The anniversary of mindful Karen

This week marks the five year anniversary of my “Smug in the now“- post.

Back in 2015 I made a list of things that bothered me about the stereotypical mindful, vegetarian, yoga-practicing, gluten-fearing, urban-dwelling individual (often female, but not exclusively).

I guess today, we would refer to such a person as the yoga edition of barbie-doll Karen.

At the time, I felt I was surrounded by this type of people, and they annoyed the hell out of me. From my point of view they were stressed out hypocrites, tip-toeing their way around their looming burn-out, telling me to relax…

On a sidenote, I just found out the pejorative ‘Karen’ has its own wikipedia page. That is so awesome. Thank you internets.

How did Karen get me so worked up in 2015?

The (shortish version) of my list of objections to mindful Karen back in 2015 was as follows:

1) When she starts applying her ‘wisdom’ on others, she is not only annoying but oftentimes also wrong.
2) Her uninvited ‘health tips’ are counterproductive (and again, annoying, which is bad for my bowels).
3) Quoting an exotic luminary does not make her sound wise, but kind of pathetic, especially when applied as a conversation stopper.
4) It is always a sad day when a high-quality sarcastic retort gets dissected, but mindful Karen can’t help but try to find the deeper meaning behind simple statements, killing everybody’s buzz.
5) Karen is fooling herself by putting a lot of energy into avoiding ‘bad vibes’, but is really missing out on life by doing so.
6) Eliminating fiery emotions makes life colorless, lukewarm and passionless.

Looking back

A fact that I may not have expressed specifically enough in the first point in the original post is that the mindfulness lessons Karen learned are really only meant to be applied on her own inner self. The minute she tries to change other people is the second she stops being mindful all together and therefore has zero credibility on the matter.

As far as my food habits are concerned I think I have evolved. I have become more conscious of what I eat, not only for my own health but also for the well being of other beings and the environment in general. I’m sure the people I was directing my angry words at in 2015 were not all full of shit (no pun intended). However, I do think I needed to move away from that toxic group of hangry gluten-phobes to be able to make a change myself.

The sixth point should probably not really have been part of the list. It is not a point that describes yoga-Karen per se. More than anything, it is the conclusion of why I felt threatened by the ideas of mindfulness, or what I associated it with.

My hardheadedness and tendency to be blunt are traits of mine that I have a complicated relationship with. They are strengths as well as weaknesses. I guess my fear was (and probably still is) that the ‘luke warm’ bath of mindfulness would erase that part of my identity, taking away my uniqueness.

Embracing my inner Karen

Today, I am much better capable of applauding every effort somebody puts into becoming a better, healthier and more stable person. I can sympathize with the struggle that goes with that and understand they may not get it right straight away.

That, in their enthusiasm, they can’t help but project their problems and accompanying labels and lessons on others, is OK.

I have become better at controlling my impulse to snap back at people giving me well-meant advice. I can see their good intentions before condemning them for being wrong or pushy (which I still think they are, every now and then).

An additional thought that may be important to include is that most of my friends are yoga Karens. Ugh…. Did I really just use that argument……? Yes I did…

I realize everything I just typed sounds awfully condescending.

For the sake of honesty I will not rephrase. But I will try to save this sinking ship by patching it up with some additional thoughts…

Because who is that person writing a lifetip on her blog every month? ME!

Who frowns at the people buying bread rolls at the super market without bringing their own reusable bag? ME!

Who asked the neighbor to refrain from spraying pesticides on his roses in his own garden? ME!

I could go on with this list for a while longer, but you get the point; I can’t help but tell others how to live their lives and frequently point out why their actions are some sort of ‘wrong’.

Ergo, I am no better than then people I was aiming my poisoned arrows at in the past and whom I can’t help but talk about condescendingly, even now.

I am Karen. There I said it.

Lifetip 4: Disagree with yourself

When young lifetips grow up, I imagine they look up to the successful ones that made it onto tiles, memes or calendars. In comparison to the three life lessons I shared previously, this fourth one has a greater chance of ever becoming an inspirational quote of some sort.

Jesse Frederik first introduced this lifetip to me in somewhat confusing terms:

You don’t have to believe everything you think.

