Thursday, January 31, 2013

Fake it 'Til You Make It...A Habit?

How many times have we heard this mantra? "Fake it," someone will knowingly smile at you as you struggle with a new challenge, "'til you make it!" This is an especially apt catchphrase in education - a field in which the smallest sign of weakness comes across as an invitation to be trampled. If you're standing in front of a room full of students and realize that you didn't make the copies for the day, you throw that bad boy on the SMART board and tell them you're saving paper.

In some scenarios, faking it is absolutely necessary to save face and establish respect early in an unfamiliar situation. My question is this: why are we not encouraged to actually try to put the leg work into building up the knowledge base and skills necessary to actually - oh, I don't know - make it?

There is, in my opinion, a VERY big difference between having to "fake" your confidence here and there and faking your understanding of your job or your knowledge of a situation or topic.

Let's look at a very recent and very public example of someone who was caught faking it. As someone who has to sing in public at times, I get why Beyonce lip synced at the inauguration. It was cold. It was unrehearsed. It was lots of things that made that job super difficult. Am I mad that she gets paid a bajillion dollars to lip synch while I get a pittance for spending 60 or so hours working each work? YES, but I'm self-aware enough to know that I'm mad at society's misplaced value system instead of Beyonce herself.

American culture is one that values bravado and charisma - arguably more than it values most any other human qualities. As an introvert, I'm lucky that my natural skill set includes the ability to use words effectively because I otherwise might not be nearly as sociable as I sometimes manage to be (let's not talk about mornings, okay?) in my daily interactions. We like to pretend that we value intelligence, hard work, and natural ability, but these things mean little if we don't have the ability to be interesting for long enough to  transmit the signs of these qualities to those we're trying to impress.

Call me a humanities major, but I'm of the opinion that everything and everyone is a product of social construction. I am short because I am not as tall as other people/my feet do not touch the ground in standard-sized chairs/I can't reach anything on the grocery store shelves designed for regular-sized people. I am nerdy because my interests align with a particular group of interests relegated to those deemed "nerds" (I am okay with this) and vary from those of other social groups. I guess if we're trying to be specific, I think all meaning is a social construction of semiotic* meaning.

*I promise that's as difficult as this will get - I just know a lot of English majors read this, so I'm not trying to hear them tell me I oversimplified (though I super did).

Since I believe that my identity is pretty much dependent upon everyone else's identity, I totally get it. Sometimes you've gotta fake that charisma and bravado. I really can sympathize.

What I've been wondering lately, however, is at what point we settle into the comfortable pattern of faking it. How often do put off professional development opportunities or self improvement because we're comfortable with faking it? If others think we're succeeding, aren't we really?

Here's the problem: you might be faking it with everyone else, but the one person you're definitely not fooling is yourself.

Let's bring this a little more uncomfortably close to home:
How often to do pretend we are interested in what someone is telling us about the cute thing his cat just did?
How often do we fake excitement about a plan or project?
How often do we allow ourselves to stay in emotionally unfulfilling relationships because they're comfortable?

Some amount of social "faking" is necessary. I mean, I usually DO love cat stories, so I'm not trying to ruin a friendship by being rude just because I'm not in a good mood that day. Some people might tell you this is not exactly true - when I'm in a bad mood, EVERYONE knows it. Sorry, kids.

What is not okay is when you start to find comfort in faking it.
When you start to stagnate in faking it.
When you stop trying to find yourself because you're faking it.





Thursday, January 10, 2013

Somewhere I have never traveled – gladly beyond any experience.

Perfectionism.


