Things are different when people subjected to drastic change find only meager opportunities for action or when they cannot, or are not allowed to, attain self-confidence and self-esteem by individual pursuits. In this case, the hunger for confidence, for worth, and for balance directs itself toward the attainment of substitutes. The substitute for self-confidence is faith; the substitute for self-esteem is pride; and the substitute for individual balance is fusion with others into a compact group.
It needs no underlining that this reaching out for substitutes means trouble. In the chemistry of the soul, a substitute is almost always explosive if for no other reason than that we can never have enough of it. We can never have enough of that which we really do not want. What we want is justified self-confidence and self-esteem. If we cannot have the originals, we can never have enough of the substitutes. We can be satisfied with moderate confidence in ourselves and with a moderately good opinion of ourselves, but the faith we have in a holy cause has to be extravagant and uncompromising, and the pride we derive from an identification with a nation, race, leader, or party is extreme and overbearing. The fact that a substitute can never become an organic part of ourselves makes our holding on to it passionate and intolerant. (p. 5)
The capacity for getting along with our neighbor depends to a large extent on the capacity for getting along with ourselves. The self-respecting individual will try to be as tolerant of his neighbor’s shortcomings as he is of his own. Self-righteousness is a festation of self-contempt. When we are conscious of our worthlessness, we naturally expect others to be finer and better than we are. We demand more of them than we do of ourselves, and it is as if we wished to be disappointed in them. Rudeness luxuriates in the absence of self-respect.
The unattainability of self-respect has other grave consequences. In man’s life the lack of an essential component usually leads to the adoption of a substitute. The substitute is usually embraced with vehemence and extremism, for we have to convince ourselves that what we took as second choice is the best there ever was. Thus blind faith is to a considerable extent a substitute for the lost faith in ourselves; insatiable desire a substitute for hope; accumulation a substitute for growth; fervent hustling a substitute for purposeful action; and pride a substitute for unattainable self-respect. The pride that at present pervades the world is the claim that one is a member of a chosen group—be it a nation, race, church, or party. No other attitude has so impaired the oneness of the human species and contributed so much to the savage strife of our time. (pp. 79-81)
Eric Hoffer — The Ordeal of Change
There’s something about movies that were based during the time of the Great Depression that really speaks to me. When everything else is stripped from us—all the nonsense of striving for things we truly don’t need—and all we could do is work for our survival to put food in our children’s bellies; then, and only then, would we accurately know what we are made of.
Let’s be honest for a second; very few of us have no idea what it actually means to struggle in life. With that being said, I’m not trying to minimize anyone’s current difficulties.
Our striving after substitutes from what truly matters in this world has skewed our purpose. What do you or people close to you consider most important? What do they talk about? Listen to your conversations for a week and pay attention to what people are saying. Chances are, it will have to do with substitutes such as nation, race, church, or party. Hoffer is saying we have come to a bad place when our substitutes have taken higher priority than our originals.
We can never have enough of the substitutes! When I read that, I instantly thought about my struggle with sugar and processed foods. When I’m off my game with food, I find myself desperately craving “substitutes” for real food. I become like an alcoholic or drug addict who simply must get his fix. Nothing else in my life is more important than getting that next hit of the substitute. It actually takes me quite some time to detox from substitute food and get back on the “real food” train.
The same rings true when we lose the capacity for getting along with ourselves. We will turn to any possible substitute we can find to distract ourselves from taking a closer look. We turn to nation, race, church, or party and give every waking moment of our existence to these causes. Our lost faith in ourselves leads us to take stances we wouldn’t normally take if our self-esteem was in tact. As a result, we can’t get enough of the substitutes. Our passions and desires are skewed and we lose sight of what’s important in this life.
I must confess, I have a hard time with people who push their substitutes onto everyone. Their news feeds on social media are post after post of substitutes they want all their acquaintances to consider more important than originals. Here’s the thing, I typically unfollow people who forcefully push their substitutes day after day on social media. Sure, I may miss out on their occasional original post, but at least my news feed isn’t full of substitute posts about topics I don’t really consider important.
In the chemistry of the soul, a substitute is almost always explosive if for no other reason than that we can never have enough of it. We can never have enough of that which we really do not want.
Have a blessed day.
Peace and Love,