This Magazine

Progressive politics, ideas & culture

March-April 2020

Self-care is a sham

We need to place more value on community care

JP Larocque

Illustration by Diana Bolton

Dearest Fellow Millennial,

Self-care is a sham. There. I said it.

Look, I get it. The modern world is an exhausting one. The workday is basically whenever you’re conscious, home ownership and retirement are but a fantasy, and the spectre of global warming lurks around every corner. We’re also everyone’s favourite bad joke: a pack of entitled babies struggling to do what every generation before us has done—and failing at it.

As we cede more and more to our corporate overlords and become increasingly alienated from each other via technology, it’s understandable that we’ve also become desperate for control over something, anything.

And so, we turn inward, buoyed by media personalities, blogs, Instagram, and trendy New Age philosophy. The answer, we’re told, has been inside of us all along, we just needed to accept it. We are encouraged to distance ourselves from the problems facing those around us and to focus in on our own lives, the state of which is due to our own negative thought processes and poor decision making. We participate in a relentless drive for self-improvement—to become fitter and healthier, to purchase the right ethical products, to read the right books, to stay hydrated—to choose happiness.

But here’s the thing: this push for self-improvement is setting us up for failure.
It creates a need for perfection, for “self-optimization”—a journey without end, and one that will inevitably be disappointing because we, as human beings, are messy and imperfect. It makes us believe that happiness is a tangible thing in our control rather than merely the byproduct of meaningful activity, something that can be sought after and attained like an item at the store.

It also sets up unhealthy comparisons between us and those around us, enabled by the false perfections of social media, creating a void that can only be filled by more and more consumption: more fitness fads, more diets, more self-help guides, more expensive mindfulness classes. It pathologizes sedentary behaviour—sadness, illness, depression,
or anything remotely human—as something bad, something standing in the way of endless productivity.

And perhaps, most importantly, it makes us privilege ourselves over our communities, turning us away from larger systemic concerns and assigning personal blame for our inability to accept things the way that they are.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but this cultural shift towards self-care and away from the needs of the community has endangered civil society, creating an erosion of empathy. Citizens complaining about amber alerts, the friction between pedestrians and drivers, the souring relationships between renters and landlords—these are just some examples, but they are part and parcel of a larger philosophy that positions personal comfort and convenience over the welfare of others. Self-care has slowly eroded into selfishness, and it’s a zero-sum game, creating a world where no one person is happy or safe.

We have become so self-absorbed, so apathetic, that we continue to ignore the bigger, more pressing systemic issues, or to stand up to a political status quo that continues to go unchallenged and perhaps isn’t working. We assume that the best we can do is take control of our own lives when we forget how much control we have over the world around us, how much we can accomplish when we just turn up.

So, yes, the world is currently a garbage fire. And maybe the best way to put it out isn’t to drink more water, but to grab a bucket.

Yours in Empathy,

JP Larocque

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