When I think of a perfectionist, I envision someone very unlike the version of me I show to the world. I think of perfectionism as the pursuit of excellence in every category of one’s life. Let me just recap some of my week for you guys: Sunday I painted one of my fingernails, didn’t like the polish, and just left it until…well…it’s still there. Monday I looked down in the middle of teaching first period and realized my shirt was inside-out. It stayed that way. Tuesday I didn’t notice a typo on my students’ midterm until I had made 100 copies. The list goes on…

As you can probably tell, I’m not the classic perfectionist. I don’t feel a world of pressure on me to look a certain way or act a certain way because, to be honest, I just do not prioritize the majority of surface traits that seem so valued in our society.
That being said, I cannot deny an incredibly stifling streak of perfectionism that keeps me from experiencing new things every day - I HATE the idea of messing up. I don’t care even a little what others think of the way I look, my taste in music, or my propensity for laziness; I just can’t tolerate the idea of anyone seeing me try and fail.

Of course it’s natural for people to want to succeed, but let me tell you a little something about my unhealthy obsession with being "naturally" good at things. Because I grew up with a lot of older siblings, I went into kindergarten knowing how to read, write, add, etc. I basically had the Kindergarten and first grade curriculum on lock, but then…COMPUTERS. This was, as my mother would say, back in the stone age, when people didn’t just have computers in their houses. This, my friends, was a world without instagram. I like to call it the pre-hashtag era. 
So I go into school one day and the teacher tells us that we should be super excited because the next day we’ll be going to the brand new computer lab! Several "ooohs" and a handful of "ahhhs" later, I felt like I was going to vomit. These kids seemed so excited – did THEY know how to use computers? They didn’t even know how to tie their shoes! What was wrong with me?!? (By the way, it turns out they didn’t know anything about them either. When I WAS five I didn’t know about the phenomenon that makes five-year-olds excited about anything said at the right vocal pitch and frequency). 
I digress.
So, I go home and I start stressing.  What was I going to DO with my life? What if the teacher and all my peers found out I wasn’t actually smart? More importantly, what if I found out I wasn’t actually smart when I had to learn something new? Long story short, I made myself throw up so I wouldn’t have to go to school the next day. When my mom figured out what my deal was, she took me in after school and my teacher taught me the basics in private so I would know what to do the next day in class. Thank you, Mrs. Love…thank you.

So at five, that kind of behavior is precocious (if not psychotic), but it’s excusable. I mean, I was going through a new experience, and I didn’t know how to handle it. Now fast forward to college -
I handled the actual college part of college pretty easily. I know how to study and I know how to be a good student. What I struggled with most was picking up the life skills that come so naturally to other people. We won’t even discuss my lingering inability to read a map.

Living in a coed dorm, I spent a lot of time with my dude friends, and they spent a lot of time playing video games. I know some things about video games, so this was fine with me…until that horrible day when the great equalizer came along: Guitar Hero.

Guitar Hero was new for everyone, so I had no way to have a leg up. For months and MONTHS I refused to touch that guitar. What I am (still to this day) embarrassed to admit to those guys is that during that time I sat and watched the screen carefully as other people played. I would move my fingers along with the notes at the bottom of the screen as if I were the one with the plastic guitar. Once I actually played for the first time, I had some basic muscle memory and nobody had any idea why. I beat all the songs on medium in less than two days.

So why did I tell you these wildly revealing and embarrassing stories about myself? Because I guarantee that absolutely nobody from my Kindergarten class or my college dorm remembers that I knew how to use computers even after I missed the first day OR that I succeeded at Guitar Hero the first time I touched the guitar. As a species – and as you can tell, I am a prime example – we OVERTHINK THINGS to an extent that is both absurd and detrimental to our mental health.

So many things in life fare better if you don't over-analyze them: relationships, cartoons, hotdogs, etc.
If you try to think through the lyrics of your favorite song, you’ll have a much more difficult time reciting it than if you just close your eyes and sing along. If you want to remember an old game from childhood (like my beloved cup game), the muscle memory will only come flooding back to you if you try to do it again without thinking through all the steps and rules.

