Thursday, April 02, 2009

Willpower is Not Enough

My brother and I are really into the Pokemon series. For me, it's all about the Pokemon - I really don't care much for the human characters, although some are interesting or funny or whatever. For example, there's a gifted child in the story named Max, who is the younger brother of a Pokemon trainer. But if it weren't for their Pokemon, I wouldn't have any interest in the series.
Anyway, I've watched enough of the series to notice a cliche. It's the same cliche seen in a lot of anime - the ones that are more 'adventure' than 'introspection' type stories. (I love introspective type anime, like Spirited Away or the Mokke series.) The cliche is this: if you have enough willpower, you can achieve your dreams.
This isn't just present in Japanese culture. It's quite obviously present in Western culture as well. The classic idea of the hard-working, clever person making it rich is an example of this. It's also obvious in how people view weight - if you're fat, you must not have dieted enough, or stuck with the diets long ebnough. If you had more willpower, you could be thin.
The big problem with this idea: it's not true.
No matter how hard you try, you may never achieve your dream. And what if you don't, and you're looking back on a life spent chasing something you never actually found? A life spent postponing your life for after, and after never came?
And sometimes, there's no happy ending. You're beaten by overwhelming strength, and even if you fight in the seas, on the beaches, in the fields and streets, you might still be beaten. It might be that you are helpless to stop them from winning, no matter how hard you try. And what do you do then? How do you survive? How do you get others to recognize that it could happen to them, no matter how much willpower they have?
Now, this doesn't mean you should give up before you try. It might be that you have a decent chance, or you don't know how good your chances are. It might be that if even though you can't achieve your dream, trying to can make things better than they'd have been otherwise (we still don't have sexual equality, but look where chasing that dream got us).
But there comes a time that you must face reality, and know that you're not going to reach your dream. And what you have to do is live your life, and settle for something that's good enough for you. I want to make everyone accept autistic and other atypical people and truly consider them just as valuable as neurotypical people, but I can't make that happen. What I can do, if I try hard enough, is make it easier for the ones who come after me, so that eventually, generations from now, that dream can be reached by someone.

4 Comments:

Blogger Luai Lashire said...

From the title, I thought this was going to be about Executive Dysfunction. I definitely agree with you, and I've seen the myth that you've seen as well. I get pretty sick of people telling me if I were just not so lazy I would get all my homework done and I wouldn't need to be threatened with getting kicked out of school, or if I weren't so lazy I would do more exercises and not be so weak, etc, etc. What they don't seem to get is "Willpower is not enough". Sure, great, I can say to myself, "Gee, you should do your math now." That doesn't mean it's going to get done. Other people seem to be physically incapable of understanding this concept, like their brains aren't able to handle it. That may be part of what fuels the myth.

On the other hand, I've come to the conclusion, in this life in which I have very little control over anything and have no choice but to wait until after I turn 18 before I can escape my parents and actually do things, that having a goal or a dream is pretty much essential, even if you can never reach it. In some ways, the journey is more important than the goal. I know I will never be a completely saintly and perfect person, beyond mistakes. But I try anyway. It's the striving for goodness that makes someone Good, in my opinion, not how much their circumstances have allowed them to actually do.
The thing is that one has to balance the striving for the dream with a sort of living in the now that allows for current happiness even whilst reaching for a better future.

7:42 PM  
Blogger Ettina said...

I did say:
"Now, this doesn't mean you should give up before you try. It might be that you have a decent chance, or you don't know how good your chances are. It might be that if even though you can't achieve your dream, trying to can make things better than they'd have been otherwise (we still don't have sexual equality, but look where chasing that dream got us)."
I certainly agree that it's important to have a dream, and work at achieving it. Just have some balance between achieving your dream and living in the now.

12:34 PM  
Blogger thinkingdifference said...

maybe this trope of the willpower is connected to neoliberalism, particularly the idea that the site of responsibility lies in the individual (you are responsible for your own success, and if you are not successful is not because of structural constraints, but because you didn't try hard enough). another formulation of this trope is that of self-empowerment, particularly the consumerist self-empowerment (of the type "buy this diet pills, and you'll be empowered to loose weight").

11:42 AM  
Blogger Suelle said...

Ettina,
Thanks for the comment on my blog. I agree with you about willpower--it's all an effort to control the uncontrollable. It frightens many people to think that they can't change their lives. There's a whole economy built around it.

12:57 PM  

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