Friday, April 4, 2014

How to Be Awesome

I'm going to share a note my friend Eli wrote on a school bulletin board that meant the world to me. This note expresses exactly what I feel but couldn't put into words at the time.

Context: My college sometimes had bulletin boards with topics, where you could write responses and pin them to the board. This time, the topic was "How to Be Awesome." The board was full of responses such as "Smile more!" "Be optimistic!" "Leave the past behind you!" "Shower every day - it's not that hard!" "Making these simple changes will make you more likable," and on and on like that. Eli wrote that this board was problematic, and someone wrote back "It doesn't explicitly target you." This was Eli's response:

It does explicitly target me. I'd like to be able to say that the ableism here is something subtle, something hard to recognize, something easily forgivable. It's not. It's very, very explicit.

How does this board target me specifically? It attacks people who don't shower every day. I am such a person. First of all, showering every day is not very healthy for your skin; if I do shower each day for several days in a row, my skin gets somewhat dried-out and feels bad. But moreover, I am very sensitive to physical touch - presumably as a result of my having Asperger's Syndrome. (For the same reason, I have trouble writing with a pencil for significant amounts of time, hence why I've typed this response instead of writing it out.) This board naively says that it's "not that hard" to shower once a day. It is hard for me, and I'm sure I'm far from the only one.

The "humorous" statements here completely erase my experiences, the experiences of my friends who have battled depression, the experiences of anyone with a mental or physical ability that keeps them from presenting the happy, confident, on-top-of-the-world persona presented here. When it says "It is impossible to be awesome if you do not have the learning ability to back it up", that is an overt attack against people with learning disabilities. When it says "The past is old news, so there is no reason to let it affect your future", that is an overt attack against people who are deeply affected by their pasts.

But those things are merely details. Taking a step back, the entire message of the board is at fault. I don't appreciate being told to be happy in a world that has done little to inspire my happiness. I don't appreciate being told that my worth is based on how much I am liked by other people. I don't appreciate being told that "awesomeness" is determined by these mundane, superficial attributes rather than my skills and passions.

Most of all, I don't appreciate this active encouragement of an environment where people hide their troubles and put on a facade of confidence and happiness. All of us have problems in our lives, and these problems need to be addressed, not ignored; discussed, not hidden. What are friends for if not to help us when we are weak? Anyone who is less "likely to hang with" me because I am open about what affects me is not a person who I want to be hanging with at all.

I am Eli Dupree, and I am awesome, despite what this bulletin board says. I'd be happy to talk to you (or anyone else) in person about this; I live in Woodman 351, and my door is always open. (Don't worry, I'm a lot more friendly than I sound in a text-based argument! I have strong opinions about this issue, but I bear no hostility towards you as a person, and I always love to exchange points of view.)


-Eli Dupree (elidupree.com)

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