The older I become, the more I have begun to believe that the reason we fail is that we believe we will. Now that I've loosened up a bit and am not quite so hard on myself, I’ve discovered that I’m pretty decent a lot of things I never would have tried before. I make art! I build things! I play the ukulele (kind of)! 
Just the other day my dad taught me a new card game while I was home for the holidays, and I lost abysmally with only the slightest bruising of my ego.

When I think of all the things I’ve missed out on because I was too afraid of not being impressive, I have to shake my head at myself. I don’t want to go change anything about my childhood, because I think that the pressure I put on myself has been largely responsible for my success in life - but I do want to continue to grow as someone who not only dominates life, but who truly lives it. 

So I encourage you to do the same. Embrace new experiences; learn from your peers; don’t take life too seriously. I mean, come on…if I can do yoga, you can do anything.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Naught that I am, not for their own merits, but for mine.

Brutal honesty time.

Sometimes - actually often - I feel sorry for myself. I spend so much time working AT work, working AFTER work, and then volunteering my time in the evenings that there is actually only one day of the week that I am home before time to go to bed. I do all these things because I think I should (and often because I actually want to do them), but then I paint myself as a martyr in my own head. I say martyr because I suppose what I feel is not quite "sorry" for myself as much as I feel noble for working so hard, and then feel slighted when I don't get the results I expect that work to merit.

I spend a lot of time telling myself, "Just take a day off and stay home. You need to sleep. When's the last time you just stayed in and took an evening to yourself?"

I'm not saying there's anything wrong with taking a day off - sometimes they are necessary. What I AM saying is that instead of actually taking a day off and relaxing, I just spend time TELLING myself that I should, and that's not healthy. For some reason I have developed an incredibly self-centered form of self-sacrifice.

I don't think this is just me, though. I think this is part of a larger social rhetoric. If we want to be other than the greedy, self-serving figureheads many of us villainize, we must sacrifice of ourselves for others. The question I have is this: If we're doing it just so that be can BE something, aren't we still serving ourselves?

That begs another question: do our motivations matter as much as the outcome? Do they matter at all?

For the last couple of years I've been super involved. I've given time, money, and hard work. Even so, I am nowhere close to the person I once was, and for that, I am disappointed. Why disappointed? Because I spend nearly as much time thinking about how much good stuff I do as I actually spend doing it.

If  I'm honest with myself, the fifteen year old version of me had more passion and drive for helping others than for BEING the kind of person who helps others. That girl didn't just do things or make things; she stood for things. That version of me felt the kind of zeal I now reserve for...what? Anything? Do I mean anything the way I once meant my ceaseless campaign to "Make Trade Fair?"

As I've aged, I've been using up "me" time like it was a commodity I spent twenty-six years stockpiling in the event of nuclear fallout. Time's up, unfortunately, and resources are scarce. It's time to stop living off the interest I accrued when my moral account was in a surplus.

As an "adult," my first instinct is to laugh at that naive girl who scrawled the same three-word mantra at the top of her homework. But then then the power of those memories knocks me off my grown-up high horse and right on my ass. 

I envy the optimism and energy of that same girl: the one who printed out fliers and pamphlets and hung them on every wall of every public building she entered.
Then I cower before the seven-year-old who wrote a letter to the President suggesting relief efforts for the homeless. There was more heartfelt concern in that second-grade scrawl than there has been in any of my recent undertakings (other than the ones pointing in the direction of myself).

Where did that girl go?
I think I taped her mouth shut when my heart was broken for the first time and I thought, "This. This is heartache. Now I, too, know what loss feels like."
I must have stolen her pen when I decided that productivity, efficiency, and accomplishment were the keys to success.

Once I started overextending myself and carefully budgeting the time I spent on reflection and meditation, that allotment of time turned toward introspection rather than EXpression.

For the last few years I have become a self-sustaining vehicle for self-aggrandizement: I can talk about myself and my ideals ad infinitum, but that means so much less now that I mean so little of what I do.

