Unhappiness As A Crime

I knew a man whose father said to him, “You’re a very unhappy person”. Now, such words may be said compassionately, or with concern; but in this case they were said in an accusatory manner, in precisely the same tone as one might say, “You, Sir, are a thief and a liar!” Perhaps for the father it was the same thing, for philosophers and religions have always held that to be good is to be happy – if not here and now, then in the next life. This suggests that to be unhappy, for reasons other than heroic virtue in the vale of tears, is to be wicked. Or perhaps the son’s offence was not in being unhappy but in appearing to be unhappy, which cast aspersions on the father’s parenting. After all, I also knew a woman whose mother told her, “I don’t give a hoot whether you’re happy or not, as long as the neighbours think you are.” Such parents, although devoid of any real interest in or concern for their offspring’s welfare, are yet intensely interested in being perceived by their peers as having such interest and concern. It is typical of such people that they correct their children’s behaviour with reference never to ethical principles but solely their own brownie points in others’ eyes: “Mrs So-and-So will think we’ve dragged you up.”

How this syndrome can be stood on its head while remaining exactly the same is illustrated by a friend of a friend, who in her childhood was rebuked for looking happy, on the grounds that the neighbours would see her grinning and think her “simple”.

Posted on January 11, 2010 at 12:53 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink

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