I’ve often heard people utter, in subtle judgment, the phrase “He’s not doing well.” It’s a sentence that covers the gamut of possible failures. Maybe it’s in reference to one’s health. This is the only situation where I give a pass to the phrase, and don’t see the need to further extrapolate on that aspect.
No, what I’m talking about is a snap judgement a person makes summing up another’s life. A calculation of their state of existence.
Broken up with a loved one?
“He’s not taking it well.”
Driving a car in poor repair?
“She must not be doing well.”
Making declarations of unfair treatment or venting frustrations using the tool of social media?
“He seems likes he’s not very doing well.”
It’s a bullshit assessment that I find three major flaws in.
- You assume you have the ability to calculate the sum total of a person’s current life experience based on the small sliver of it you're exposed to.
- It’s an obvious comparative defense mechanism. They are not doing well. You have made this assessment. Ergo, you are in a position to contrast “not doing well” because you yourself are “doing well”.
- It operates under the assumption that there is a clear cut and universally recognized way to function and a status quo of criteria one needs to maintain in their life that implies “well”.
This third point is the one I take most exception with.
Recently, I came to the realization that what has been a factor in driving my days of depression, has been the erroneous acceptance of an established “well” and my perceived lack of achieving this status. The easiest way to identify the conditions of this “well” is using the metric of financial means. We can externally measure this based on the materials a person owns.
I drive a $200 scooter I bought over a year ago. It’s got a busted basket on the front. It recently (somehow) got covered in paint, and it’s generally pretty old and beat up. Now, there are plenty of Americans (I’ll pick on my own here) that might see a picture of me driving that scooter over here and think to themselves “Maybe the pay for a teacher isn’t so high in Taiwan. He doesn’t look like he’s doing that well.”
And there it is. The sum total of me and my condition of “Well” being based solely on the metric of wealth appraised by my means of transportation.
This, until my recent epiphany, was a means of embarrassment for me. I let it reflect to myself that I wasn’t doing “well". And I thought about it and thought about it and drank coffee and thought about it and came to the simple and obvious conclusion that that was bullshit. Now here, epiphany might be the wrong (and possibly pretentious) word. It’s more of a remembrance. I never judged others based on their financial status. But hitting my 30’s and still not having much in the way of money, coupled with a lack of direction, and no real clear cut career path, I had started to buy in to the American ideal of what a successful life entails. I was failing to live up to being financial “successful” and was reminded about that every time I got on my scooter. This reflection manifested into negative self-perception, and lended its weight to my predisposition of melancholy and a dislike of self. As a younger man, I thought, I knew, that this was a corrupt way of thinking and utter bullshit. But recently? Well...
I had bought into the bullshit.
And then, in a slow culmination of memories and experience (and a slower firing of my synapses) I thought of all of the people in true and absolute poverty I had seen over the last 2 years. And the smiles they shared. And they families they had and loved. And the humans they were. Same as me.
Now, if I judged myself based on financial accumulations, ipso facto, I was extending that judgment to these people. And if I wasn’t “doing well”, then these people….
Well, fuck that kind of judgment.
This same idea extends towards people having to endure non-financial related hardships.
Years back, I had gone through a pretty rough break up. Immature and pernicious things were said by both parties. My ex chose to vent her frustrations and difficulties on social media. My name was not mentioned, but the harsh feelings and difficult experience she was encountering were in full public display. A few days later, a friend said to me “Yeah man, she’s not doing well.” I read his intonation as expressing pitying bemusement and frank judgement. He had just summed up the girl’s current encompassing life experience by the few sentences she had chosen to share publicly. She was failing to reach the “well” benchmark and was therefore not succeeding, if not failing, at life.
It made me feel better. I was able to utilize external opinion to reenforce my own petty comparative insecurity and find satisfaction by measuring her “wellness” as inferior to my own.
What I’m trying to get at, is that the social standard, the ubiquitous “well” in Western culture is at best a confused idea to make sense of the magnitude of experiencing the great unknown that is life, and at worst, a malevolent construct used to judge, compare, classify, and condemn.
Be it an other's emotional state, financial means, mechanisms with which they cope with stress or tragedy, or one's current mental state that you are being exposed to, don’t use the social construct of “well” to judge them. Or yourself. We all exist in a fluid and ephemeral state. Nothing is permanent, and there is no real natural occurring metric that one needs to set as a standard. I’m not advocating an abdication of responsibility for one’s actions, or the idea to welcome stagnation by never pushing yourself past your current state or means, but if you need to use something with which to measure your current state against, use yourself. Try and be better than who you were yesterday. Try to learn from your history (mistakes and failures are fantastic tools and opportunities to learn how to grow), and be “well” in the sense that you’re better than who you were.
Then you’ll be doing well.