[Editor’s note: Every Wednesday, New York City’s own Andrew W.K. takes your life questions and sets you safely down the right path to a solution, a purpose, or — no surprise here — a party. Need his help? Just ask: AskAWK@villagevoice.com]
About a year ago, I discovered that my self righteous, astrological, new age spiritual pseudo-artistic progressive, fake, socialist, feminist girlfriend cheated on me. Actually, she had been cheating on me with a bunch of random dudes for many months. In fact, it seems that I was the last to know, and all her idiotic politically correct piece-of-sh*t friends had been aware of this the whole time and didn’t bother to tell me, which just made me look like an even bigger idiot. Obviously, I broke up with her immediately and tried to explain to her what an awful person she is. She was oblivious to this fact then and still is now. What really angers me is that she is constantly being praised and awarded for being such an “important and sophisticated and artistic” person. For some insane reason, she is successful in crappy independent art and film circles and is considered an “important artistic voice for women”; I guess some sort of feminist role model. The thing is, it’s all complete bullsh*t. She is a horrible and talentless person who doesn’t even live up to the standards she sets for everyone else. She’s basically always been a loser whose career is based on her overcompensating for not having anything genuine in her soul, and I’m constantly trying to get people to call her on it. I just hate all these morons and their stupid art movements and political causes and holier-than-thou feminist messages. My question is, how can I convince all these idiots to stop worshipping this woman who doesn’t deserve their praise and wake up to their own hypocrisy?
My Ex Is Evil
Dear My Ex Is Evil,
There’s a lot going on here. Your anger and resentments come through loud and clear. But your hurt feelings speak even louder. What you went through is humiliating and you have every right to feel upset. But based on the fact that you wrote in about this, it seems that maybe what you’re really looking for is a way to let go of it, or more than that, to use these bad feelings as a means to feel another way — a bigger way. It’s time to move on, but even more so, it’s time to expand.
In situations where we’ve been hurt by someone, our natural instinct is to lash out at everything we associate with that person. But we can quickly find ourselves “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.” Despite your bad experiences with this woman, the fact that she considered herself a feminist doesn’t mean that all feminists will behave the same as her. It also doesn’t mean that any of the ideas or realms of thought that she was engaged in are suddenly compromised or less valuable. All the schools of thought you listed have a great deal to offer, and many of them are well worth embracing, despite the bad flavor left in your mouth from your recent negative relationship experience.
It’s very tempting to generalize and assume that everyone who shares your ex-girlfriend’s interests also has the same underlying character flaws. But deep down, we realize this is simply not the case. Movements, belief systems, and ideologies are all made up of individuals. And while they may share ideas, they’re still each made up of unique people with their own strengths and weaknesses and individuality.
We must resist the temptation to lump everyone together and make sweeping generalizations and stereotypes based on our experience with just a few people, no matter how unpleasant those experiences were. When people defend this approach, they often say, “Well, stereotypes exist for a reason.” And yes, stereotypes do exist for a reason, but not because they’re accurate judgments of people’s character.
Stereotypes exist because thinking deeply and honestly is challenging and tiring, and it saves a lot of time not having to think that hard all the time. But when we decide to jump to conclusions about people without investing too much thought into our judgments, we get substandard results, and that’s what stereotypes are — low-level generalizations of impossibly complex things, i.e., people.
It’s nearly impossible to make accurate sweeping judgments about individual human beings. People are simply too complex, too layered, and too nuanced to be understood as a set of labels or classifications. To think of people as “types” dehumanizes them. It turns people into things — things that represent certain ideas, values, or even behaviors, but things nonetheless. And things don’t think. Things don’t change. Things don’t have spirits and souls. Things aren’t alive. Only beings possess those rare and special attributes that make each of us a unique and incredible event unto ourselves. When we generalize and stereotype others, we ultimately do the same to ourselves — we begin to subconsciously think of ourselves as a thing, as a “type of person who is this way or that.” We cut ourselves off from the unlimited and infinite potential that we’re endowed with, that is being human — something that is always moving, developing, evolving, and becoming something more than just some thing.
Seeing someone as less than an individual — someone who isn’t unique or doesn’t matter in the same way we do — is the first step toward prejudice. And there is no greater means to cutting oneself off from the glory of life, and love, and the inner self, than a strongly held and passionate prejudice. What’s more, discrimination and antipathy do more to harm the individual who harbors such preconceptions than those he uses them against. This sort of worldview permanently disconnects one from oneself — it’s completely suicidal. But rather than a quick and relatively painless death — like from a self-inflicted gunshot to the brain — suicide by bigotry is a slow and painful process of spiritual decay, producing many monstrous phases of hideous anguish, as one’s soul rots and heart hardens into total inhuman cruelty.
So, use this opportunity to pull yourself up, to open yourself out. Do what you wouldn’t expect you would do. Instead of justifying all your bad feelings for your ex-girlfriend and her friends, use this as a challenge to catch yourself and save yourself from spiraling into bitterness. The people who become truly enlightened are the ones who have the most reason not to be, yet are. You can have every reason to be prejudiced and filled with hate and still choose not to be. This is how real strength of character develops. We can give in to our resentments and hurt, or we can use the pain to motivate us to become better than we are. Every bad experience is another opportunity to get stronger.
Because at the end of the day, everything else is secondary. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: If we strip away all our other passions, politics, causes, interests, all that’s hopefully left at the core of existence is a singularly pure love — an undeserved, unqualified, and unconditional love that still stands when all else falls.
This is the kind of love people say God has for man. This is the kind of love we have for our children. And it seems that this is the type of love that best describes the one force underlying the truth of all of our shared circumstances — a sort of joyful unfolding of creation — an endless emerging toward perfection. Everything else is basically icing on the cake or just plain bullshit. We can’t allow ourselves to get lost in those things which distract us from this feeling of purposeful love. We must cut through the haze of all our other conflicts, quarrels, and even justified hurt and see what’s still remaining after everything else is gone. All that will remain after the darkness is displaced is a simple and endlessly pure love — this is the true reality.
Forgive people, love people, bring joy into their day, overcome hate and prejudice, and be glad you’re alive to go through all of this.
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