Sunday, August 19, 2012

Soy Un Perdedor: Meaning, Dignity, and The Internal Script

by CWK

Beck famously sang, "Soy un perdedor/I'm a loser baby/So why don't you kill me?" The "soy un perdedor" part was an act of genius in terms of musical instinct. It introduces a little more mystery into an already mysterious song. Translated literally, from Espanol, it means, "I'm a loser."

The mixing of languages can serve many purposes; it can be a tacit demonstration of intelligence; it can get your message out to a larger audience; it can also hide your meaning. In terms of hiding meaning: clearly, if you speak Spanish to a crowd of crowd of English speakers, you can expect some confusion. My own sense of this verse is that Beck was trying to obscure his meaning a bit, and perhaps even to himself. It's unpleasant to call oneself a loser. Saying it in another language isn't quite as condemning; it makes the blow softer. Probably all of us have winced at ourselves during moments of self-doubt, and rants of self-destruction, and I believe that's what Beck is doing with this lyric. Spurgeon was right: no one knows what a kind word can do... or a cruel word. We often consider the value of words about others. Maybe we should stop now and then and consider the value of words about ourselves. We often have an internal 'song' playing in the back or our minds, like elevator music -- but what if we thought about the lyrics of this song? What if the internal narrative of our minds were laid bare? What if  a transcript of our thoughts and consideration of ourselves were manifest before our eyes?

My guess is that many of us would be singing along with Beck, "I'm a loser..." I remember an epochal conversation I had with a friend in grad school. We were talking about the internal narrative in our minds. I fessed up that often, while I was studying, I would get frustrated with myself. If I didn't understand material quickly or accurately, I'd take to verbally flogging myself, "Loser! You dummy. Why can't you get this? Everyone else has no problem with this material. You'll never get it. Moron." I wince now when writing this. Anyway, I purposed after that conversation to quit this sort of self-flagellation. I started paying attention to the "elevator music" in my mind. I noticed that after every failure, small or large, I'd begin this sort of tirade against myself. And I began cutting it off. A friend who works in counseling once told me that we all have a "script" in our minds. We say our "lines" when prompted by circumstances. Somehow the script of my mind had been set in stone so that, after every failure, I began the monologue, "I'm a loser..." Over time I've cut more and more of these kinds of scenes from my internal script. How? First, by being aware that they are there, i.e. by thinking about what I think about. Second, by the grace of God. The grace of God in Christ transforms one to "beloved" status. The gospel is not about self-help or "affirmation" statements; after all, it tells us that all have sinned. Yet, even in that, there is dignity: we are being taken seriously by God as active moral agent for one. Also, part of our problem is that we have "fallen short of the glory of God." Our grand purpose is to image God's glory. We are less than we should be. The accusation of "loser" often revolves around the claim, "You are worthless: always have been, and always will be." To be identified as one who falls short of God's glory does not amount to worthlessness; it calls us to see how grand our lives should be/should have been. Much more could be said about how God in Christ restores our dignity; it is instructive that the first step to restoration of dignity often involves a statement that we have acted contrary to our dignity. Only an individual who has inherent dignity can forfeit it. I've heard that a contemporary of Mozart once lamented to him, "Mozart, you are not worthy of yourself." The title "loser," on the other hand, attributes worthlessness without dignity. It damns, not with faint praise, but with no praise. It may be the sound track playing softly, like elevator music, in the back of many a mind. God in Christ came to teach us a very different tune.

So, what would the transcript of our "self-talk" be if it was displayed before our eyes? Probably not what it should be. That means: we need to start talking to ourselves about ourselves. Yes, we need to start talking to ourselves. What I mean is, we need to start talking (consider, then speaking the right words), not just listening (letting harsh words flow forth), to ourselves.

We need to talk to ourselves, and we need to choose our words wisely. They should be gracious dignifying words. 

“Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them but they are talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you. Now this man’s treatment [in Psalm 42] was this: instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself. “Why art thou cast down, O my soul?” he asks. His soul had been depressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says, “Self, listen for moment, I will speak to you.” 
 D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Here are some quotes/ articles for those wrestling with issues of dignity and the self:

Any attempt at trading a human being implicitly objectifies that which is no object. It is no more legitimate than a con artist “selling” properties that are not his to sell. The logical impossibility of selling a human being (either oneself or another) effectively drives any question of relative worth out of the market. The question of relative worth is therefore given an absolute answer: human life has infinite value. Put away your credit cards, these items are not for sale.

I described dignity as a fancy word for worth and it should be apparent by now that human worth deserves a uniquely fancy word. We do not ask about the dignity of objects, except in an anthropomorphic sense. We humans are uniquely subjects rather than objects, possessing infinite value, which is in turn reflected in the esteem with which we regard the word dignity itself. Dignity as the infinite, intrinsic, inviolable worth of a human being cannot be won or lost, revoked, conferred, promoted or demoted.

- From, "We All Die With Dignity," First Things.


This is sobering. Not only am I not to murder another person because he is created in the image of God, but I’m also not to curse him or humiliate him for the same reason. And yet those of us who wouldn’t think of murder will all too often let harsh and hurtful words roll off our tongues with hardly a second thought. When we do this, we sin because we have violated the image of God in the other person. 

- From, Designed For Dignity, Jerry Bridges.

“Made in God’s image man was made to be great, he was made to be beautiful, and he was made to be creative in life and art. But his rebellion has led him into making himself nothing more than a machine.”

- From, Francis Schaeffer, Back to Freedom and Dignity.


The central thought on which the projected apologetic of Pascal was to revolve as on a pivot, is the contrasted greatness and wretchedness of man,—with Divine Revelation, in its doctrine of a fall on man's part from original nobleness, supplying the needed link, and the only link conceivable, of explanation, to unite the one with the other, the human greatness with the human wretchedness. This contrast of dignity and disgrace should constantly be in the mind of the reader of the "Thoughts" of Pascal. 

From, William Cleaver Wilkinson, Classic French Course in English (p. 127). Kindle Edition.

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