What can I blame? I want to blame reality. I want to blame preoccupation with achievement the constant comparison and contrast we face as adults. The truth is, though, that it's not adulthood in itself that robbed me of my passion - it's our warped "mature" perspective on the hierarchy of life priorities.

We can mock teens all we want for feeling things to deeply, loving too dramatically, or speaking too abstractly, but the only things I've done in the past few years that I still know were done for the right reasons were the ones I've done in leading and guiding the young people in my life.

My students (both past and present) inspire me. My nieces and nephews inspire me. My youth group inspires me. It's true they are our future, but I'm glad to say they are my present, and as cliche and trite as I know this is, they are the greatest gift I've ever received.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Breaking up...really isn't that hard to do.

SO-
Until now I've been annoyingly abstract in pretty much all of my discussions of romantic relationships. That's partially because love is, in its very nature, abstract; mostly, however, it's because I don't want this blog to be about my personal life experiences. I would prefer for it to be a broader social commentary than just "here's what I think I want from love/politics/life." In looking back at my high school journals, I can assure you that even I don't want to read that kind of thing ever again - why would anyone else?

I guess, then, I should start this out with one very important caveat: this is neither directed toward any one person from my past, nor aimed at the experiences of any my friends who find themselves in this situation at the present. That being said, I am inspired to write about break-ups this week because I see them all around me. Let's be honest...if a third of the songs we hear on the radio every day are about love, then at least another third are about lost love.

The title of my post might be a little misleading.  I don't want to seem insensitive or cavalier about a very real sadness people experience every day, but you know I can't resist a snappy song reference. Rather than dismissing the pain of the experience of breaking apart a relationship, I want to emphasize its immense preferability to staying in one that is already broken.

I admit that I've done my fair share of sappy-song-listening and chocolate-eating when I felt rejected or abandoned. Here's the thing, though - I haven't actually been broken up with since the sixth grade. Most of the time I feel sad because the person I broke up with (or never actually let myself admit I cared for) had the audacity to move on without me. After reading that harsh truth, feel free to go ahead and ignore any romantic advice I have to offer.


Nevertheless, I have to acknowledge the fact that the reason I haven't been broken up with since the sixth grade (as well as the reason I'm still friends with almost every guy I've ever dated) is that I have a very healthy appreciation for ending these things before they get messy. I'm not trying to tell you that I was born with some zen-like enlightenment...I gained this insight from experience that was VERY messy. As a result, I've come to appreciate the value of a well-timed breakup.

My friends have asked me before, "How do I know if I should break up with someone?"
Well, if you're asking me that question in genuine seriousness, that's how you know. Relationships are hard - they take real effort, fierce determination, and extreme loyalty. You know what they don't take? Doubt and fear. If you think there's a good chance your life would be happier without that person in it, you probably aren't right together.

I already know that there are a ton of people who are going to take offense to this, but let's just cool down for a second and think about it. I'm not telling people to rush out and dump their significant others just because the mood strikes or a fight gets a little heated. I'm saying something entirely different: If the relationship you're in either detracts from your ability to enjoy life OR your ability to be the BEST version of yourself, it is not the right one for you. Also please note that I said the "best" version of yourself...not the coolest or most fun version (sometimes those two are related, but very often they are not).

Because relationships are about more that just your own feelings, I should also add that the best version of YOU should also bring out the best version of the other person. If being in a relationship with someone inspires your loving, kindness, patience, and other virtues, that's great! If, however, that person takes your loving, kindness, patience, and other virtues without returning them in a way that makes you feel comfortable sharing so much of yourself, that is NOT okay. If they return your openness and affection with guarded insecurity, selfishness, or laziness, only resentment and unhappiness can come from that relationship in the long run.

Trust me - this is not a diatribe against anyone. When I tell you to break up with anyone who returns your love with insecurity or selfishness, I'm not even talking about a kind of person who is bad. I've been with people who bring out the best in me (my loyalty and propensity to nurture), but I've also been with people who bring out the worst in me (my stubbornness, pride, and sensitivity to criticism). If you asked those two kinds of people what kind of partner I was, I'm sure they would have very different stories to tell.

