Humans have a powerful inclination to try to binary everything and everyone into good or bad. But in reality the world is not organized in that way. And by acting like it is, we create stress for ourselves.
I have not seen it, but based on early reviews, the new Bob Ross documentary paints a somewhat challenging picture of what Bob Ross’s life was really like. And apparently many fans of Bob’s have been disappointed to learn that his life featured the same sorts of hassles theirs have.
Of course, the fact that people turned him into a subtle kind of problemless saint isn’t Bob’s fault. I was a somewhat of a fan too. But often times, our fandom falls into the human habit of all-good, all-bad. But living in reality, I never foisted super-human capability onto him, nor did I hazard a guess as to how his business was run. He was allowed to be human just as you and I are.
No matter what they’ve told you, no matter what you’ve seen, no matter how good or bad someone’s reputation is, the simple fact is that every single human being has done beautiful, heroic things. And we have all done horrible, regrettable things. Anyone who claims otherwise is either lying or very forgetful.
It is by using these people to create impossible standards for ourselves that we end up creating so much suffering. We are not failures when life is challenging and we must make complex choices that are neither all-good or all-bad.
We are not failing when we reach the limits of our patience, or tolerance. We are human. Cheetahs don’t have all the speed they need to catch every single gazelle. They have their maximum speed and any gazelle’s faster than that do not represent the ‘failures’ of the cheetah. Those gazelle were never realistically in the cheetah’s grasp in the first place. Just as Bob’s perfect personality or life was never realistically in his grasp.
There is no way for me to fix people’s lives. I can’t make them fertile, or get them their jobs back, nor can I cure their cancer. But I can help people truly learn to appreciate their lives, by teaching them how to do less self-hating, and more self-loving. And that’s a lot easier when people aren’t comparing themselves to myths.
The point isn’t to be like some perfect, fictional Bob Ross. It’s to allow ourselves to be complete and whole and worthwhile, even during those moments where we are acting ‘beneath ourselves.’
That’s the best guide to use: deep down we know ourselves. And better than anyone else, we know when we’ve gone lower than our own standards. The pain we feel when we do that, is what encourages us not to do it any more than we feel we need to.
If you feel badly when you act badly, that is not a sign you are a bad person. That is a sign you are a good person during a difficult time. So please, be kind to yourselves. I feel like my job is mostly teaching people to stop hating themselves, when it could be more about helping happy people grow even happier than they already are.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.