To me it means that it’s OK to let go of ideas you may have had in the past. For example, I used to think vegetarians were delusional, annoying and unhealthy. Now I believe that being vegetarian does not mean forsaking flavor, nor do I have to dress in hemp and grow dreadlocks. Also, it’s just undeniably better for the planet than maintaining a meat-based diet will ever be.

Another interpretation of this motto would start by breaking with the commonplace assumption that a person’s internal thoughts are always a monologue.

I suppose we all know the catholic mantra “What would Jesus do?”. It is a way of internalizing the voice of someone who’s morality you would want to apply to specific dilemma. Without getting too psychological about it, I hope we can agree that every person also has a “What would my mother do?” checkpoint, that pops up at specific moments (not always conveniently).

The happiness gurus of the 21st century might say the line refers to the negative thoughts we all have sometimes. Thoughts such as:

  • I am not good enough.
  • The world is unkind / dangerous.
  • I can’t do it (so I’m not even going to try).

A meaningful (and sad) metaphor that is sometimes used in this context is that of the domesticated elephant, that has been chained and ‘broken’ at an early age. During this time, she may have struggled to free herself but failed, leading her to believe it is impossible to do. Once grown, the elephant obeys orders to move and carry heavy objects. The same chain would be no match for the power she could apply to it as an adult elephant. At that point though, what keeps her from trying, is the belief that she can’t.

So.

Evaluate the thoughts you have every now and then. Don’t be afraid of changing a strong opinion you may have had out of fear of being seen as inconsistent or unstable.

Discuss your insecurities with the ones you love and trust. It will oftentimes be those moments, when you vocalize your thoughts, that you realize that is not what you believe at all. Saying them out loud will reveal their untruth. Just like a ridiculous dream, that makes total sense until the moment you wake up.

Lifetip 3: Accept the pecking order

The third post in my series of Lifetips will be dedicated to the benefits of hierarchy. It is actually a very improbable lesson to ever be coming from a Dutch person’s mouth, as we tend to have very little respect for these things.

Then again, maybe countries that actually understand and respect the implications of hierarchical structures wouldn’t need this lesson in the first place. Perhaps they could, however, explain it better than I (or Rutger Bregman, who brought it up in his April 2019 podcast episode) can.

Bregman poses that progress may not be possible in a purely egalitarian atmosphere. Hierarchy is needed in order to move forward on the long run.

The fact that western societies have increasingly been promoting “nice guys”, has softened our culture, as well as our politics. For our institutions however, too many nice guys is a curse. At some point, somebody needs to call ‘bullshit’, even it hurts someone’s feelings or means that all the work that has been done so far will be thrown in the bin.

An example that was given by Jesse Frederiks was a plan that journalist platform “the Correspondent” had upon its conception in regards to its compensation model. The initial plan was to let all the employees decide on the salary levels among themselves. The idea was that there would be full openness on the matter, with everybody having knowledge and insight into the division of the company’s money.

Long story short: it didn’t work.

Everybody was pretty relieved when they went back to a more traditional model, with specific people responsible for such decisions.

People that didn’t agree with the slice of the cake they ended up with, could complain about bad decision making by people elsewhere in the building and then bond over it with direct colleagues around the coffee machine (instead of having to blame them for it). Also, not having all the facts, turned out to be a relief to many.

Without hierarchy, direct colleagues would have to decide on a course of action together and battle out their differences face-to-face. This inevitably causes some friction, which makes working together increasingly difficult.

So perhaps certain positions require people who do not mind being disliked (for the greater good)?

Those at the bottom of the food chain do what they are told, without having to debate why and how.

With a person higher in rank calling the shots, foot soldiers can bond with their comrades over their shared suffering. At the end of the day the work gets done and everybody (except maybe that one guy) can go out for beers to celebrate.

In the YouTube video below Jordan Peterson (who Im not sure suffers from that Mr-Nice-Guy-complex) gives his explanation of why hierarchy is necessary and how left- and rightwing thinkers can (must?) keep the ranks from falling apart or being corrupted.

Sometimes you need an asshole to stand up, that doesn’t care if people like him or not, to get the job done. It’s OK to hate him. But recognize that you couldn’t have done it without him.

What do you think? Do you believe in an egalitarian system? Or is hierarchy really indispensable for stable community structures?