Before I launch into this post, I’m going to publicly proclaim my intent to write at least 2 blog posts per month. Hopefully this will motivate me to follow through on that intention. I manage to find a little time to relax here and there, so in theory I could make the time to do it. And goodness knows I’ve got plenty of thoughts rattling around in my head that could be transformed into blog posts. So there’s that.
In the rest of this post, I’d like to discuss a distinction between being and doing that I’ve noticed, in terms of self-esteem but other things too. A post by Samantha at Not Your Mother’s Playground caught my attention and helped me articulate some of these thoughts.
Titled On Being Amazing, the post discusses why it’s tough to hear “But… you’re amazing!” in difficult times. In particular, this passage really resonated with me:
I’ve noticed that in times of despair people will often reach out to me, offering their words of comfort. These internet hugs are lovely and certainly appreciated – at least for the intentions behind them, but they can also fall flat when presented like this:
“Don’t feel sad. You’re amaaaaazing!”
I have learned how to take a compliment over the years. If you think that I have done something to warrant being told I’m amazing or awesome or insert compliment here, I will certainly take it. I will blush and I will be genuinely grateful. However when it’s used as a blanket response to “I’m sad or angry”, it’s a lot harder to digest.
I agree that this sort of statement can sometimes feel dismissive, as though by accomplishing all this amazing stuff I somehow shouldn’t get bogged down by anxiety or depression, or I should be smart enough to think my way out of it, or something. This comes dangerously close to the “but why can’t you just choose to be happy” advice given to people dealing with mental health issues that, while often well-intentioned, is dangerous and thoroughly misunderstands what it’s like to deal with mental illness (see this fantastic blog post by Naamah_Darling for a deconstruction of this rhetoric).
I also think that this tendency to conflate being and doing (you’ve done amazing things so you are an amazing person) can be dangerous for another reason: it makes the parts of one’s identity blend together in a potentially judgmental way. For a long rant on the ways we in Western culture tend to conflate various aspects of people’s identities – especially when they pertain to sex – see my post on the adjacency effect over at MySexProfessor.com (basically, the laws of sympathetic magic plus stigma and pollution, condensed and written about in non-academese with sexuality as the primary topic). People who engage in certain acts are thought to be a certain kind of person, and those sorts of judgments often lead to hostility, stereotyping, and violence.
For these reasons, I think it’s important to uncouple the being and doing parts of people’s identities, even while recognizing that there are some links, but those links need to be put into context. I’m a firm believer in actions speaking louder than words, for example; so if someone says they’re my friend, they’d better be there when I need them (and I’ll do the same). I always try to make sure my actions are consistent with my values. Stuff like that.
Otherwise, let’s think very carefully about how we conflate being and doing when it comes to personhood. I’d love to hear about more examples of this phenomenon if people want to leave a comment!