How to Not Be Happy and Share It Far and Wide

comics May 12, 2014

Check out this comic. If you click on the image below, the entire strip will show up on the original site. You may have to click on it again to zoom in. (It will open in a new window.)


This strip is from Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal. SMBC is one of my favorite web comics. It’s aways different, usually funny, and sometimes very thought-provoking.

The obvious metaphor here is for religion, and it is certainly apt. An important part of some religions is to “share” it with people. Even if sharing requires a sword, a gun, or a law outlawing things your religion doesn’t approve of.

Even if your religion doesn’t remove the rock from your head it might be your job to share it because, similar to the cartoon, if it doesn’t remove the rock from your head you must be doing it wrong.

But I think it’s about a lot more than just religion. Or, to put it another way, we have more religions than just religion.

Your “rock” might have been needing to lose weight and a Paleo (a diet I believe the Jehovah’s Witnesses created) might have been what “got rid” of it. It might have been needing to train a dog, and a clicker (Testify!) might have been your fix. It might have been being unhappy, and religion might have been what made you happy. It might have been having no customers and Twitter, a blog, or Google+, might have been what generated some business for you.

It’s natural to want to share a solution for a problem with our friends, and it seems natural to assume that if it doesn’t work for them, they must be doing it wrong. In this strip there’s a little problem with that though: our hero didn’t really understand what made him happy and shared the wrong thing.

This happens to us too. Did changing what you ate make you lose weight, or was it the process of paying attention to what you ate and how much? Did a clicker train your dog, or was it you learning about behavior that did it? Was it religion that made you happy, or was it taking the time to examine your life, your relationships, and how you treat people? Did Twitter get you clients, or did thinking about how to talk to people in terms they understand do it?

But the real important question is this: does the fact that it worked for you make it universal?

Which takes me another point that this strip brings up. Our hero never figured out what made him happy again and as a result his teachings were by definition flawed. Despite having the purest of motives, he never managed to help anyone. Success does not make one an expert.

So what did his followers think? That it was their fault. If he’s happy and I did what he says and I am not happy, I must be doing it wrong.

You’re doing it wrong is a very powerful phrase. So are You’re not trying hard enough and You just don’t want it to work. They all divorce the teacher from responsibility and put the onus on the student to teach themselves. Good teachers use these phrases sparingly, if at all.

But you can build an entire religion on you’re doing it wrong.

I’m going to leave it there because I still have a bunch of rocks in my head and the last thing I want to do is risk sharing the wrong one.

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