Pro side fits with my educational teachings, I believe more that effort and hard work can achieve things despite luck or privilege, I believe that I have power and control over my life, I have achieved a lot so I expect that I can achieve more and be successful, the people I know have improved their lives, I don't feel pressure offline in Canada not to improve, and I don't see much harm in my goals. I believe people are constantly changing, I think that people may be sure of their preferences and opinions but never fully understand why they developed them (i.e., one never really knows oneself), and we are always conforming to something, even the attitude that one should never conform. My solution or mental resolution is the following:

Accept yourself as you are now, forgive your shortcomings, and realize that there are great things about you just the way you are. Also accept that you have personal power to improve your life and there is nothing wrong with doing so. Every experience changes parts of us while others stay the same. Success may be due to luck or hard work. You may feel societal pressure to do some things, but not others, and actually not mind conforming and that is okay. Everything you do does not have to be a form of protest and sometimes what the masses do and like can be quite satisfying and beneficial (otherwise no one would accept it). The old you and the new you may be different but you can accept them both as parts of who you are. Your identity does not change so no matter what, YOU will always be YOU, so there is no need to resist trying new things or doing things differently. What you like, how you look, what you think, and how you behave may constantly change but YOU will always be YOU. No one is entirely good or bad, self-loving or self-hating, successful or unsuccessful so whatever you do, own it, accept it, and try to find happiness however you can :)

Related Articles:
What is self-help/self-improvement and it's history
Forget positive thinking, try positive action (great)
It's never too late to change your life (so appropriate)
7 Habits of unhappy people (sound familiar?)
7 Habits of highly ineffective people
How to not care too much about what other people think about you
Pick The Brain self-improvement site
Self Help Zone
Just found this post that I think is appropriate called Black Girls Do Everything. I have to post this quote from my_reply's comment:
It is definitely a class thing because middle class black people do many of the same things white people do. Upper income black people do many of the things upper income white people do. The bad thing is that since the black underclass is glorified in hip hop culture, many people see no reason to move up the social ladder. There are middle class and upper income black people emulating the black underclass. They think that they have to do so to act black. This is bad because it encourages middle class black people that we need so much to become more insular. The black underclass should be emulating the black middle class. White people make fun of low class white people and celebrate middle class white people. Black people make fun of middle class black people who don’t speak Ebonics and are productive members of society while celebrating the black underclass.

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