It was Sarah Ferguson, divorced wife of Prince Andrew, appearing on the Oprah Winfrey show yesterday, in a clip from an extensive documentary to be aired on Winfrey’s own network about her “search for herself” when she pleaded with Susan Orme, the financial guru, “Please tell me, how do I get self-worth?” that triggered something inside.
First, I was watching the program with my wife when I was struck with Ferguson’s desperate plea, as if there were something “outside” that she could “get” in order to become more acceptable to herself. Earlier, in another clip with Dr. Phil, he had told her directly, “I believe you are addicted to acceptance and approval of others.”
Here was being played out something that has become a Jungian Shadow for millions of people around the world, whose self-worth is measured in cars, square footage of their homes, the titles on their desks, the degrees on their walls, and the millions in their bank accounts. With all of these “objective” measurements of value, complete with the best brand names, people have become so accustomed to “having” and to measuring themselves by the value that others give them, that, as Ferguson also pointed out, when recalling negative press on a trip to Australia, when they dubbed her “fat, frumpy Fergie” shortly after the birth of her first daughter, “I believe my own press.”
What is politically correct, what is orthodox, what is conventional, what is stamped as “acceptable” are those whose conformity to the accepted and restricted way of being, of speaking, of acting, of dressing that we have become a “high-school” culture, in which the acceptance of our peers is more important than the strength of our opinions, our feelings, our attitudes and our beliefs.
We have become the pawns in a massive game of manipulation by advertising executives, whose control of the money that draws the designs, not only of our clothes but also of our preferred attitudes to race, to intellectual pursuits, to faith issues, to political ideology, to athletics, to food, and even to body size shape and “sensuality.”
We watch something called “reality” TV, seduced by the extreme manipulation of both the advertisers and the producers of those shows, into believing that these are “reality” portrayals when, in fact, those very shows are more manipulative of our attitudes and perceptions that most television and film dramas. The reality shows cost between 50 and 75% less to produce than scripted dramas. They are left on the air for much longer, with lower ratings, whereas the dramatic shows with higher ratings are removed. Within the shows themselves, the editing and the staging and the final effect from what goes to air is so massaged as to be far removed from what reality actually gives us.
The U.S. president recently allowed that “the reality shows have seeped into our political discourse” suggesting that what is truth has become so blurred as to be almost indistinguishable from misrepresentation. The “reality” of the president’s birthplace has become a chapter in a kind of reality TV show, for the benefit of those whose contempt for the president knows no limits.
And then we wonder why, for example, young children and adolescents are struggling with sacks of unnecessary and dangerous excess “fat” that has grown on their bodies from the overstuffing of junk food in what is obviously an attempt to “medicate” their pain of being bullied, or ostracized, or ignored, or betrayed, or abandoned, or under-funded, or poorly mentored (if at all)…and we blame the problem on technology because they kids are spending too many hours in front of their gaming computer.
Is it not feasible that those games are another “medication” for their pain of being rejected? When they are playing those games, they know the rules, and they know the rewards, and they can trust that the program will operate in the same way each time they approach the keypad, or the joystick. There is a kind of predictability and a kind of stability that does not reject them.
Rejection, alienation, abandonment, bullying, physical and emotional abuse…these are all experiences that have scarred millions of boys and girls around the globe. And the churches have a large part to play in that dynamic. Labelling all people “sinners” as the starting place for the Christian church has given millions of parents license to parent ineffectively, using guidelines that were completely inappropriate to the situation, and to their own children.
In spite of words that commend the experience of love, acceptance and support, we have created a society in which every single person is anther “consumer” for another profit, for another human agent, for another victory…and in the process we have demeaned the definition of what it is to be human, at our peril.
We have created a war with ourselves, in our cynical vision that the more we have, and the more others "value" us, the more self-worth we have. It is a lie that is, like all lies, simply unsustainable. And the price is being paid in shattered dreams of the innocents from all walks of life on all continents.