Do you want to know why Americans eat anti-depessants like Cheetos at a Super Bowl party?
Have you heard of the game “Ain’t it Awful?”
It isn’t a board game or a video game or a TV game show, it’s a conversational game we play with ourselves, our friends, our families, and our society as a whole. We play to get an emotional payoff. It relieves us of responsibility for changing the parts of our lives we can change.
You probably played “Ain’t it Awful” with friends when you were in college. Maybe you were sitting around the dorm room and the conversation went like this…
“Did you hear about Anne? She’s failing out. The dean told her she wasn’t college material.”
“Yeah? That’s nothing. Did you hear about Jenny? She’s pregnant and she won’t have an abortion. It’s going to ruin her life. She’ll have to dropout and raise a baby.”
“You know what? It could be worse. My cousin Shelia’s only 21 and already has three kids. She lives with her alcoholic boyfriend who beats her all the time. We’ve been trying to get her to leave. She used to be so smart and pretty. What a waste.”
If it’s a light game of “Ain’t it awful” it ends there, everyone shakes their heads and mutters some version of “Ain’t it Awful” and then the subject changes.
You can be sure you’re playing the game when someone mentions something awful just to be interesting and then someone else feels they have to “one up” them with an even more awful thing.
Another sure sign of the game, is how it promotes powerlessness. To be an “Ain’t it Awful” game, no solution can be sought. Seeking solutions ruins the game. The tragedies must be out of your control. And if a solution is proposed it’s usually impractical and extreme.
It also works as a way of spreading guilt. “Who are we to have it so good, when so many are suffering? It just isn’t fair, and there is nothing I can do. Ain’t it awful?”
The game can be played soft or hard. In the hard version, someone is singled out for failing to understand how awful something is. You know you’ve got a hard player, when they get offended if you try to change the subject or you don’t agree that their story is really horribly, terribly, awful. When a family plays the game hard, children are shamed and ridiculed when they don’t seem to understand how awful something is. Some families play the game hard for generations. How do I know? I’ve been a hard player for most of my life. (And, yes, I realize that this post could be the first round in a game of “Ain’t it Awful.”)
Many political and religious movements use games of “Ain’t it Awful” as a recruiting tool, using shame, guilt, and fear as a means of control.
The TV news, much of our schooling, and our society as a whole feeds us this game constantly. They dredge up the worst possible news, stick it in your face, and if you don’t say “Ain’t it awful” with enough sincere heartfelt disgust, then you must be some cold-hearted sociopath. It is no wonder half the United States is running around on anti-depressants.
But it isn’t true. The game of “Ain’t it Awful” paints a false picture of our world. For the most part, our world is a wonderful place, and we are powerful beyond our own comprehension. The “Ain’t it Awful” stories are the exceptions, not the rule. But even if the world is awful, how are guilt, shame, and depression going to help?
So what can you do about this game?
Stop playing it. Don’t spread bad news just to spread it. If you are going to talk about a problem, then seek a reasonable solution. Find out if it is actionable for you. If it isn’t, move on, and focus somewhere where you can make an impact.
You’re probably not going to end world hunger, poverty, or war.
But you can:
- Be good to the people you touch everyday
- Create a positive idea
- Spread it
- Start a business
- Create a job
- Create 10 jobs
- Make some money, save some, spend some, and give some away
- Teach others to do the same
If everyone did that, the biggest problem we’d have is… what to do with all the kindness, jobs, and money.
Now wouldn’t that be awful?