If we can then acknowledge that some people just don't bring out the best in each other, then breaking up can become a far less negative, and significantly less hurtful experience. That saying "If you can't handle me at my worst, you don't deserve me at my best" is absolute bullshit. The truth is that if you are bringing out my worst on even a semi-regular basis, neither you nor I will ever actually see my best.

I would much rather go through a couple of days of eating ice cream and listening to Adele than several more months of insecurity and conflict. I'm all in favor of ending a perfectly dysfunctional relationship to salvage a perfectly good friendship (or even just a perfectly healthy level of self-respect).

Besides - who doesn't love Adele and ice cream?


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Say that to my face! No - really - tell me when I suck.

When faced with an unsolicited critical comment, I often throw my hands in the air, toss my head back, and yell, "Everyone's a critic!" Despite the fact that I'm joking 100% of the time I do this, the expression couldn't be more true. We spend a pathetic amount of our time judging ourselves, our friends, and people we'll never even meet. 

That being said, why would I be on a campaign for people to be more openly critical of each other? Well, here's the problem - we're all critics, but it's rarely ever improvement-driven criticism. The teacher in me knows that there IS such a thing as constructive criticism. The problem is that our society values the absolutely dumbest things. We judge against a rubric of mainstream appearance, excessive wealth, and conventional behavior.  We either hold people in comparison to ideals that aren't achievable OR criticize qualities that don't matter or can't be changed. 


So what if I think a girl's shoes are ugly? What will telling her that do for anyone? What will that contribute to me, her, or the world at large? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. 


However, if my friend shows me a sample of her writing under the pretense of soliciting opinion, why would I tell her that it's awesome if I see three or four things she really needs to work on improving? Similarly, if one of my friends who is good at math (or any sports at all) and wants to help me improve my factoring skillz* (or free throw), the best idea is probably NOT to tell me that I'm a natural when I clearly can't factor (or jump) my way out of a paper bag.


So how did we get here? How did we get to a point where it's okay to tell someone they're poorly-dressed, but not okay to tell them that they really need to stop boring people with their incessant blogging? Why are there shows dedicated to teaching the misguided how to decorate their homes, but there are no shows teaching people to stop being so self-centered?


Why are we so anxious to criticize things that don't matter, but so incredibly sensitive when it comes to any kind of criticism that could actually improve the person's quality of life (or, dare to dream, to improve the impact they have on the lives of others)?


I blame attachment parenting (or whatever similar brand of nurturing hokum** with which you care to substitute it). Sometimes kids need to be told that they talk too much. Sometimes kids need to be treated like adults. Sometimes, telling your kid he's not perfect is the best thing you can do for him.


As you guys can probably tell from by blog entries so far, I'm absurdly fond of my parents. Since the day I was born, they have given me everything, been everything for me, and put my needs before their own. Part of that incredible parenting, however, was a healthy dose of criticism.


When teens go off to college, they meet new friends and try to start from scratch expressing things they've never had to explain to the people who grew up coming over for Saturday night sleepovers:

"No, I mean, my hometown is more like a farm than a city..."
"I guess you could say I was outgoing in school, but I kept to myself sometimes too..."
"Well, my parents were pretty strict, but they treated me with respect..."

These are all things I've said to the people I've met since I moved away from Wilkes County. The thing I struggle to explain, however, is the perfect balance of criticism and praise my parents have always given me. 


Many times when I've tried to explain my relationship with my mother, I've told people, "She's my biggest critic, but she's also my biggest fan." Over the course of one conversation, my mother can (and often does) go from telling me I'm incredibly gifted in (something skill we're discussing) to telling me that I've really got to stop being so (judgmental/temperamental/bossy). She is the only person in the world who will freely and uninhibitedly tell me when I'm being an asshole, and I am absolutely certain that her willingness to be that person has saved me from having more people think it.


