The gap between self-pity and action

Stephen Fry got blasted for talking about it. I featured Charlie Munger talking about it in my newsletter:

​““Generally speaking, envy, resentment, revenge and self pity are disastrous modes of thought. Self-pity gets pretty close to paranoia, and paranoia is one of the very hardest things to reverse. You do not want to drift into self-pity. 

I have a friend who carried a big stack of index cards about this thick, and when somebody would make a comment that reflected self pity, he would take out one of the cards, take the top one off the stack and hand it to the person, and the card said, “Your story has touched my heart, never have I heard of anyone with as many misfortunes as you”. Well, you can say that’s waggery, but I suggest that every time you find you’re drifting into self pity, I don’t care what the cause — your child could be dying of cancer — self-pity is not going to improve the situation. Just give yourself one of those cards.”

​Self-pity adds no value and solves no problems. Eradicate it, they say. Purge it from your mind. 

I’m tempted to agree. But sometimes I don’t. See, it’s not a binary choice. The choice isn’t between bitching and stoically persevering. There’s a middle ground. Here it is:

You’re allowed to feel a little sorry for yourself and complain, but if and only if you’re doing everything possible to improve your current situation.

If that’s the position you take, you get both ends of the spectrum. You get the action from the “no complaining” side of the spectrum. But you also get a little kick from the self-pity.

But if you choose this middle ground, after a while, you begin to ask yourself a question: If you’re sincerely doing everything in your power to alter your situation, what do you have to complain about? That it’s not changing fast enough?


Remember what Baltasar Gracian said in The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence:

“There are some so outlandishly misguided that they expect all circumstances necessary for success to conform to their own whims, not the reverse.

​Maybe, this pity-whilst-persevering stance isn’t the middle ground after all. Perhaps it’s a stepping stone. A bridge that enables you to move from self-pity to unrelenting action.