TV Solves Our Organizing Problems: Why Are You Lying if it’s Not for the Soviet Union?

“Let’s Ask TV About Our Organizing Problems” is an advice column for organizers, answering our questions about work by looking at fiction.

The Question: For as long as I have been doing organizing work, I have had a hard time saying no. I often end up doing work I don’t have capacity for, like organizing a random Townhall last minute with no support from the rest of my group (that’s what I did yesterday. No one else even showed up, let alone helped me plan). Even when I don’t want to do something, and I know that I’m going to be resentful about it later, I still do it. Why?! Someone recently told me I have “people pleasing” tendencies, which makes me cringe, but also feels… Accurate.
How can I get better at saying no, or not taking on projects that I know will leave me pissed off and tired?”
— People Pleasing, Pissed Off

I started watching The Americans last week. I intentionally avoided watching it while on the air because knew I would like it too much and neglect all of my responsibilities to watch it.

But my living alone pandemic January became too much for me, so… today, I’m almost done with season two.

And if I’ve learned anything from tweeting about this experience incessantly -man.

People fucking love The Americans.

I mean, I love the Americans.

But I couldn’t quite figure out why.

It’s a great story, the acting is good, it’s powerful, but like… people love it. More than they love most prestige TV, which is saying something.

I think it’s because of all the lying.

How much I like the lying is something I find a little bit embarrassing to admit, even to myself.

Because Phillip and Elizabeth are always lying!

To each other, to the targets they encounter/seduce, their neighbors, their weirdo kid Henry, everyone.

They’re lying all the time.

And it’s very relatable.

Which is weird, because… I’m not a Russian sleeper agent, and neither are you, as far as I know.

So… what are we all lying about, that this show is so relatable?

People say on Twitter that The Americans is about belief systems.

What you believe, why you believe it, and how your belief system evolves because of your life experiences.

Something about that description felt off to me.

Because who has a belief system in this economy?

Calm down, Socialists and Pagans, I see you.

All I’m saying is I know a lot more people who have love for the television show The Americans than I do people with strongly held political or religious beliefs.

So why is this show so freaking relatable?

Why do people love all the lying?

-

Here’s my theory:

So much of the show and the lies within it are intimate lies.

The lies told within a marriage, or the lies we tell ourselves.

So when we think about what we believe, it makes sense that we have to look a little deeper than politics or religion.

Because you know what else is a belief system? Attachment issues.

Attachment issues are a belief system.

They’re what you believe fundamentally about who you are and how you should relate to other people.

So I guess what I’m trying to ask you, PPO, is — what do you believe about yourself so intimately that you feel like you have to lie about it all the time?

Because that’s what people pleasing is: lying.

We people please because we’re trying to control the reaction of others.

So we conceal what we actually want or need, by… again, lying.

Usually even lying to ourselves.

We lie, we fight for control through people pleasing, because we feel like we have to.

We believe that we have to be someone different from who we are.

We don’t believe that what we actually want and need is okay.

So we lie.

And that’s why I think everyone likes The Americans so goddamn much.

Because many of us are constantly lying (to ourselves, to our friends, to our family, to our partners) for the Soviet Union.

It’s just that the real Soviet Union is our fundamental belief that we are unlovable for who we are.

Which is a lot less sexy of a belief, way less noble of a cause, then any ideology. Especially “communism will prevail.”

So, PPO, I don’t have much that’s actionable for you.

Because usually the way to stop people pleasing, to say no more, to set boundaries, is to “ learn to love yourself “.

And Jesus Christ, that’s the least actionable piece of advice you can get.

But like this CIA made show would have you believe about communism, your own personal Soviet Union is not sustainable.

As a belief system, “who I am is not OK, and so I have to lie about it all the time” might get you through the Cold War, but you won’t have that much fun along the way.

(OK sorry, I’m done with this metaphor. I don’t know anything about the geopolitics terms of the Cold War.)

I don’t know how you learn to love yourself.

I also don’t know how you stop people pleasing ( lying).

Sending out a twice a week email that includes all of your most honest deeply held insecurities does help. Also, therapy, somatics, self compassion, all the usual stuff people tell you. Sorry. I wish I had a better or at least more interesting answer.

But addressing that deeply held belief is some of the most important work you can do.

And it’s worth doing.

So at the end of the day, you can figure out a better Soviet Union.

A belief system that’s worth fighting for, without the lies.

And until you figure out the whole “loving yourself” deal, I really recommend watching the Americans.

PS — Please commend me — I did not make a single “ripped off from Bojack Horseman Margo Martindale joke” in this email.

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