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'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.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Positive Problem Solving

I want to start writing more posts like this one:

I like this post about advice for picky eaters eating out because it's straight to the point, validating, and offers solutions to the problem. I don't know...I guess I get tired of writing only angry and depressing stuff all the time, and this post is a perfect example of how to be validating and positive at the same time. My mom always gave me this same advice for ordering at a restaurant when I didn't like anything at first glance because she knew that I was picky and would end up in that situation. It was very practical advice, but a lot of people don't get advice like that. A lot of people just get told to stop being so picky or to suck it up and deal, even though there are very simple solutions to the problem. I didn't realize it at the time, but by giving me this advice, my mom was validating the fact that I was picky and saying that there was nothing wrong with that. That's why I like this post a lot - because it gets tiresome having to constantly fight people who are invalidating and calling them out all the time, but the picky eating post gives a positive solution to the problem and helps people, and the validation is just inherent in the advice. It says, "It's perfectly fine to be picky - here's what to do when a common problem situation for picky-eaters arises."

I want to write more posts like this. I had lots of ideas like this when I was younger. It's just hard because my ideas have changed a lot now. Like, most advice I would have given when I was younger about how to survive in the system, I don't agree with promoting now because I feel like the systems have to change. I don't want to go out promoting "how to get by" when my real goal is to get rid of what people need to get by in. I don't want to put the responsibility on the individual.

I always liked going out to eat for the social experience, and I think that's why this post worked. Because being a picky eater doesn't necessarily mean that you didn't want to go to the restaurant in the first place. Sometimes I was relieved to go out to eat when I was with a friend's family because I figured I may not like what they were making for dinner, but at a restaurant I could choose what I wanted. Most of the time when I go out to eat, the point is to hang out with my friends or family. Even when I was a very picky eater, I wouldn't have wanted to miss out on a fun time with people I loved because I was worried about finding nothing on the menu. So I didn't see my picky-eating advice as "How to survive in a situation that you'll inevitably be forced into." I saw it more as, "How to be able to do something you like and make it work for you."

And I would like to write more posts like this because I get tired of always pointing out problems without being able to fix them on a major level. It feels good to just give some positive advice that people can use instantly.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Social Capital = Validation

[All names are pseudonyms, and some minor details have been changed to protect people's privacy]

In high school drama club, we always did three performances of our winter play - two regular shows on Friday and Saturday night, and a special performance for students during the school day on Thursday. It was my junior year, our Thursday in-school show, and we were all backstage waiting to begin. Our vice principal normally just introduced the show for everyone, but for some reason this year, he took about 30 minutes to make school announcements while we were waiting backstage. We got to the final scene in the play - everyone was standing in the wings waiting to go on, when our director sent a message to the tech crew that we were skipping ahead to the middle of the scene because the play was running too long. This meant that one student, Alison, had her entire part cut from the play. Our director explained later that the play was only supposed to last a certain number of class periods, and because the vice principal ate into our time with the announcements, the solution was to cut this part out of the play. After the play, we heard that Alison was crying in the bathroom, and most of the students were not sympathetic at all. Everyone was saying that she needed to be more mature about it and learn show business and they were all criticizing her for crying. Well, not everyone. Alison was lucky enough to have close friends in the show who took her side. There was a very clear divide where all the people who were less serious about theatre took Alison's side and all the people who were more serious about theatre thought she needed to suck it up. I was one of the serious-about-theatre students, and I felt sick to my stomach. Alison was very passionate about theatre and was always nice to everyone. She was a freshman and this was her first-ever show at our school. We all should have been trying to make her feel welcome.

And to make matters worse, our director was not popular. No one had any kind of loyalty to him that would cause them to take his side in a case like this. Students criticized our director for small, meaningless things all the time. If he told someone to say a line differently than they were saying it, the students would always take their friend's side and say that our director didn't know what he was talking about. Well, not always. Always if you were part of the theatre-clique ingroup, which Alison wasn't. Their reaction to her crying was a way of saying that she wasn't part of their group. 

