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To Matter, Beware of Either/Or Propositions

How to Matter: Set a Goal and Make it Meaningful
October 14, 2019
Meaning and Mattering in the Age of COVID 19
March 28, 2020
The dominant discourse in society is that if you want to matter, you have a lot of internal work to do. The message is that mattering will come from the inside-out, and not from the outside-in. In actual fact, mattering depends on both avenues: inside-out and outside-in; psychological and social changes.

Both routes are reciprocal. Unfortunately, many wellness experts claim that the main, and maybe even only way to achieve happiness, meaning, and mattering, is through intrapsychic work such as the practice of gratitude and mindful meditation.

Many wellness experts decry the mind-body dualism but are oblivious to the inner-outer split. They persuasively argue that body and mind are one, while ignoring the impact of lack of fairness on wellness. They delimit the wellness world to what happens within your skin and between your ears. Mattering does not just happen in our minds. It happens in interactions at work and in the community. There is plenty of evidence that unfair treatment leads to stress, disease, aggression, and disaffection. Fair regard, on the other hand, leads to well-being, happiness and health. The main mechanism through which fairness results in wellness is that fair processes protect one’s standing in a group. People’s dignity is upheld, and threats of shame and humiliation dissipate. The route to mattering must involve internal and external work; psychological and political changes. We must engage in both internal wellness and external fairness.

It is unfortunate that many theories in vogue serve to justify the existing social order through six distinct stratagems:

1. It’s all in your head: By explaining behavior strictly in terms of individual factors such as genetic or psychological constitution, and neglecting the role of social, economic, and political causes in human suffering.

2. Blame the Victim: Through a propensity to understand social problems in terms of psychological maladjustment, as opposed to a reaction to systems of oppression and discrimination.

3. Technophilia: By a tendency to embrace technical solutions to social, economic, and political problems that require social change instead of individual adjustment to conditions of injustice.

4. Deflection through innovation: Through the introduction of new treatments or services that attenuate social critique by creating the impression that something is being done to ameliorate suffering.

5. Unquestionable truths: Through the promotion of conformist messages that psychology is “value-neutral” and a reflection of an “objective-truth” and, therefore, its prescriptions are never questioned.

6. What’s good for the elite is good for everyone: By portraying values that benefit the elite as benefiting the entire society.

For over a century now these ideological messages had become axiomatic truths with two consequential outcomes. First, most people remain unaware of the impact of social conditions on their levels of happiness or misery; and second, few people see the need to engage in social transformation. The only transformation required to achieve success, we are told, is the transformation of the self. No need to tinker with the social order. Lasting change comes from the inside-out and from the outside-in. It is not an either/or, but a both/and proposition. We must embrace personal and social transformation at the same time.