Paradoxes and Work

I tend not to be a fan of “self-help.” I approach it with a cynical eye, even people who I think are doing good.

But there’s something about Byron Katie that seems to get around my initial cynicism. initially I thought of what she did as a sort of “hocus-pocus” — not real change. But there does seem to be power in her method that may work for some.

I’m going to take a pause right here and say that I’m not interested in keeping any blinders on. If you have a critique of Byron Katie you want to share, as long as it’s not a personal attack on her, I’m completely open to hearing it. I do think there can be a tendency from this perspective to blame the victim for his or her own pain, which I don’t believe one bit. I don’t think it’s appropriate for many things, but for outdated and troublesome convictions, there may be some merit.

One powerful thing that I’ve noticed is how she emphasizes how our brains* work hard to amass evidence in favor of a conviction we hold, and to ignore evidence that contradicts that conviction. For a personal example, my mind tends to, for understandable reasons stemming from early childhood, cling to this idea: “There’s something about me that repulses people.” Now, if an unbiased observer** were to follow me around for a week and gather evidence to see if this conviction of mine held true, they would probably note quite the opposite. They could see how many emails I receive, how many phone calls, how many visits to my cubicle at work, how many hugs, how many smiles, how many compliments, how many interactions. This would probably lead the observer to conclude that, at least in this particular week, not only would people not appear to be repulsed, most would appear to be actually drawn to me, with the occasional repulsed person in the mix.

But since I don’t have an unbiased observer for a brain, what I recall from any given week are a few of the positive interactions, but most of the normal ones are ignored, and any negative interaction rises to the top of the stack of evidence and is stamped in red ink with a giant “PROOF!”

I am realizing that this is at play with the “obesity paradox” — the societal conviction is so deep that the process of scientific inquiry*** is nearly impossible. Every hypothesis starts out stacked against the possibility that fatness could be neutral, or heaven forfend, actually confer a positive benefit and when the hypothesis doesn’t bear out, there is hand-wringing and questioning of the methods and tinkering with the data and sometimes abandoning the research altogether. Rather than looking at the research as a means of inquiry, it is only seen as useful when it supports the conviction that fatness must be exclusively bad, and banished at all costs. This article in the NY Times about the “obesity-hunger” paradox is a prime example — how can it be that a fat person feels hungry if we define fatness as a result of having too much food? (Rather than a complex result of genetics and metabolism, intake, availability, preference, stress, etc.)

I think there needs to be an update of The Crucible where fatness is witchcraft. Wait a minute — there’s an obvious connection there about floating, isn’t there? (I’m sure someone else, or someones else, have thought of this before, I apologize for not recognizing it.)

But one think I’ve noticed since looking at Byron Katie’s web site (I haven’t read any of her books, although I think I will) is that it does seem to undermine my ideas of some inherent or strict differences between fat people and those who aren’t fat. I tend to think of compassion toward fatness among not-fat people as the exception to the rule, and what I’m realizing is that it’s not necessarily the case. Among the people I love who aren’t fat, they do have compassion and understanding and if a comment I feel is hurtful or insensitive sometimes slips through, well, I’m guilty of the same thing when it comes to other aspects of identity from time to time, and I would much rather know that I’ve made an error and have an opportunity to apologize than have a festering hurt in someone I consider a friend.****

I am sick of hearing about the obesity paradox. To me, the paradox is the conflict between the scientific method and the stubborn conviction that fat=bad.

*Understanding that not everyone’s brain works the same. Thank heavens for people on the “autism spectrum” who often are able to cut through bullshit because their brains do work differently.

** If there were such a thing

*** Problematic as it may be, I would rather not have to live without it

**** When this happens continually, something in me would need to change or I’m not a friend.

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