Remember the Marlboro Man?
He was the iconic figure immortalized in TV and print ads for the cigarette brand. Always pictured out on a prairie or in some quintessentially western American landscape, wearing a cowboy hat and alone with his horse, he radiated a rugged, manly self-reliance. Like the cowboy, the Marlboro Man was an archetype, a memorable and classic figure in advertising who, with his stoic, inscrutable image alone, summed up the entire ethos of male self-sufficiency, individuality, and pride, a distillation in one man of our national mythology of pioneers, westward trekking and the pursuit of destiny in the untamed, austere land of the wild, wild west.
The Marlboro Man was a potent image because it touched something deeply resonant, which is the desire to stand alone and make it against the odds and by one’s own initiative and strength. They say that in Europe, literature of a man maturing is filled with tales of country boys who go to the city to be civilized, but in America, we venerate the city boy who rejects civilization to test himself against nature in the wild. Perhaps, the difference is that the European learns to fit in, but the American seeks to assert himself. The Marlboro Man apparently did just that and came out on top, coolly self-assured and ready for any challenge.
And he’s still around, although nowadays the Marlboro Man would have quit smoking and would likely ride a motorcycle rather than a horse. Motorcyclists are his latter-day sons, I think, because they too embody self-reliant individualism and sturdy autonomy (I use male language here, although I think that women can have the same yearning and, of course, they also ride motorcycles).
Really, doesn’t everyone want to be the Marlboro Man to some degree? Don’t we all want to be that self-sufficient and don’t we all dislike unnecessary dependency?
Of course we do, but being realistic, there is a downside to all this self-reliance. We all need help sometimes and some of us just can’t accept that. Sometimes, that help is just feedback from someone knowledgeable, some ideas about what to do different, and a view of oneself from an outsider with an objective perspective, which is a rough summary of what a counselor does. Some just can’t open themselves up to that.
I find that to be odd, since most of us are comfortable knowing that we lack the medical knowledge to heal ourselves. We don’t expect that we should do our own plumbing or invest our retirement funds in the stock market. Those are areas where we readily admit our limits.
It’s odd because people don’t expect to have the medical knowledge necessary to heal themselves any more than they expect to do their own plumbing or invest their money in the stock market. In these areas, we gladly admit our limits and let someone else do what we know we can’t. So why not do it when our own plans for life and our own knowledge of living it doesn’t lead us to where we want to go?
What I say to these people is that they don’t surrender their autonomy and self-direction by seeing a counselor. The counselor doesn’t do things to you that make you different, like a surgeon does. They can be objective and help you to see things in a fresh way and give you ideas about what to do to make changes, but in the end, you always have to make those changes yourself. You listen, decide what feedback is valid for you, make the decision to think and act differently, and then you put those plans into action. It’s always up to you!
A counselor should be regarded as a resource, someone who enables you to improve your life, not as someone who kinda takes it over temporarily. Looked at from this perspective, a number of my clients have been more open and accepted counselor referrals.
Can this idea help you or someone you know?