It was Margaret Thatcher who inadvertently provided the catalyst for all this navel-gazing and selfobsession when she infamously pronounced that there is "no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look after themselves first." Since then it's all been about "me me me"; not even 11 years of a Labour government have managed to halt our increasing narcissism or inject any sense of collectivism back into the national psyche.
Bookshop shelves groan with the weight of self-help manuals, designed to pander to and heal just about every psychic and emotional stress known to humankind, while misery lit (or misery porn as it's more accurately known) is fast outselling any other genre.
As writers scribe in unflinching detail their stories of brutalised childhoods, and of their survivals against all the odds, we lap up these tales of woe and clamour for more. Narratives that were meant to inspire and empower us with their messages of triumph over adversity serve instead as fodder for our most voyeuristic tendencies; it's starting to feel like there's an incredibly tasteless competition on to find the poor sod who has had the most miserable childhood in the history of the world, ever.
But as Libby Brooks observed recently in her excellent piece on the debate about rape: "Creating a hierarchy of victimhood helps no one." I couldn't agree more.
Even those with all the advantages aren't exempt from all this wallowing and internal reflection.
Born with a silver spoon in your mouth and sent to all the best schools? Don't worry, there's a support group out there for you somewhere. Think you've always been happy and never wanted for anything? Well think again. No one gets through life unscathed: you're probably in denial and need a good dose of therapy to find out whatever it is you're repressing.
What's really lacking in all of this introspection is any sense of the bigger picture. These personal histories stand alone, testament to the individualism that has permeated every aspect of 21stcentury life. Rather than examining and critiquing our social conditions, we're encouraged instead to look inwards, to heal ourselves and rid ourselves of any demons we may have picked up along the way. As a consequence of this we're failing to make those vital connections between our personal experiences and how our lives have been shaped by forces beyond our individual control.
But "the personal is political" was not just some trite feminist slogan dreamed up to help bored housewives make sense of their lot. As Carol Hanisch said in her essay of the same name: "personal problems are political problems. There are no personal solutions at this time. There is only collective action for a collective solution." Isn't it about time we started to embrace that kind of thinking again?
The discriminations and prejudices I've encountered in my life are not because I'm me, Cath Elliott: they're a direct result of the gender and social class I was born into. Counselling, self-help books or holistic therapies might make me better able to deal with what life has thrown or has yet to throw at me, but it won't do anything to change the external conditions that impact negatively on me and mine.
So, the choice is ours. We can either continue to wallow in our victimhood, fighting to outdo each other with our tales of oppression and woe, and attempting to heal our lives in splendid isolation, or we can learn once again to recognise our shared experiences and start to fight together for change. We're only victims if we choose to be so. Personally I reject the label: I'd advise everyone else to do the same.
Adapted from The Guardian
0. According to the writer, today…
a) more and more people deserve counselling.
b) the role of victim has been taken over by ordinary people.
c) we behave like contestants in TV reality shows.
1. What does the writer say about M. Thatcher?
a) She favoured the disappearance of collective thought.
b) She fought hard against individualism.
c) She introduced a sense of community in British society.
2. Which of these statements is TRUE?
a) Not all self-help books do help people.
b) Self-help manuals sell better than misery lit books.
c) There’s an overkill of self-help books.
3. What is said in the text about writers today?
a) Most of them are lucky to have survived the adversities of life.
b) They provide readers with emotional recollections of their lives.
c) They seem to be entangled in a competition for the saddest life.
4. According to the article counselling and group therapies…
a) are being used by people from all walks of life.
b) have far better results with privileged people.
c) mainly satisfy the needs of repressed people.
5. In the writer’s view what is missing in 21st century society is more…
a) introspective awareness.
b) political perspective.
6. What’s the writer’s verdict on discrimination and prejudice?
a) They can only be fought out with alternative therapies.
b) They should be looked at from a wider angle.
c) They are to blame for gender and class inequality.
7. What is the purpose of the article?
a) To encourage people to stop whinging and join forces.
b) To analyse the current trend of self-pitying victimhood.
c) To look at the impact of society on consciousness and experience
ANSWER KEY1=a 2=c 3=b 4=a 5=b 6=b 7=a