Rejected from Something Good

A black and white photograph of a staircase with the top brightly lit enough that it obscures whatever is there, with a human figure, possibly wearing a backpack, standing near the top. The black serif text reads, "As I look back on my life, I realize that every time I thought I was being rejected from something good, I was actually being re-directed to something better." The source is "Positive Energy."
A black and white photograph of a staircase with the top brightly lit enough that it obscures whatever is there, with a human figure, possibly wearing a backpack, standing near the top. The black serif text reads, “As I look back on my life, I realize that every time I thought I was being rejected from something good, I was actually being re-directed to something better.” The source is “Positive Energy.”

If you’re not familiar, Aesop’s Fables is a collection of short moralistic stories that have had a surprisingly strong influence over idioms in the English language.

Sort of pre-macro pithy advice, really.

The Fox and the Grapes” is the tale of a very hungry (wait for it) fox who simply cannot reach the enticing grapes on a nearby grapevine.

So he gives up and says, “Pshhh, I didn’t really want those sour-ass grapes anyway.”

And hence we have the expression “sour grapes.”

This macro reminds me of that fox who determined that the unattainable grapes must be shitty.

Clearly, the moral is to devalue what you can’t obtain, because you’ll be happier if you don’t have to experience regret.

Gimme an A for Aesop!

This image choice feels strange for an inspirational quote. It’s a little on the eerie side.

I don’t have to stretch to imagine this as a poster for a horror movie, if it were just paired with an appropriately tattered or blood-drippy font.

“The Thing at the Top of the Stairs.”

Or even just, “The Stairs.”

“The Shining.”

But not that one.

Or, okay, I even could see it being that one.

And then again, in the end, isn’t this actually kind of a horrifying message?

Let’s examine that idea.

In a symbolic sense, it’s not hard to see how a long staircase represents the idea of being re-directed to something better.

But why is what’s at the top of the stairs assumed to be “better” than whatever is at the bottom?

Just as it can feel like you’ve conquered something scary when you achieve a desirable goal (i.e. getting to the top of the stairs), it can feel like you’ve chickened out or failed if your sights were set on an aspiration that you aren’t quite able to reach (i.e. staying at the bottom or turning around halfway through).

The fact that a person had to walk a long way to get to a destination does not make that destination any different, let alone better, than it would have been if it was closer.

It’s scary to confront loss and disappointment.

And there’s no doubt that it sucks to be rejected from something good.

But acting like the TOP of the stairs is better than the BOTTOM of the stairs is just rationalizing after the fact to make it feel like that long walk up the mystery stairs was worthwhile.

Who wants to admit that they hauled their ass up all that way for no real reason?

It sounds way more awesome when you’re like, “I committed to climbing these stairs with a purpose that I both achieved and exceeded! Hooray for stairs! Hooray for me!”

Compare that with, “I was probably just fine at the bottom of the stairs, and I wasn’t really sure why I decided to climb them, but I did, and I’m here now instead of there, and I am still fine because both places are equally fine.”

It’s pretty horrifying how the cult of Toxic Positivity pressures us to resist disappointment, ambiguity, and frustration by rejecting, avoiding, and reframing them rather than acknowledging and sitting with them.

This commentary on the limitations of the macro has no bearing on that fable, though.

Fuck those grapes.

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