Content note: ableism, transphobia, racism
I Googled Barbara so you don’t have to.
On one hand, this woman is just doing her thing and living her life. In this economy, we all gotta get paid.
On the other hand, she’s a rich white lady who pays her bills by reassuring other rich white people that everyone is personally, individually responsible for their own ability to thrive.
I kind of wanted to see how much she charges for her services so I clicked on “shop,” thinking that it would include information about how to book a session or begin a wellness journey.
It’s an actual shop with products, though.
Her shop is called “Barbara’s Empire of Love.”
Among other things, you can purchase inspiration cards, a daily success journal, and a gratitude journal.
They’re branded with pink flowers – cherry blossoms, I think.
I eventually did find information about courses you can enroll in, and unsurprisingly, they aren’t cheap.
There’s a baseline assumption on her site that it’s not going to put you out significantly to spend $50 (which was approximately the conversion rate from British pounds to US dollars at the time of my Googling) on a spiral-bound planner.
I think she means well enough, in her Barbara way.
But as a generally well-meaning white cis woman myself, I recognize that “meaning well” doesn’t cut the mustard when it comes to actions that inflict real harm.
And I contend that there is real harm in profiting off of the message that one can choose to not be affected by adverse social conditions.
As is always the case here at Pith Rant, there are more generous interpretations available for the messages I feature.
I also recognize that the actual quote is attributed to Mandy Hale, and was only shared by Barbara Vercruyess, but Babs or a fan of Babs decided to add her stamp of approval to that message and promote it via social media, so we’ll leave Mandy alone for now.
I acknowledge that many viewers of this message and my response may think, “But I think it just means…” or “What about…”
And I have heard those concerns.
And I’m sticking to my angry metaphorical guns.
By acknowledging that systemic racism is a thing, one isn’t “assigning power” to racists.
By recognizing the existence of heteronormativity, one isn’t “assigning power” to the straights, and observing that pervasive transphobia permits medical malpractice to flourish is not the same as “assigning power” to transphobic doctors.
It sucks, but these people already have power.
Racists who write laws that get passed are exerting the power they have to propagate white supremacist beliefs.
Homophobes who refuse to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples are reaching for any power they can grasp to prevent Big Gay Weddings.
Doctors who ignore their patients’ pronouns are reminding their trans or nonbinary patients that powerful institutions can choose to deny them security, protection, and/or comfort.
Messages like the one on display here absolutely prop up logic like:
“It’s their own fault if they let people treat them that way; I sure wouldn’t let someone control my life like that.”
The thing is:
Assholes tend to seek power.
They treat people shittily, and it has shitty consequences.
This does not mean that it’s therefore fine for directly affected folks (and also less directly affected folks – hi there, you’re not exempt!) to give up and acquiesce to injustice simply because hierarchical power structures create exploitable situations.
It means that it’s ridiculous to suggest that an individual can simply think and feel their way beyond a deeply entrenched social pattern that informs the actions of people who are, in fact, relatively powerful.
I do not mean that it is impossible for marginalized folx to be happy or successful as long as powerful assholes exist.
I mean that it’s okay to recognize that broad institutional support and the absence of naked aggression makes happiness easier and more sustainable.
Happiness is an inside job.
Because people who have power and influence over important structures that shape your life don’t necessarily care about your happiness.
They will not seek it for you. They will not lift a finger on behalf of your actual happiness. So in that sense, it is indeed up to you to find and protect your own happiness.
The part of the quote that I am fighting against is the idea that you’ve let someone take advantage of your circumstances in order to disenfranchise you.
If you’re rich enough to be preoccupied by the perfection of your own pursuit of happiness, you probably are exerting power over someone else’s life in a way that limits their access to the kind of stability that enables happiness.
I had a separate post going for this second macro, but it’s helpful to see them together:
As though people with “unhealthy” bodies just didn’t remember to think the right way about their genetic and physiological makeup.
As though people with “unhealthy” bodies have allowed someone else to exert sufficient control over their minds that they are not able to make appropriately “healthy” thought choices of their own.
As though the existence of people who have, in fact, elected to put their own health and well-being on the back burner in order to pay bills for their families or prioritize the needs of others – thereby “choosing” an “unhealthy” body – somehow cancels out the existence or the rights of people who tried to take good care of their bodies but “failed.”
As though people can’t experience depression and mental illness at the same time as physical health.
I recognize that I’m using lots of black-and-white, either/or scenarios, but that’s really what this breed of macro encourages.
This second macro tries to soften its message with the word “help,” but I guarantee the other version exists (“My happy thoughts create my healthy body”).
(I actually Googled the sentence without the word “help,” but it still turned up variations of this exact same quote with different backgrounds. Elsewhere, the actual quote is attributed to one Louise Hay.)
Happiness is sure nice, and it’s good to feel happy sometimes.
There are lots of other feelings to experience, though. Sometimes happiness isn’t as valuable as discomfort, even if nice white ladies want you to embrace your personal happiness as an ultimate and all-consuming goal.
People who seek power over your life often suck (including those who want the power to remind you how happy you should be all the time), so it’s up to you to remember to connect with your own happiness.
No one has the right to take your happiness away from you, but shitty people are going to keep trying, regardless of whether or not you’ve given permission. That is, you are not “giving” or “assigning” anyone power by acknowledging that your needs are at odds with their wants.
Sometimes it’s best to ignore these people, but sometimes you can’t ignore the consequences of their behaviors (I write from America in the year 2022 where the right to abortion is no longer protected by the constitution).
Your mental and physical health can absolutely inform and interact with one another in a range of fascinating ways, but thoughts aren’t magic.
Health (in whatever way it manifests according to a vast array of different bodies and circumstances) promotes the ability to have and maintain happy thoughts.
That is, we will do better to increase “happiness” in the world by providing more and better health care for all people in all circumstances than we will by telling people that they are obligated to be happy in order to properly preserve their health.
Your own personal happiness may be an inside job, but don’t let smug assholes convince you that what’s on the outside doesn’t count.