Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Power of Ruby Slippers

Yesterday I was thinking about people who are self-righteous about their suffering. This is especially true of those who suffer mentally. Because they take some degree of pride in their ability to endure pain, they find it hard to give it up, I think, when they no longer need to feel it.

My theory that people with bad brain chemistry need to find things to feel bad about to make their bad feelings seem rational coincides with this phenomenon of being self-righteous about suffering.  They don't want to stop being in psychic pain because to do so would mean that they always had the power to change and stop suffering and that they are not tragic figures after all.

It's like Dorothy's ruby slippers.  As soon as she got them from the bad witch, she had the power to go home, but she didn't know it so she went on staying in Oz and suffering from homesickness.  I think Dorothy was pretty ticked that she wasn't told.  Sure, Glinda the Good Witch told her that if she had told Dorothy the trick the girl wouldn't have believed her.  I can understand how Dorothy felt, but I also think Glinda was right because I've noticed that when I tell people that the solution to their sadness is something as simple as scanning, they don't believe me either.  What would it take for the people I try to help to conclude, like Dorothy, that they can stop suffering by doing something simple?  Would they still go through all the suffering that Dorothy went through to get to that point?

I kind of like this analogy.  How can I go further with it? Well, if you really look you can find allegories in The Wizard of Oz.  Glinda asked Dorothy what she learned on her adventure and she said basically that she learned she didn't need to go looking for happiness because it had been right in her back yard all along. That's what people with brain chemistry need to learn--that they have the power within them to be happy, that they don't need to buy a lot of gear or food or pills or books or personal trainers or gurus.  They can simply decide to make their pain go away and believe that it's possible.

I think Glinda was right about Dorothy. She wouldn't have believed it could be so simple.  She liked the idea of a quest, suffering through the dark night of the soul until she vanquished evil and rescued her comrades who proved worthy warriors.  Sounds good until you remember that the quest was contrived by the Wizard who wasn't really a wizard (in the movie anyway) and couldn't bestow any of the things he claimed to be able to bestow.  He was a con artist, like the one who came to Dorothy's farm in the beginning of the film. Dorothy learned she was strong, and that was valuable, I suppose.  And she gained friendships she didn't have before. (Or, if you believe the "dream" ending, they were friends she had all along but didn't recognize how valuable they were.)

I think about these unnecessary quests when I read books by people who supposedly went through terrible trials to get to where they are today--someplace happier, healthier and on the other side of some treacherous divide where they look back in awe at how far they've come.  People love those kind of stories, probably because they conform to the structure of the classic good story, complete with the typical story arc: complications, rising action, crisis, turning point, denouement.  In order to please those readers, then, the writer has to contrive his or her story, make what might have been a much slower, more convoluted, more complex and much more subtle process into a straight-line quest--a journey to hell and back.

It makes me wonder--if the suffering person had learned the secret earlier--maybe learned that there was no need for the quest, that the answer was simple and easily obtained--would he or she have believed it? Would the suffering person have gone on suffering so as to come out with a great story later?  Would the person have figured it out early but written a fictional account just to satisfy the desire of readers to believe in the power of suffering to redeem us? That's what Oprah's pal did before he got caught.  That's what a lot of people did and do in order to sell a "true" account of adventure to the unsuspecting (but fervently believing) public.  Even in Shakespeare's time people yearned for the truth that was stranger than fiction.  So it's no wonder that the Wizard of Oz, old con man that he was, gave that story to Dorothy.  And Glinda let him because she knew Dorothy would never go for the plain, simple, unvarnished and decidedly less glamorous truth that to be happy all she had to do was click her heels together three times, saying "There's no place like home."

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