taking a stand

A Royal Rant

This Friday marks an important date in the world’s calendar: the Royal Wedding. Now, some of you may be rolling your eyes and hovering your cursor over that red X, but I ask you to bear with me – this isn’t intended to be a gushy post of patriotism (okay, maybe a little), but to express why this event has – and rightfully deserves – captured the hearts of millions across the globe.  (Sidenote: isn’t this the most beautiful wedding image you’ve ever seen?)

Sadly, people’s reaction to my talking about the royal family usually tends to be one of apathy or of utter opposition.  I’ve lost count how many times I’ve heard people say things like “why bother with a monarchy, they don’t do anything”, or even profess “hatred” toward people they don’t even know. In a way, the royal family seems to be met often in the same manner people talk about celebrities – they love to gossip, spread rumours, and thrive on stories that show them in a poor light. Just take a look at your local checkout stand, and you’ll see all sorts of defamatory headlines about pop stars or politicians, sold by the hundreds of thousands and making people throughout the world salivate. It’s awful, but it’s also a strangely intriguing behaviour – why do people try to tear down those in the spotlight without second thought to the fact that behind the magazine covers and paparazzi shots, these are real people with real feelings?

A couple of months ago I read a post from a wonderful writer.  It came following the Oscars, and really made me think:

It’s a night dedicated to people who love what they do, who pour their heart into their job at all hours of the day, and then get a bad reputation for it. They are the only people we don’t whisper about when we’re gossiping. Everyone else receives hushed voices, but for them, we gawk and squeal, and we forget that they’re someone else’s daughter or sister or son or husband. Someone else’s friends and families. They are real people with real passions. And each year, we expect more of them. We have the nerve to complain about the clothes they wear or the colour they dyed their hair. So many people in our world are guilty of the same indiscretions and yet we magnify their lives and their missteps and we forget that they stumble over all the issues that come with being human. We forget that they have to roll out of bed and go to work… that they’re real. They have big dreams, just like you and me.”

Prince William and Kate Middleton may not be movie stars, but they are real people who just so happened to be born into the public eye. They didn’t ask to be famous, they just happened to fall in love. And yet so many people in the world meet the mere mention of their names with an almost reflexive tone of scorn. Why do people do this to anyone in the spotlight? They’ll make judgment on people they don’t know, and spread rumous like wildfire without a second thought to bother questioning if there’s any truth behind them. They’ll jump on the bandwagon and spread criticism like the plague, without considering that the subjects of their scorn are real people with real feelings that can be hurt just like yours or mine.

To me, the Royal Wedding is a wonderful occasion. I love to celebrate anyone’s wedding, but there’s something special about something that only tends to happen once a generation. She’s intelligent, charming, and a beautiful role model and ambassador for England. He was raised by one of the most compassionate, caring mothers there ever was; his life was touched by tragedy and his grieving thrust across newspapers globally. Yet he faces the world with a positive attitude, does work in third-world countries, and has done a lot in his career to make the world a better place. Years ago, entire nations would rejoice at a royal event. People would hold parties and deck the streets and squeeze big groups into living rooms tightly around a little black and white television, celebrating the occasion, united and proud, happy for people that were synonymous with the country they loved so dearly.  There are still lots of people that do this – my heart gave a little leap when I saw the bunting decking the streets of London. But today, a large proportion of people seem quick to vocalise their apathy or distaste. They find reason for fault, create hateful Facebook groups, and the British security have to be out in full force thanks to the enormous range of threats to the royal family from protesters, terrorists, anarchists and anti-monarchists.

Do people really have nothing better to do with their lives than trying to take other people down?

It happens to a degree whenever somebody lands themselves in the spotlight. For every fifty people who’ll be happy for you, it seems certain that there’ll be five that will spread hate and gossip and try to rain on your parade.  A good friend of mine said it well when I last wrote about this sort of thing (after being targeted repeatedly by an Internet troll): “There’s always gonna be haters, and they only get more numerous and louder the more successful you become.”  Which is why I think it’s important to try to counter the negativity thrown carelessly about the world with kindness and support. Don’t join the bandwagon of gossip and rumours – if you don’t like something, keep quiet. Spreading hate isn’t going to do anything except make you look bad. If you’re in favour of something or someone, wear your support proudly on your sleeve. There’s enough pessimism and slander in the world already, and how are you going to feel at the end of your life when you look back and see that you chose to spend the time you were given actively trying to hurt others? Trying to tarnish reputations and ruin occasions of joy. I feel so strongly about this because I’ve been the subject of it, and I don’t want to live in a world where people are quicker to fuel the rumour mill than they are to stand up for somebody.

In two days, two good-hearted, loving people who just so happen to be under the microscope of millions across the planet, are going to celebrate their commitment to each other in a beautiful ceremony that will be talked about for years, at the heart of the country I’m proud to call home. If you have negative thoughts about the monarchy, please keep them to yourself and allow those who support them (as well as those directly involved) to have their day unhindered by hate. There is nothing worse than looking back on your once-in-a-lifetime day and remembering it for something other than the joyous celebration it deserves to be. Trust me. So, this Friday, I will be hanging my Union Jack, making the Royal Chocolate Biscuit Cake, donning fascinators and celebrating the Royal Wedding with my girlfriends as we wonder where on their journey the congratulatory cards we made for William and Kate might be. (Yes, we are secretly twelve years old. :)) 

Think for a second that whether you’re discussing a coworker or a celebrity, there are real people at the other end of your commentary. In this situation, there are real people with real feelings who’ve committed no crime other than falling in love, who would probably prefer an intimate celebration to a national event anyway.  And keep this in mind as you go about your day-to-day life, or your travels across the Internet. 