The day after our in-school performance, I caught up with Alison in the cafeteria while we were walking back to class. I asked her if she was excited about the show that night, and then I said, "I can't believe he cut your part like that!" We didn't get to talk long, but I just wanted her to know that I was on her side, that not all of the theatre kids were against her.

Fast forward one year. It was senior year and we were at a play competition, where we were all expecting Henry (a very popular theatre student) to win an acting award. When he didn't win it, everyone was more upset about that than they were about the fact that we didn't advance in the competition. Henry was very upset and was crying hysterically and everyone was very sympathetic and tried to comfort him. He cried the whole bus ride home, and he had lots of people sitting close to him and comforting him the whole time.

It was the right thing to do to comfort him. I'm NOT saying that we should have told him to suck it up. We did the right thing, and it was perfectly legitimate for him to be upset. But as all this was happening, I just couldn't stop thinking back to Alison. It had never been so clear to me how much social capital determines whether your feelings get taken seriously or not. Did I think Henry deserved an acting award? Yes. Did I think the judges were being objectively unfair by not giving him one, based on everyone else's performances in the competition? No. An award is something extra, something you might get. It is not something you are entitled to the way that Alison was entitled to perform her part. The judges didn't do anything wrong like our director did when he cut Alison's part. But I knew now that it was never about fairness or right and wrong. It was just about popularity. Alison wasn't popular, so her feelings didn't matter. Henry was popular, so his feelings did. That was it. Plain and simple.

Will Cuddle for Blog Hits

Think of something you love that you might go searching for on the internet - a passion or a hobby, a new subject that peaks your interest, your new favorite book, band, recipe, etc. Now, imagine that when you search for this particular thing, you are flooded with articles that are against whatever it is you were trying to search. Maybe you wanted to find some friends to go hiking with in your local area, and instead you find tons of hiking-hate sites where people complain about how stupid hiking is and make fun of people who like to do it. You have to endure pages and pages of search results like this before you can find anyone who actually likes hiking like you do.

This is what it's like for me when I try to connect on the internet. Sure, I can find a recipe or a music video as easily as the next person, but whenever I search for help on the internet, whenever I type in a problem or something that's bothering me, I'm flooded with pages and pages of people against me. Even when I search terms like, "Don't tell me to suck it up," or "No I won't get over it," I still get tons of results telling me to suck it up and get over it. When I was homesick in college and went searching for a Facebook group about it, I had to sort through tons of groups titled, "I'm not homesick - I get school-sick when I'm home," before finding a small handful of people who were actually homesick. When I searched the internet for homesickness, most of the support groups told people to stick it out. There was no support out there for just going home. When I wanted to find a picture that said something along the simple lines of "Yay I graduated!" I was flooded with these someecards that said "Congratulations on getting through the easiest part of life." The internet has always given me results that make me feel a million times worse.

So what I want to do about this - and this is a very, very serious goal of mine - is that I want to get myself and my blog posts to the top of these search lists. I want people who search for validation to find me. I want people who are being pressured to do things they don't want to do to find me.  I don't know exactly how to do this. I may need to use more tags. I may need to examine the wording of my posts more closely to make sure I'm targeting the people who will search for these topics. I may cheat and give myself tons of hits to move my blog closer to the top of internet searches, which I don't consider a problem and I think the end result will help people like me. I've just gotta do something to get my stuff out there because this is ridiculous. I can't let other people like me keep stumbling upon stuff that makes them feel worse. I need to get myself to the top of these lists, I need to stand between people and all the invalidating messages they receive. I may not be able to erase that bad stuff from the internet, but I can influence what people think is okay and not okay. And seeing a validating response FIRST, at the top of the search list, will let people know that they are not alone and are supported. They won't have to even look at the invalidating responses because they'll land on my blog first.