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Our Selves Drift Away

The other day I was racing around some big-box type store, scrambling to get all the back-to-school stuff for the kids. We had adopted a “divide and conquer” mentality with my two kids going in one direction and I going in another for different things, and agreeing to meet at the front till. As I was standing breathlessly in the line up, having emerged relatively unscathed from my close encounter with the panicked hordes of desperate parents, I noticed one particular item amidst all the pencils and paper and geometry sets that I didn’t recall being on the list.

 A bottle of Coke. But not just any bottle of Coke. This one had my name all over it. Literally.

 Share a Coke with Ryan.

I stared at the bottle for a while, beginning to do a slow burn. So, Coca Cola thinks that by plastering our names all over their sticky, sugary nectar, that they can more easily part us with our money! How stupid do they think we are?! They must be really desperate to resort to such transparently pathetic methods!

Thankfully this angry diatribe remained a (mostly) interior monologue. My daughter just thought it was kinda cool that she saw her dad’s name on a bottle of pop. She was just probably just trying to get a smile (she’s sweet like that), and so I ground my teeth, dutifully provided the smile, and bought the Coke. I even kept the empty bottle and it has sat in my office for the past week or so. I am staring (less angrily) at it right now, as I write these words.

A personalized Coke is, of course, the perfect artifact for a selfie world where we can never, it seems, get quite enough of ourselves, where we are always gazing adoringly at our own reflections in the mirror that is social media, constantly branding ourselves with the right causes, the right articles and thinkers, the right experiences, the right whatever, constantly refining, curating, shaping the selves that stare back at us.  Of course we want a Coke with our name on it. Why wouldn’t we?! What could be better than more, well, me?!

Last week I came across an article in Aeon magazine by Will Storr called “How a Hero Narrative Can Transform the Self.” According to Storr, the human brain has a constant need to be telling a story to ourselves about ourselves:

We live, moment to moment, in an emotional reality of love, hate, feuds, sorrows and dreams. We spin seductive, reductive narratives of heroism and villainy, struggle and victory, to parse reality and give ourselves esteem and our lives meaning. Rituals help. We use them to place ourselves at particular plot-points in the story of our lives. They reinforce our tales, making us seem important and our journeys comprehensible. In the chaos of the daily world and our irrational behaviour within it, our brains conjure the illusion of order; they wrench a plot from the chaos and then place us heroically at its centre. And what heroes we are! A symphony of optimism biases soothe us into believing we’re smarter, better looking, more morally upright than we are. Primitive tribal instincts turn our enemies into ruthless ignorant baddies while our allies are crowned with undeserved haloes. As we push through the minutes of our lives, we’re all Davids fighting our own personal Goliaths.

Yes, it’s all about us. The marketers know this, of course, whether they work for Coke or Facebook or whether they are selling ideology or religion or whatever. Advertising has always been all about the selling of products by selling (a version of) us to ourselves.  The marketers have always known that the best way to get our money is to make us the stars of the show! But for some reason this just struck me in a newly pathetic way with the Coke bottle. I could imagine the a bunch of people in some cubicle somewhere coming up with this stupid idea and expecting us all to be pleased… Look, we put your name—your name!—on a bottle of Coke!! Isn’t it pretty? I bet you would like to try some now, right? Right??

Sigh.

Long, long ago, a Hebrew poet wrote these words:

Their idols are silver and gold,
 the work of human hands.
They have mouths, but do not speak;
eyes, but do not see.

They have ears, but do not hear;
 noses, but do not smell.
They have hands, but do not feel; 
feet, but do not walk;
and they do not make a sound in their throat.
Those who make them become like them; 
so do all who trust in them (Psalm 115:2-8).

Yes, we become like what we worship.

So, when we worship ourselves—and what was the first sin, after all, but the hunger to worship the self, a hunger that has proved insatiable ever since—what do we become? We become like ourselves, yes, but not our truest selves, not our best selves. Not the selves we were created to be. Not the selves that, in our better moments, we long to be. No, we increasingly become, rather, like the smallest, most shallow, trivial, myopic, and hollowed out versions of ourselves that we could be.

We turn the mirror from side to side, we adjust the angles, we snap the picture, we bow down, we stare and we stare and we stare…

And our selves drift away.

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. mmartha #

    I follow this and the point is good. No quibbling. An open gimmick by the Coke company. No one I know bought from this collection.

    However, many groups, many people will cut a lot of slack for CocaCola. And I think of Candler Theology right off. And I guess I don’t want to talk about the company !! ?

    In reality this isn’t a selfie, but a thoughtful gift to you.

    September 9, 2014
    • Candler Theology? You’ll have to explain… Like the school?

      I am trying (but still mostly failing) to see a personalized Coke as a thoughtful gift rather than yet another monument to our obsession with ourselves 🙂 .

      September 10, 2014
      • mmartha #

        I believe Coke has been a tremendous support to Candler, many have benefitted in US from college scholarships given by CocaCola, and the company has fostered community through the local bottling companies and in other ways.
        Atlanta, the headquarters, is not far from my home in Florida and the climate of opinion has always been high for the company here. As for the gift, it seemed to have been selected in appreciation for inner qualities such as care and comapanionship at the beginning of a school year. It’s a story Coke would like.
        The lesson you’re teaching I agree with, as well as your point on promotional sales, but I don’t see concentration on self in the family story that goes with it.

        September 10, 2014
      • Ah, that makes sense. Well, I’m glad to hear about the less sinister side of Coke 🙂 .

        Yes, your interpretation of events is much more charitable, and undoubtedly better than the route I chose to go. Not for the first time, I have chosen to see the glass as half empty rather than half full. I appreciate the nudge toward charity.

        September 10, 2014
  2. Tanya #

    I am with mmartha. 🙂 Since the giver of the gift is a sweet girl I know and love, who likely wanted to make her dad smile and feel loved, you might have taken a bit more of the “glass half empty side of the story.” However, worship of self is something we all have to fight very hard against, so I appreciate the reminder. I often wonder how much of an empty but fit, stylish, polished version of myself I am becoming, and how much of me is actually like the one I say I worship. I am afraid that the truth is hard and embarrassing for me to look at.

    Thanks for the wisdom and the thoughts for today and many days to follow.

    September 10, 2014
    • I have been appropriately admonished 🙂 (here, as well as on Facebook). This was, undoubtedly, a case of missing the forest for the trees…

      Thanks, Tanya.

      September 10, 2014

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