My dad has played his own role in this as well. He is my spiritual guide, my protector, and my lifelong teacher in so many ways, but he will absolutely shut me down if I'm getting too full of myself. Shut. it. down.


Why has this been so important to me? If nobody ever tells us what we're doing wrong...if nobody ever tells us that our behavior is unacceptable...if nobody ever tells us that we need to stop being so incredibly selfish, how will we ever improve? 


If I don't give my students the kind of honest (and sometimes blunt) feedback their writing deserves, how will they ever move past the flaws they've been repeating over and over? If I don't tell my friend that he's projecting an air of "douchebaggery," how is he supposed to chill out and act like a normal human being?


I'm not a robot.*** I'm not saying that we should just go around pointing out everyone's flaws, but if we have an honest, constructive criticism of people's behavior, technique, or management of a situation, we owe it to them to tell them - especially if the alternative to that is saying it behind their backs.



Winston Churchill said, "as long as you are generous and true and also fierce, you cannot hurt the world or even seriously distress her." I like to think the same is true for criticism. If you mock or criticize people just to make yourself feel better, you lead an incredibly sad existence. If, however, you genuinely want to help that person improve - if you think that you somehow have  knowledge or life experience that will help someone grown, you owe it to him or her to share that. As long as you are generous and true and also constructive, you cannot hurt them; you will merely help them improve (even if the only improvement is developing a thicker skin).

Are there people who will be defensive if you bring up their faults? Of course. They've probably never had a parent who told them that they shouldn't be praised just for meeting the minimum requirements for being a human being.

But if you come earnestly from a place of love and concern, the initial bristling may wear off long enough for some real introspection to occur. 

I'm not an expert by any means, but I clearly value my own opinion enough to fill a weekly blog with expressions of societal criticism, and none of you have friendship broken up with me yet. Here's to one more week!

But seriously, if my breath stinks or my shirt is on backwards, tell me. I'm trying to get some gum, turn that thing around, and make some positive life changes.



*Dear math friends, please note the use of "z" in that word to try to represent math as cool and hip. Boom. 
**I've been waiting to say "hokum" since the last rerun of Big Bang Theory I saw. Thanks, Sheldon.
***Despite all experimental procedures I've envisioned. Bionic Woman, anyone?

Saturday, September 8, 2012

It's true that money can't buy me love, but I'm pretty sure I can't pay the bills with affection, either.

Some things you should know about me before you read this post:

1) I don't ever want to be rich. I know myself well enough to know that having a ton of money would only make me happy if I were giving it away. Otherwise, I fear it would bring out the worst in me.
2) I also don't want a diamond ring. Ever. I think of small children aiming machine guns every time I see one.
3) I think that love (but not necessarily romantic love) is the most important gift we can give or receive as human beings.

Now that we've got that out of the way, I want to dispel one of the myths perpetuated over decades of popular music. In case you guys haven't noticed yet, I listen carefully and critically to song lyrics. Though pop music isn't usually filled with literary or philosophical gems, it is a pretty accurate mirror for the face of our society as it is being constructed and comprehended day-by-day.

For  years and years, musicians have been telling us that we don't need money to be happy...especially if we have a significant other! From the Beatles to the Biebs, recording artists and their Bohemian messages have wriggled their way into our hearts and our social psyche. Music isn't alone in this, either. Think of how many romantic comedies portray those who factor logic/money/social status into the considerations for romantic partner as the shallow, greedy opponents of  pure young love.

If, one day, my adult son told me he didn't want to marry a girl because her family wasn't good enough for him, it's entirely possible that I would kick him in the crotch as a sharp reminder of the way he was raised. If my hypothetical adult daughter told me she didn't want to marry someone because he didn't make a lot of money, I might actually punch her in the face.

