Is there a conspiracy by The Man to keep you down?

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It is February 1, and time for another post on Martha Beck’s blog.

This time, I chose one of my favorite expressions as a topic:  Is there a conspiracy by The Man to keep you down?

At times, especially if you work in a cube, it sure does feel like it.  But living your life as if you have someone’s boot at your neck is not going to do much for your self-determination.

Here is a taste of the article:

I had a friend from college named Javier who was convinced that Walt Disney had it in for him.  I don’t remember the particular conspiracy, only that it involved subliminal messages, Mickey Mouse and lots and lots of oppression. 

Walt Disney was not the only tyrant in his life, there were many more:

•    Academia
•    The U.S. Government
•    The IRS
•    The CIA

I am sure I am only scratching the surface.

The funny thing is, none of these monolithic institutions held a candle to the sabotage Javier did to himself.  He had tormented love affairs.  He would lose school papers on his computer just as he was about to finish them.  His promising internships always ended in a fight with a boss or co-worker. His sharp intellect and gigantic heart were prisoners behind a curtain of anger, hurt and bitterness. All he knew was that Everybody was out to get him.

Martha explains this phenomenon in Finding Your Own North Star:

“In fact, everybody’s Everybody is composed of just a few key people.  Our social nature makes us long to fit in with a larger group, but its difficult to hold the tastes and opinions of more than five or six individuals in your mind.  So the resourceful social self creates a kind of shorthand:  it picks up a few people’s attitudes, emblazons them on your brain, and extrapolates this image until it covers the entire known universe.  The vague compilation of folks, you call Everybody is what psychologists term ‘the generalized other.”

Looking at the world through an Everybody perspective leads to statements like:

  1. I would be more successful in my career, but The Company is holding me back
  2. More people would read my blog if the A Listers weren’t so selfish
  3. I would start a business but no one from my background ever succeeds
  4. I would be in a relationship if Men were not such dogs
  5. I would be better at handling my money if Schools didn’t discriminate against girls in Math

Such broad generalizations keep you stuck and powerless.  By believing them, you hand your creativity and motivation directly to the force you think is oppressing you.

To get a handle on who your Everybody is, try a couple of these exercises from Finding Your Own North Star, (page 63):

Read the rest here.


7 Responses to “Is there a conspiracy by The Man to keep you down?”

  1. Craig Lang says:

    HI Pamela,

    I talk with so many people who describe this same way of thinking. I think it is a way of externalizing one’s own fear. It’s easier to blame others and find conspiracies holding you down than to actually have to go out there and DO the thing of your dreams.

    Thanks for an excellent article,
    -Craig R Lang
    Certified Hypnotherapist

  2. Richard says:

    I can emphasize with this post. I once had the attitude of “the world was out to get me”. Since recognizing my deficiency and taking responsibility for my own success I have been more successful in many aspects of my life. I want to add a note, while “the man” may not be out to get you, your co-workers and competitors could be and this can seem like “the man” keeping you down. I learned this the hard way after getting tangled with toxic mgt and backstabbing co-workers. And no, it wasn’t my imagination, I had proof. I have since left that job and learned from the experience. It’s important to look inward and determine where the issue is.

    I agree with you Richard! There definitely can be some people who do things ranging from withholding support to downright sabotage. You have to have your eyes open in order to not be taken advantage of. But, as you got from the gist of the article, if you take these creeps and generalize to think that ALL people are like that, you will sabotage yourself. In my experience, the good people always outweigh the bad.

    Thanks for sharing your example! It really helps.

    All the best,

  3. sub says:

    I felt that your post was highly enlightening. It brought up some key areas that I’ve discussed on

  4. Thanks Pam for this deeply meaningful exercise. It was one of those that I thought was unnecessary because as a career coach I’ve done so much self-examination. But I was wrong. There were a couple of statements in the Alternate Voices exercise that I could not say a resounding yes to. It was well worth it to remember the folks who think I’m wonderful in those two areas. I’m betting that we could all use an occasional cleaning of our Everybody.

    I’ve decided to use the title of chapter five as my mantra to keep my awareness up around this exceptional teaching. Getting Everybody on Your Side. Now that’s a wonderful idea!

  5. Carla Golden says:

    Good article! In my experience, some people have even seen God as the “Big Man” who was trying to keep them down.

  6. Pam,

    Jump into my way back machine – well, in Internet years.

    My fourth post at IT Toolbox, June 29, 2004, is titled, The Man Is Trying To Keep Me Down.

    At that point I began adding posts to my blog from time to time under the category of Economy of One – which is a personal ownership mandate I try to maintain.

    Speaking at various professional and college conferences, I’ve run into a few people who have that, “Every boss I’ve ever had was stupid and out to get me” Attitude.

    Sadly, as you well know, if everyone is out to get you, chances are you are out to get yourself.

    This past year, in a 2 week period, a plumbing problem flooded part of our master bedroom, the plumber hired to fix the problem accidentally lit a fire in the wall of our home – leaving without realizing it, the house almost burned down, my wife and I separated, and then in the piece de resistance, the final monsoon storm of the year caused the wash behind our home to overflow, filling our backyard with 4 feet of water and the inside of our home with 2.5 feet of water and several inches of mud.

    It certainly seemed like the man – the big man – was trying to keep me down. However, we learned a lot as a family and I learned a lot individual from all of that – am still learning actually.

    Having an “Everyone” or several of them excuses personal responsibility and gives you an excuse for a bad, can’t do, attitude. It justifies inaction or bad actions and is toxic for your career or your business.

    Great topic, great insight. Thanks Pam.

  7. Pam:

    In the end, we are our own worse enemy, especially when we rationalize our inability to achieve our goals by blaming other people.

    I don’t disagree with the fact that success has a self reinforcing element to it, like when successful people hang around other successful people, or when popular bloggers link to and support each other while less popular (but probably equally capable) bloggers that don’t belong to the “network” linger in obscurity.

    Once you reach the tipping point everything becomes easy and some people resent that, without taking into account that the “overnight success” they perceive and resent probably took many years of perseverance and hard work.

    All these are natural facts of life that one has to learn to accept and conquer. Those who don’t have the drive, or the “ganas” to do it will always blame others.

    Regarding your friend Javier, I know the type. I lived in Latin America long enough to get sick and tired of the cacophony of self-defeatism and “conspiracy theories” that try to explain all social and personal problems by blaming the U.S. (Chavez, anyone?).

    Funny thing is that those who complain the most are usually seen in our college campuses enjoying the best that our free market system has to offer, including the right to say whatever they want, paranoid rants included.