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The Vanilla Life – Bell bottom jeans one day, beige the next.

July 15th, 2008 · 1 Comment

As a child I remember we always had a container of neapolitan ice-cream in the freezer.  There was always a thin strip of chocolate on one side, a thin strip of strawberry on the other and the thickest strip in the middle – vanilla.

The vanilla ice-cream was always left behind – a lump in the middle looking so very pathetic and isolated I remember making a pact with my friends, let’s never become like adults; adults are boring they always like vanilla ice-cream….

It’s true, one moment adults are wearing bell bottom jeans the next minute they are wearing beige or if you want to pretend beige is an interesting colour you may refer to it as ‘ecru’.

As I grew older I forgot about my childhood pact and my taste buds grew accustomed to the taste of vanilla.  I was introduced to the Greek vanilla spoon dessert – a small nugget of sweet dense vanilla eaten while being dunked in water translated in English this dessert is called the ‘submarine’.

Vanilla is uninspiring and safe, you know this as a child but as you grow your life becomes submerged just like the Greek vanilla dessert- the ‘submarine’.

The source of all things vanilla – Eros versus Thanatos

Psychology can provide a useful insight into the source of a vanilla life.

In Freudian psychology, humans are pulled by two opposing forces. Eros, the Greek God of love, who represents energy, richness and the desire to create life.  Eros drives our goals, creativity and challenges our boundaries.  In corner two we have Thanatos the Greek God of death who is the founder of negativity, resistance and all things vanilla. Eros battles against the destructive forces of Thanatos, and Thanatos battles against the creativity and energy of Eros.

As children we embrace our inner Eros and can’t see or feel the destructive forces of Thanatos. But as we get older Thanatos takes a greater hold on our lives and we stop making progress and cease embracing challenge.  Somehow, slowly, ever so slowly while we weren’t looking we become more and more conservative.  Why?

We learn from a young age that boundaries exist – the older we get the more boundaries there seem to be. You can’t do this, you can’t do that, and you certainly can’t do the other. Do we increasingly define our lives by boundaries?

Perhaps we are too busy worrying about our weaknesses and failings rather than focusing on developing our strengths?

Maybe we just feel content and safe within our vanilla boundaries – why risk failure or damaging our mature and secure sense of selves by challenging ourselves?

Let’s explore the vanilla concept with an example.

A well known middle aged runner ‘Victoralias’ intends to run sustained 3 minute kms.  (10 kilometers in half an hour) Over a year ago Victoralias posted a thread titled how long to run sustained 3 minute km on a popular running Australian forum which caused a scandal.

Take the following comments for example:

“I think Victoralias is doing great, and I wish I had his ability.  But if I had his ability I would be satisfied in my personal improvements, and would not feel the need to state outlandish goals to all and sundry. Humility generates respect.”

And this:

“I wish him well but reality and his performances tells me that he is setting himself up for failure….  I also think that people can be over supportive and are contributing to his sense of under-performing, when realistically he is actually doing well for a 40+ year of limited distance running”

“I just hope he is not one of these people who never really achieves anything because he always sets unrealistic goals.”

Notice how some people tend to pad out their negativity with insincere well-meaning comments but you can easily read between the lines.

Then we move onto the more aggressive comments:

“ if you can’t ‘bring it……then ‘sit-down shut-up and get back in your box’.”

Comments like this suggest that:

  1. people get angry when they hear about goals that they perceive to be unrealistic or overly aspirational- they consider it a sign of arrogance (or commonly known in some countries as Tall Poppy Syndrome)
  2. people  generally don’t like the idea of others achieving something exceptional
  3. people should be satisfied with their personal achievements when they reach a certain level that is perceived to be ‘acceptable’.

By now you might be asking what this has to do with a vanilla life, neapolitan ice-cream and beige -or ‘ecru’.  Well here is my theory.

These comments represent the barriers and negative forces that you would expect from your old friend Thanatos – they impose and perpetuate self limiting thoughts.  Boundaries are described by using words like ‘unrealistic goals’ or ‘failure’.  Remember it’s safe to stay within our limits – you can’t possibly do this can you? – Why do we always like to tell people they can’t do things!    It’s almost always the first thing we think about isn’t it?

I am not suggesting for one moment that we should all set truly unrealistic goals like teaching a dog how to speak Russian, French and German and certainly don’t believe that the answer lies within the absurdity of ‘The Secret’.

We should not kill someone else’s spirit or passion just because we think it’s not technically within the ‘vanilla’ mind set.   So what if people are over-inspirational.  Where would we be today if it wasn’t for people that pushed the boundaries?  Isn’t it those boundary pushing beliefs that make successful people get out of bed each morning?

Should we stop exploring or challenging ourselves with the near impossible?  What would happen if we didn’t push ourselves?  Should we become boring and predictable and go with the mindset that ‘humility generates respect’?    Or should we respectfully challenge the status quo instead?

Here is the vanilla test – how do you score?

  1. When you go to a restaurant do you tend to eat what you have previously eaten?
  2. Would you be prepared to appear in public dressed as the opposite sex?
  3. Would you give up your hobbies, passions or goals when you get married?
  4. Are you suspicious of people from other races, cultures or sexual preferences?
  5. When was the last time you challenged yourself or did something that terrified you?
  6. Who is the better film maker Steven Spielberg or Stanley Kubrick?
  7. Don’t read any further if you do not know who Stanley Kubrick is.
  8. Would you rather be an unacknowledged genius (Van Gough) or rich and famous talentless celebrity? (Paris Hilton).
  9. Would you prefer to live in a 1930s Art Deco house or a modern housing estate?
  10. Who do you prefer Superman or Batman?
  11. Do you have a standard panoramic photograph of a waterfall, landscape, seascape or cityscape on your wall?
  12. Please please stop reading now if you have one of these panoramic photographs with a cliché phrase under it.
  13. Who killed JFK- the CIA, Lee Harvey Oswald or aliens for the planet Zerkton?

Tags: musings

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