One of the writers on the same Pagan e-zine that I write for posted an article this past month that made me truly furious. I commented on it, and she replied with a non-reply, so I’m going to express my analysis a little more fully here. In short: claiming that we all create our own reality – and that our minds are the entire determinant of our reality – is victim-blaming, insulting to people who don’t have your privilege, privilege-blindness, and sometimes flat-out dangerous or abusive. Here are the key parts of her post:
Once you understand that there is nothing certain that there is no one absolute truth then you have become empowered. It is at this point that you truly understand that anything … ANYTHING is possible and that you and only YOU are The Creator of your own life experience. You have infinite possibilities. There are no limits or boundaries to what you can experience in this lifetime. Isn’t that truly amazing?! What is it that you most desire to do in this lifetime? What is it that you have been told you will never be able to do? And why is it you believe them? I don’t believe them. I know that I can do whatever it is I desire most to do in my lifetime. I am the only one who places restrictions on myself. And those limitations are by my own choosing.
. . .
Regardless of what other people believe and what they think is impossible, I’m here to tell you that you can create your reality. You can have, be and do whatever it is you most desire. You ARE the creator of your life experience. So start deliberately creating!
In my comment, I said that what the author wrote is demeaning and insulting to people like me who have disabilities and very real limitations in their lives. Saying that “I am the only one who places restrictions on myself. And those limitations are by my own choosing,” implies that my physical disability is something I have chosen, and that if I consciously chose otherwise, I could make it disappear. That’s as reasonable as saying that if I flap my arms hard enough, I could fly.
Her reply was that “I am truly sorry you feel that what I have written is demeaning and insulting. I believe that life is all perception and perception is subjective. What I deem as reality may or may not be yours. This piece is meant to be inspirational and empowering to those individuals who feel powerless in their current life experience. I’m sorry you don’t feel it was. Love and light to you.”
My comment was tough but moderate in tone, because I felt the author genuinely deserved a chance to say that she (I think the author is female, but I’m not positive.) didn’t mean these words to apply to, say, gravity, or physical disability; basically she deserved a chance to admit that there are things in the world that aren’t subjective. But her reply simply infuriated me more. If I were speaking to her directly, I would use the refutation of telling her that her fly is unzipped or her shoe is untied. If she really believes what she’s saying, she’d just think about it and change it, not look down and do the zipper by hand or tie her shoelaces by hand. Since I don’t have that recourse, I’m going to explain why this position infuriates me and why this is insulting and demeaning by being privilege-blind and why it can be actively dangerous.
The absolute worst of this kind of nonsense comes out of Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret and related works. The so-called “Law of Attraction” touted by Byrne et al. says that whatever you think about draws similar events to you and makes them happen in your life. This isn’t just about thinking positive thoughts – this is stated as a natural law, and when faced with a question about the Holocaust, Byrne responded: “if [the Jews'] dominant thoughts and feelings were in alignment with the energy of fear, separation, powerlessness and having no control over outside circumstances, then that is what they attracted.” Byrne would rather blame victims for everything bad that happens to them instead of admitting that there are things in her world that she can’t control. The author of the post avoided blaming me directly for my disability, when I tried to confront her moderately politely about it, but she didn’t deny that she thinks my disability might be my own fault, either. That’s insulting, and degrading, and dehumanizing.
Starhawk had a good description in one of her books – I think Truth or Dare, but I haven’t been able to find it lately – about how the idea that “we create our own reality” in the puerile sense adopted by this author is really only true for people who have incredible amounts of privilege already. People who are generally upper middle class, have more racial privilege, cissexual, able-bodied, and so on, those sorts of people can maintain the illusion that they create their own reality, because they do have a tremendous ability to get the world to do what they want. But that ability doesn’t come from their minds. It comes from their status, which isn’t something everybody has. Ask a subsistence-level farmer if she can create her reality – she’ll look at you as if you’ve lost your mind, or she’ll say, sure, she can, as long as that reality involves working incredibly hard just to keep her family fed, as long as there are no weather upheavals or local wars.
But what the author of this post, like Byrne, is peddling isn’t just insulting to me and people like me. It can be actively dangerous. She’s standing on the roof of a tall building and insisting that she’s keeping herself up so high by flapping her arms. She says that she wants to empower me, so that I too can flap my arms and rise to the same heights. But what she actually gives an example of in her post is an instance where she says that she didn’t let little things like possibly not having a place to live discourage her: “We gave our thirty-day notice without even having a place lined up.” That’s not a message of empowerment, and it’s not about avoiding discouragement. That’s telling people that they should be reckless and believe that everything will come out all right. It also actively discourages them from going out and finding the tools they need to actually be empowered. It’s like her standing on the roof and flapping her arms, and then telling someone that the fact she doesn’t fall is proof that if the other person walks off his roof and flaps his arms too, he won’t fall either. Why should he look for a ladder to climb one floor higher to where you are? Just “free your mind!”
Yes, your attitude and perceptions make a difference, and can even make the difference between success and failure. But having a positive attitude isn’t an adequate substitute for taking basic responsibility for your own life, within the limits you encounter. It’s also not grounds to blame people for bad things that have happened to them or for the limits or burdens they encounter. Sorry, lady: The Matrix was cool, but it was just a movie. I feel sorry for how bad it’s going to hurt when the ground comes up and hits you one of these days.