Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Stephen Fry is Right, You Just Don't Want to Hear It

I think lot of people are totally missing what Stephen Fry is saying. 
He said: “It’s a great shame and we’re all very sorry that your uncle touched you in that nasty place – you get some of my sympathy – but your self-pity gets none of my sympathy. Self-pity is the ugliest emotion in humanity. Get rid of it, because no one’s going to like you if you feel sorry for yourself. The irony is, we’ll feel sorry for you if you stop feeling sorry for yourself. Grow up.”

Many people are surprised/angered by this, because Fry is often a champion of mental health issues (he himself suffers from bipolar disorder). But this fits perfectly in line with a call for improving mental health. He just said it in a not-so-nice way, which has certainly done wonders to get his message out.

Those who have been sexually abused may suffer from a slew of various mental health issues because of it. They may need years of therapy in order to live a fulfilling life, as Fry well knows.

But he wasn't talking about therapy. He wasn't saying "grow up and don't have mental health issues." He was saying "stop feeling sorry for yourself," which is pretty much the same thing your therapist is saying, if he/she is any good.

He said this in the context of talking about "safe spaces" on college campuses (which has been morphing hideously into "this whole campus is a safe space, so others can't say things that might offend anyone ever"). The trend on campuses, especially in the UK where they're weaker on freedom of speech, has been to shield certain students from any possible negative thing, while harshly punishing those students who voice unpopular opinions. This trend is justified by the students and universities because some students may have mental health issues, traumatic past experiences, etc., and these students might be mentally crushed if they ever hear an unkind word. Obviously, this isn't how the "real world" works, and short of eviscerating one of our most important rights on a 1984 scale, it never will work that way.

And so, students who cloak themselves in self-pity and wield their victimhood as a sword to cut down anyone who says something like "America is the land of opportunity," or "you have been assigned to read Lolita," are doing themselves a disservice in the long run (and more immediately, doing us all a disservice by potentially weakening our First Amendment rights). They are exacerbating their own genuine mental health issues, creating new ones in themselves and their fellow students, and are doing nothing to prepare themselves to deal with the "real world" and all its unpleasantness before they graduate. 
College would be a great time to slowly acclimate oneself to difficult situations while still in a comforting and supportive atmosphere (which undergrad always has been, even without safe spaces). And, from a sympathetic, mental health perspective, acclimation is the best thing one can do. However, if this trend continues, the worst possible thing a person with a history of or potential for mental health problems could do is go to college. Because complete avoidance of "triggers" absolutely will worsen and create mental health disorders.

Sorry, I find myself preaching to the choir now because no one who disagrees with me has read this far. So, if anyone who is still reading is a fellow Millennial, know this: we will inherit the Earth. All these kids perpetuating the use of self-pity to get what they want will crash and burn in the workforce. No self-respecting employer is going to put up with that bullshit for long (if they do, their business won't last long). We'll be the only ones left standing, the only ones considered for the best jobs. We've practically won already.

See: No One Would Listen to Stephen Fry if He was Poor (wherein the author goes on some insane tangents equating free speech with the free market in the wrong way and doing some weird anti-intellectual-elitist acrobatics)
See also: The Coddling of the American Mind (which you've probably already read, but if not, it goes into detail about how the safe-space culture creates mental health disorders. Good read.)
See generally: Simple Justice, Popehat, Associate's Mind, and Defending People

Update: Tangentially related: Thinking of the Children, and the Journalists (Ken White discusses why a 9-year-old is a better journalist than most.)

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