If, however, either one of them told me that they wanted to get married before they had job(s), a plan for the future, or a dime to their name, I would DEFINITELY commit said crotch-kicking and face-punching. (Please note - this is a humorous physical interpretation of the very serious disappointment, anger, and fear of my failure as a parent that I would actually feel.)

Why would I react so violently? Well, it's because I unilaterally and unapologetically disagree with the idea that "Love is all you need." Love is beautiful, love is gentle...love is, in short, all those things 1Corinthians says it is. The problem, however, is that it's not enough to satisfy the very real physical (and less directly, emotional) needs we have as humans.

Few song lyrics irritate me more than the chorus of Justin Bieber's "As Long as You Love Me" :
As long as you love
We can be starving
We can be homeless
We can be broke

As long as you love me
I'll be your platinum
I'll be your silver
I'll be your gold

The first thing that irritates me about this is that whenever I hear the song, I can't help but imagine Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez rolling around in a bigass pile of money. Baby Bieber, you may not have come from money, but you went to a private French-immersion elementary school, so I'm guessing you never had to wonder whether or not your mom was going to be able to feed you the next day.

I'm not saying that the emotion behind this song isn't admirable -- well, actually, I am. The idea that affection negates homelessness is not only absurd, it's demented.You tell me exactly how love is supposed to fight frostbite, hunger pangs, and the overwhelming degradation of self-esteem caused by living on the streets.

In an essay I find fascination, William Hazlitt uses one (very) long periodic sentence to explain the absolute debasement caused by a life of true poverty. To lack the money necessary to live, he explains, is "to be a burden to your relations, or unable to do anything for them; to be ashamed to venture into crowds; to have cold comfort at home; to lose by degrees your confidence and any talent you might possess; to grow crabbed, morose, and querulous, dissatisfied with everyone, but most so with yourself; and plagued out of your life, to look about for a place to die in, and quit the world without anyone's asking after your will." It might not be pleasant, but it's certainly true.

Just as critics have accused Hazlitt of defending greed and suggesting that money can, in fact buy happiness, I suspect that there are a few romantics out there with their own Bohemian leanings. "What would you have people do," you'll ask, "marry for money instead of love?"

Of course not. Nor should you blindly pursue fortune and abandon the idea of love altogether. I don't think we should elevate money to a position of admiration and worship, but the idea that romantic infatuation is all-fulfilling is just a different manifestation of the same vain idolatry.

A person should not and can not be your everything - that is unhealthy for you and absurdly unfair to them. What is the likelihood that a relationship, no matter how loving, will survive if one person or the other feels that the sacrifices the couple made to be together have caused them to have to constantly struggle just to survive? Any guesses what one of the top two causes for divorce in the US is?

Time's up. It's money.

Financial stress is, depending on the source you consult, either the number one or number two reason for divorce in America. If we know that half of marriages in our country end in divorce, and we want to love and cherish the person we care about SO much for the rest of our lives, why would we instantly set ourselves up to almost guarantee that the marriage will fail?

Additionally, you may not mind eating ramen every night or waiting in line at a shelter because you're holding the hand of your true love, but what makes you think it's okay to bring a child into that situation? That, my friend, is the most selfish thing I've ever heard.

Somewhere along the way, we bought into this idea that love isn't real unless it's difficult and complex. We see the relationships of easy coexistence and quiet happiness as less impressive than the kind of tortured love of literature, film, and music. Though it pretends to be focused on the object of our affection, this whole attitude feeds back to our desire to be extraordinary: No, you don't understand - MY love is the deepest. My love has survived the worst trials. My love has changed this sparkly vampire into the sweetest boyfriend you've ever met. If we can't accept that love is neither a competition nor a bragging right, we'll never reap the incredible benefits it has to offer.

I feel certain that love, like money, cannot make you happy - it can only add to your happiness. What I KNOW for certain is that it can't feed a starving child.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

You don't know you're beautiful - that's what makes you... not very self-aware?

