Living In An Upside Down World

One of the things that makes living a meaningful, transformative life difficult is that we live in an upside-down world. What does this mean? Let me give you an example: I recently watched a true crime show where a woman was found murdered in her home. The woman herself, a loving single mother, was completely blameless. The only clue of any suspicious activity was a neighbor who had seen a strange vehicle parked in an empty field behind the woman’s house the night she was killed.

When the police did a search the next morning, the dead woman’s brother noticed that there were still tire tracks from the strange vehicle imprinted in the snow. The neighbor remembered vaguely that the vehicle was some kind of SUV or truck and that it was white in color. Armed with the tire imprints, the police were able to determine that the vehicle belonged to one of two models of SUV’s – a Toyota Four Runner or a Ford Explorer. The police set up a roadblock near the woman’s’ home and began to systematically check every vehicle that passed by.

Unfortunately, within another couple of days, another woman was found murdered in similar circumstances a few miles away. The police were afraid that they were dealing with a serial killer. At one of the roadblocks, a police officer noticed a white Toyota SUV that fit the general description of the strange vehicle sighted near the dead woman’s home. The driver, however, was one of the most important and distinguished people in the entire area, he was the commander of a huge military base just outside the town. Officers apologized to the commander after stopping his vehicle and began to wave him on his way. He was very understanding and did not become angry at the indignity of being stopped by the police; in fact he was quite pleasant and gracious.

Just as he pulled away, one of the police detectives who was directly involved with investigating the case got a quick glimpse of the commander’s tires. The detective was so involved with the case that he had completely memorized the tire tread of the suspect vehicle. To the detective’s absolute shock, the tire tread on the base commander’s vehicle was a perfect match for the tire tread he had so committed to memory. The detective knew that, just like a fingerprint, no two tire treads are exactly the same. With a great deal of disbelief, the officers requested that the commander come into the station for questioning.

After a search of his vehicle and a DNA match of a blood sample found at the scene, it was clear this high-ranking officer was in fact guilty of two murders, one attempted murder and a brutal rape attack on a young woman. This was a man who was respected by his peers and worshipped by those who served under him. He was a decorated veteran and a skilled military leader, known for his calmness and steadiness under pressure. However, it turned out that he was also a cold, brutal sociopathic serial killer, who would have kept on killing, had not his vehicle been spotted. Ironically, when asked what his impression was of his final victim (who he had abused for hours before killing) he replied, “She was a very nice woman.”

We live in an upside-down world where even famous and respected people are guilty of things like brutality towards those they love, cold exploitation of innocent strangers, taking sexual advantage of underage children, corruption and manipulation of the worst kind. We are speaking here of those who are idolized and looked up to, people who (like that military commander) have real accomplishments attached to their names. Not only is this true for those icons of history who are looked up to worldwide, but it’s also true of those whose famous accomplishments are works of art, music, and movies. They are worshiped by many, yet inside they may be cold, empty, cruel, uncaring and ruthless towards others. Needless to say, this is not true of all famous and renowned people; many can be kind and worthy human beings, but this is in spite of their fame, rarely because of it.

Often, we worship those who least deserve it, and that is because we live in an upside-down world. We live in a world where external regard and renown are held up as the true measures of a person’s success. To be admired (or to be ‘known’) is proof-positive of one’s worth in the world. The fact that one has attained some level of fame is actually completely unconnected to whether or not one has any worth at all. In fact, as stated above, someone who is looked up to by many may actually be a monster.

One might say that this idea has little relevance to the average person. While it may be true that there are many famous and even admired people who are completely unworthy of the regard that others have for them, most of us do not fall into this category. Most of us are not worshiped for our fame. So why would this be important to us?

Actually, we deal with this idea all of the time. In fact, it affects us (even the most ‘spiritual’ among us) in ways that, while subtle, are far-reaching and deep.

How is this?

Think for a moment of how you order your life and goals: Let’s say you are an auto-mechanic. You may be earning enough to feed yourself, maybe even enough for your family as well. What is the thought that crosses your mind? “I need to become the shift manager, then the supervisor, then the person in the front office who tells others what to do.  I need to be ‘important.’”

The same goes for the office worker. They may be comfortable in their little cubicle. Life isn’t great, but it isn’t all that bad either. They joke with their friend over the half-wall, they go out to lunch, occasionally they even gather for a beer after work with their buddies. They know the routine and they’ve learned to keep their head down and mostly avoid trouble. Yet, they do not feel valued. They feel as if they are not important. Life would have more meaning (they would be ‘somebody’) if they could only be one of the bosses.

Just in case you think that this still does not relate to you (as a person who is more refined, more sophisticated, or more artistically creative in your sensibilities), consider this: An artist creates – perhaps he or she plays a piece of music, paints a picture, writes a story. They enjoy it. The people around them enjoy it. Do they feel a sense of artistic satisfaction? Not always. They may instead be wondering why they are not featured in a gallery exhibit. Why their music does not have a record deal. Why their story is not in a nationally distributed magazine. Again, they are judging their worth as a creative human being based on fame and acclaim in the outside world. This way of thinking affects many, many artistically gifted human beings and causes them to devalue themselves and what they create.

I don’t know about you, but I often find myself guilty of these thoughts. The more I try to stamp it out, the more it persists. At times like these I simply remind myself that we live in an upside-down world.

Maybe it’s time to combat this with a different perspective: Let’s take a moment to value real accomplishments, like the person who walks quietly through the world, considering the well-being of everyone they encounter. Someone who does not grasp for fame or adulation, or even power, because they do not see it as being the measure of their worth. Someone who does not measure others in this way as well, but instead values all people because of their inner greatness. There is greatness in us that is unrelated to whether we have ‘made it big’ in the world. There is greatness in people all around us – greatness that we may never take a moment to recognize because we are wearing the wrong glasses. We have been conditioned to look for and value the wrong things in this upside-down world.

Next Column: The Victim State of Mind


Miriam E. Mendelson, PhD, is the Director of the Center for Transformative Development, Counseling, Consulting and Mediation in NYC and is available for speaking engagements, individual and family counseling and business consultation. Click here for a complete list of all Miriam Mendelson’s articles. Column feedback and questions are welcome:
One Comment
  1. I read the entire article but still do not think that upside down world applies to the references,,, I would call it ‘inside out’…we value the outside and really the ‘inside’ is way matters,,, for instance; mell gibson has proven himself to be anti-Semitic and I will never watch another movie of his again. The same with michael richards ( Kramer in ‘Seinfeld’)…

    Inside out makes more sense to me than upside down, but I certainly agree with your premise ! Thank You for your article !

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