Monday, July 21, 2014

Being Undesirable


Imagine an overweight woman strolling through the grocery store with her shopping cart overflowing with candy, chips, and soda. Some jerks come over and start harassing her about all the food she's buying and call her some really horrible names. The woman says that she's buying the food for a party, but they still won't back down. Then another person steps in and says, "Look, you don't know that she's gonna eat all this food herself! She said she's having a party so why don't you just back off!"

Okay, there is nothing wrong with what the woman said to defend herself. When you're in a situation like this, you do whatever you need to do. And it was really, really good that the other person stepped in and told the jerks to back off. But I see this type of argument a lot in cases like this - not in the heat of the moment, but on the internet, after the incident has already happened, when there isn't such an immediate need to defend the person that you say the first thing that pops into your head. We all start arguing in the wrong direction, coming up with excuses for why a person might be doing something that's socially undesirable. Maybe she's having a party, maybe her kids are having a sleepover, maybe she's shopping for someone else, maybe she eats super-healthy most of the time and this is her one treat night, etc. People may have good intentions by defending her, but all these excuses imply that it would be okay to harass her if she were eating all this food herself, but it's wrong because she might not be. The truth is, it doesn't fucking matter! Maybe she is eating all the food herself. Maybe she eats this way all the time. It doesn't matter! She is a person and she deserves to be treated with respect! She does not have to earn the right to be treated with respect by eating the way you want her to.

Most of us want to do socially desirable things, on some level. I understand behaving in a way that will cause you the least amount of trouble. I used to lie all the time in college about having too much homework to attend events because people wouldn't take no for answer otherwise. I quickly learned (like, within a couple days of being on campus) that having too much homework was the only socially acceptable excuse for not wanting to do something, so I used it. I have nothing against people doing what they need to do to get by.

But then there are times when you don't need to give the socially desirable response in order to get by. No one is going to hurt or harass you. You're not going to lose your job or get kicked out of your home. Sure, you may not get what you want in the situation, you may not win everyone's approval or keep your social capital, but nothing really bad is going to happen by being honest. A lot of us still give the socially desired responses in cases like this. I do it plenty times, and I'm aware of it. My BF did it almost all the time, and I don't think he ever realized it. He was the epitome of social desirability. Until he broke up with me and my friends became upset with him, I'm not sure there was anyone out there who didn't like or accept him.

I once read a blog post about attending a kink play-party for the first time. It said that even if you are shy or don't want to participate in playing, you are a participant in the sense that you are part of the group. You can't go around gawking at people like you're there to watch a freak show, because being at the kink party means that you're a freak too. You're one of us. When I read this article (back when he and I were together) I thought about how he and I were different in this way. I'm not saying that he would gawk or make rude comments, but I could imagine him acting like an outsider at a kink gathering, or really any special-interest gathering that had any social undesirability surrounding it, whereas I would consider myself an insider. Even if I didn't fit in with the group for whatever reason, I would still have a sense that this common interest was a part of me, that I should belong. Even back when I was super-secretive about my interest. My gut tells me that my BF would have acted like an outsider.

My friend Eli explained something to me about why I sometimes feel like I'm the only person with my beliefs: that when it comes to something undesirable, such as laziness, you generally have people who are lazy and people who are against laziness, and that's it. In other words, the people on the lazy side are not going to be *advocating* for laziness, they are just going to *be* lazy. But me...I am advocating for laziness, in a sense. I'm advocating for undesirable stuff to stop being criticized, stop being undesirable, rather than just doing the undesirable behaviors.

For instance, this is the Facebook note I wrote around the time that my boyfriend first asked me out:

I'm getting sick of living on this stupid planet. I consider myself an average US American - I watch a lot of TV, eat all the junk food I want, don't exercise, spend a lot of time on the internet, like pop culture, didn't pay attention in school or take an interest in academics, am easily bored by things, want to be entertained all the time, want attention, don't want to do any work, etc. The problem is that, despite the statistics, despite my impression of the general US youth population, I just don't feel very average. With my preppy K-8 school, my honors classes in high school, and Colby, I just can't seem to find these people who supposedly make up the majority of the country. I can't connect with this mainstream population because I'm always in these weird places (like college) where the standards are different and I'm expected to be something other than an average person. I can't find my place in the world because I've been separated from the average population, the group I actually belong to, all my life.

This is an example of what I mean by being pro-undesirable things. See, my BF identified strongly as being American, but he meant it in a positive light, like having national pride. If someone said bad things about Americans, like what I described in the above Facebook note, he would probably deny it, or it just wouldn't really enter into his feelings about being American. But for me, I *do* identify with all that stuff. I don't want to go around saying, "All Americans aren't like that." What I want to say is, "Yes, I am like that, and I don't want to be criticized for it! I don't want what I am to be considered some sort of problem!" There was a time when these things weren't problems. When we were younger and adults would say that average kids spent way more time watching TV than studying, we'd all exchange looks that said, "Um...of course we like TV better than school! DUH! Why are grownups so dumb to not understand this?" Oh, and you know how it's a such a problem that 25 percent of girls would rather win American Idol than the Nobel Peace Prize? Well, back in the early 2000's, American Girl Magazine did a survey of which award we would most like to win. The number one choice was an Olympic gold medal, followed by an Oscar, a Grammy, a Pulitzer, and then the Nobel Peace Prize. This information was not presented like, "OMG what's wrong with youth these days?" It was presented as information about what interests us, just like any of the other surveys about which superpower we'd like best or our favorite sleepover activity. And that's what I want. I want it to be OKAY to care about what I actually care about, to be and to do all of the things I described in that Facebook note without being criticized, without people trying to fix it.