As someone with a relatively inflated sense of self-worth, I fear that I may, at times, come across to as conceited. Let's be honest - anyone who thinks that she can write a blog a week full of thoughts other people would actually want to read has to have at least a little bit of a superiority complex. I jokingly tell my students that the reason I became a teacher is because it is the only job I could think of in which I could actually punish people for not paying attention to me.
(But really - it wasn't for the money, so you draw your own conclusions on that one.)

Here's the thing, though - as awesome as I think I am, I think that a whole lot of other people I know are incredibly awesome as well! In fact, I would go so far as to say that I spend more of my time thinking about how amazing the people around me are than I spend thinking about my own strengths. For example, I'm pretty sure that Neil Patrick Harris is pretty much just perfect.

So when I hear the people I think are so incredible doubting themselves and feeling insecure about the way others perceive them, it really bothers me.

Every time one of my intelligent peers doubts that he/she would be able to handle grad school, I wonder who told them they weren't capable enough. When I find out that one of my beautiful friends genuinely thinks of herself as unattractive, I wonder who told her she wasn't pretty enough. When I see one of my students trying to be someone he's not in order to fit in with a certain group, I wonder who told him he wasn't cool enough.

I like to randomly tell the people who impress me how great they are...it makes me happy. That's one of the reasons I have a problem with the sentimental words of that One Direction song:


"You're insecure
Don't know what for
...
You don't know you're beautiful...
that's what makes you beautiful!"

I clearly cut out a lot of the lyrics in between, but when you ignore the extra discussion of hair swishing and makeup wearing, what this boils down to is a love song that tells girls they should be as insecure as possible if they want guys to like them. If you're wildly insecure and in denial of your positive attributes, ladies, a guy might come and sing them to you!

I know, I know. That is not at all the point of the song. The point is for these guys to tell some girl that she is really pretty, despite the fact that she can't see it herself. That would be just great if they didn't then contradict themselves and tell her that her insecurity is the very thing that makes her so very song-worthy.

That's like me saying to one of my students: "You're bad at writing, but that's exactly why I love to read your work." See how ridiculous it sounds when you replace one flaw with another?

What bothers me so much about these lyrics is not so much the intent behind it, but the cultural perspective it reflects. When I was talking to one of my coworkers about one incredible young lady I got to teach, I noted that as beautiful as she is (inside and out), she doesn't think of herself that way. We agreed that it was great that she doesn't walk around thinking about how wonderful she is, but is it great if she doesn't even acknowledge it...ever?

No matter how much we want to coddle and reaffirm (I am definitely guilty of this), insecurity is a flaw. Like greed and dishonesty it is a flaw we ALL have to some extent, and it most often hurts us more than it hurts anyone else. Society would like to point to insecurity and say, "Look - modesty! We need that in our world of reality television and super-stardom!"

I'm not saying that modesty isn't a great characteristic - I believe that humility is essential to me both as a Christian and as a part of a more general social collective. That being said, there IS a line between humility and insecurity. Despite what others may say to the contrary, it's not even one of those lines drawn by a fine tipped pen - it's a big, fat slash scrawled by a three-year-old using one of those strangely-odored Marks A Lot markers.

Modesty is a sign of respect of the people around you (and most importantly, of their feelings). If you are modest, you don't think that you are better or more deserving than the majority of people around you.

Insecurity, on the other hand, is full of uncertainty, nervousness, and devaluation of the self. If you are insecure, you don't think that you are nearly as great or deserving as the majority of people around you.

Sure, the first one is attractive, but I refuse to believe that the second is. So stop it, One Direction.

I like to think of my perspective as this:
Yes, I think I'm pretty fantastic, but I probably think you are too (unless you hate robots). I see rude/ignorant/cruel/lame/boring people as being (by far) the minority. If I'm wrong, don't tell me. I live in a world of awesome.