The Conundrum of Praise

April 5, 2016 Black and Blue, blogging

I’ve recently run into a sort of inhibiting mindset where my aspirations are concerned, and it works pretty closely with social media. Every day, from the time I open a Google window to my first (of unfortunately many) Facebook feed scrolls, I interact with a variety of articles regarding accomplishments of folks around the world–often younger than me, often far more talented/smart/autodidactic/ambitious/etc. I know one of the ways that my brain wreaks havoc on my life is through incessant comparisons to others, and I’ve been around long enough to know that I’m not the only one affected in that way by ceaseless updates and what have you. I suppose, if I were better adjusted, or maybe just older, I would feel affirmed, encouraged, and inspired by these sorts of stories. The reality, though, is that I’m not. And the sheer volume of cognitive dissonance generated by seeing someone, somewhere, being incredible and feeling happy for them, joyful at the existence of people like them, and simultaneously worthless and unimportant for not having achieved anything near the caliber of what [insert dope person here] has is staggering.

Where I find this most painful (this word, in earlier drafts, was: fascinating, aggravating, alienating) is in social justice circles. I run in several of them now, both digitally and offline, so there are several times a day that I’m alerted to the actions that folks are undertaking, to the virality of movements across the South and the US in general, to who sits at the vanguard of a new era of equity (I hope.) But in my mind, it prompts a rework of the cliche question: If activists are active and there’s not a Buzzfeed or Upworthy or hell, local newspaper post overflowing with information about it, did an action really take place?

The obvious answer, of course, is yes. And I would like to think that most of the folks who represent strongholds of resistance, especially those who have been present in various movements for years, are out in the streets because they are deeply desirous of fighting until the universal bend toward justice is visible and undeniable. But I can’t help but wonder if younger folks and older ones alike get caught up in feeling like their work is less important simply because it lacks visibility. I’ve certainly felt that way about my writing, both as a blogger and as a poet. I’ve spoken with other writers who feel similarly, though perhaps not very in-depth. After all, the shame of this shallow insecurity of mine can only thrive as long as I refuse to expose it. (Perhaps, subconsciously, that’s why I feel inclined to write this at all.)

I recognize that the media may be used as an effective means of mobilization at times, and also that social media signal boosting is a totally valid strategy as concerns building membership, educating, and planning, especially with regard to more expansive action plans. I just can’t help but wonder if it’s taking a toll on anyone else. I feel like a self-centered, attention-seeking asshole even writing this. What kind of activist worth their salt is so intensely worried about how they measure up?

Except. I cannot deny that I’ve walked into QTPOC social justice spaces, black radical spaces, feminist spaces, and felt immediately not good enough. I know a good bit of that is my own shit, and I’m working on it, I promise. But I guess I’ve just gotten this idea into my head that if you aren’t outstanding, then you don’t exist. I haven’t experienced a lot that suggests otherwise to me, having fallen through the cracks of a couple of organizations despite trying–or at least, felt like I was trying–to stay on their radar.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m just rambling or getting the sads or actually just as invested in solipsis as composing this post makes me feel. But I’m trying to remind myself that the point is the work, or in the immortal words of every slam poetry host, “The point is the poetry, not the scores.” Focus on the work, use the media as necessary but do not regard it as a measuring stick for how “good” the work is.

Or something like that.

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