I feel it even more strongly about being a millennial. I am a 100 percent pure millennial. I don't have any work ethic and I just want to feel like a special little snowflake and feel good about myself without having to do anything to earn it. I am not being sarcastic. I am dead serious. I want to feel special unconditionally. I want to immerse myself in the culture where you get a trophy just for being you. I want to ditch the baby-boomers who criticize us and form our own colony where all just make each other feel special. And even though I'm speaking about a whole generation of people, I feel alone in the sense that no one else ever talks like this. Every millennial who speaks out against the boomers' criticism uses the defense of, "We're not really like that!" And anyone who does feel the way I do is in denial about it.

My main priority is to feel good. If I feel bad about myself after interacting with someone, I don't want to interact with that person anymore regardless of anything else I may gain from our interaction. I don't want to engage in activities that leave me feeling bad inside regardless of anything else I may gain from them. I take the stairs instead of the elevator because stairs feel faster. That constant motion just makes me feel like I'm getting somewhere faster than waiting on an elevator. I couldn't care less which option actually gets me where I want to be more quickly - I choose the option that feels better. I know I'm not alone in this. When I look around at other people's behavior, I know that I'm in the majority. But the majority will never admit that. When I was at college, I could see people avoiding situations that made them uncomfortable, but they always made up other excuses for avoiding the situations. I was the only one who ever said out loud that I was avoiding something because it made me feel bad. And when I told these uncomfortable-feelings-avoiders that I wasn't going to do stuff that made me feel bad, they all put me down and said that you had to do stuff for personal growth, even though they were exactly like me but just wouldn't admit it. Almost everyone I've met who actually has the self-awareness to explain that stairs feel faster is the total opposite - they choose the route that's most effective and think it's a problem that so many of us just want to feel good regardless of reality.

My BF told me early on that he has a lot of ingroup pride (okay, he didn't call it "ingroup") - for his hometown, his school, his country. That's cool. There was never anything wrong with that. But I always got the sense that he was looking down on me for not having that level of pride, even though I had told him the living hell that my college was. See, I pick and choose which groups I identify with based on whether I like them and whether I feel like a member. I *do* feel an extreme amount of loyalty to the people and groups that I'm part of, but I choose those loyalties. I don't have that general sense of, "This is my school, this is my city, etc." like he did. But the difference between us is that he would never identify as anything undesirable. He is an American, but he would never identify with what I described in the Facebook note. He is a millennial, but when I asked, he told me he doesn't identify as one. Not that that's wrong, but he presents himself as someone who has this automatic, almost blind loyalty to every group he's part of, and yet he won't identify with those groups when they are less than desirable.

We were never compatible. We never had enough in common. But the things we did have in common, you wouldn't admit. The things we did have in common, you were in denial about. If you wanted to spend all your free time playing video games, and I was posting Facebook statuses asserting my freedom to spend my time the way I wanted and not feel pressured to do anything more productive with my life...you'd say you weren't on my side. You wouldn't support me because you see yourself as this good hardworking citizen even though you are literally doing the exact same thing I'm doing. The difference between us is that when you've got that metaphorical shopping cart full of candy and soda and chips, you keep it private. You post pictures of the salad you ate last week. You hide behind the defense of "But I'm having a party!" when you're not. I, on the other hand, write a whole blog post about how I can eat whatever I want and people who tell me otherwise can fuck off. I try to make other people feel safe eating what they want. And somehow, this makes us entirely different people even if what's in your shopping cart is exactly the same as mine. We weren't compatible, but you are like me in a lot of ways. You are like me in more ways than you will ever admit. You just can't stand to be anything undesirable.

3 comments:

  1. I understand where you are coming from here. People who deviate from their true passions in life are the ones who never take any risks, and sometimes you have to take risks to get to where you want to be in life. It is a sort of weakness by not pursuing your true goals and passions in life because it's easier just to settle for something else, as in a different job that isn't what you want, but take it anyway because it's a job. I kind of have that thing going on, but I know some day I will venture out and achieve my goal in life to become a successful graphic designer, just taking things one step at a time. If you surround yourself with encouraging people and they see your interests in life as valid, than in my opinion, that is a good motivational source. You sometimes have to persevere through life and be in scenarios you may not want to be in to find these certain people, depending on what you want to achieve in life and your expectations. Life is a tough game to play, because emotions can get in the way, and I am a sensitive person, so they effect me quite a bit. Well, without carrying on too much, I just want to say I love this post, the message is loud and clear- stay strong and be you, don't conform to something that isn't you and portray yourself as some false image. Keep up the good writing!

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    1. Thank you so much Dean! It is really nice to have friends who understand. A year ago today, I never would have had the guts to say all the undesirable stuff out loud, but I'm doing it all now.

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    2. And I think the same is true for you - I think if you surround yourself with people who truly support your goal to be a graphic designer, you'll feel better and have a better time pursuing your dreams. I definitely support you. I'll even advertise your services on this blog.

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