If someone passes on a rumour, question it rather than continue it. Stand by those you care about instead of keeping quiet while they’re under attack. Take a stand for positivity, and spread love in a world where it seems so easy to spread hate through text messages and cowardly anonymous comments. It’s easy to do what everyone else is doing, but it takes courage to stand up for what’s right. And on Friday, the decent thing is to show nothing but a spirit of congratulations, and allow the Prince and Princess-to-be to celebrate their love just like anyone else. Surely it can’t be too much to ask to allow them to have this one day?

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Judas at Easter

I was a little hesitant to post my thoughts on this because on blogs, the rules of conversation often seem much like those of dinner parties: don’t talk about money, politics or religion, and you’ll be fine. Considering the last time I talked about the latter I almost didn’t have a wedding, I’ve learned to tread carefully around the subject: but I’m also torn, because I’m such a strong advocate for being able to have a voice as long as your intention is never to hurt anyone.  Which mine has never been. I was talking with a good friend of mine lately about the phenomenon of cyber-bullying, and he framed it brilliantly: the risk of putting yourself out there is that someone may hear you. Should the fact that no one can please everyone stifle your freedom of expression? Quite the opposite – there will always be naysayers, but you can’t allow others to control your life when in your heart, you know your intent is fundamentally positive.

So. Religion, hmm? The reason I’m posting this today is that something has happened in the world of pop culture that has me fascinated. It’s Easter weekend this week, and Lady Gaga has released a single with the lyrics “I’m in love with Judas” chanted repeatedly over a thumping techno beat. The reaction from religious folks across the globe has obviously been negative, claiming she’s merely attention-seeking and trying to create controversy. In her music video for Alejandro, she dresses as a nun and swallows a rosary. In Judas, she refers to herself as a “holy fool,” a “fame hooker, a prostitute wench who vomits her mind”.  It’s not surprising speakers from religious groups are up in arms. “Because of her fame and the influence she has with young people, one would think that she’d learn to back off”, says Bill Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, claiming her release of the single at the start of Holy Week is just “one more example of her ethics, choosing to stick it to the Catholics again.” But are people even bothering to read the lyrics? Are they simply conveniently forgetting that the majority of poems, works of literature, and most definitely songs use metaphors to illustrate a point?

To me, it’s not an attack on religion at all. Gaga has stated publicly that she is a believer (not that it should matter), and her last hit rocketed to the top of international charts with references to “capital H-i-m” throughout verses, along with the line “I’m beautiful in my way, because God makes no mistakes” sung proudly throughout choruses. I think Judas is simply using metaphor to make a record about falling in love with the wrong person – a subject people have been singing about for decades. “I wanna love you, but something’s pulling me away from you; Jesus is my virtue, and Judas is the demon I cling to…” How is this a deliberate attack on the church? I don’t see how it could be anything other than honest. It tells of knowing what the right course of action is but struggling to let go of something or someone you know is a bad influence. And haven’t we all been in that situation at one time or another?  Gaga’s creative director for the controversial video (out next week) has spoken up, saying that the Catholic Church shouldn’t be up in arms, since its message is anything but blasphemous. “I will tell you now, first off, I’m Christian, and my career is evidence of God in my life, and I think that most people are already thinking about Gaga and blasphemy and they’re premeditating the approach. I think they’ll be very shocked to find out how huge and really groundbreaking the message is, and how freeing the message is for all the right reasons.” Not forgetting that this all happened in the eighties already – I’m sure Madonna’s music video portraying a black Jesus and people dancing around burning crosses was the subject of just as much speculation then as Lady Gaga’s hit is today. And that didn’t stop her  becoming one of the most successful artists of all time.

I’m not the biggest fan of pop music, but I have to give respect to anyone who breaks down the walls of what’s considered typically beautiful, who uses their fame to stand up for the underdogs, who fights against prejudice, and who isn’t afraid to have their voice heard. People stifle their own thoughts all the time, in fame, in life, and even here across the blogosphere. They keep their opinions to themselves and go along with the masses for fear of how other people will react. Throughout history, if nobody had spoken up, half of us would still probably be deprived of the right to vote, an education, or a voice.  As a good friend reminded me recently, “you’ve got to take a stand for something, or you’ll fall for anything.”  People really need to stop finding fault so easily, and hand it to those that actually have the guts to speak up once in a while. I love the verse in Judas where she pretty much says “if you don’t like what I have to say, nobody’s making you listen”. Maybe because I’ve so often wondered the same thing about Internet trolls. 🙂

Ultimately, Lady Gaga has inspired a generation to embrace being different, and has stood up for all sorts of oppressed minorities, helping people who were once afraid to be who they were become proud and comfortable in their own skin.  I think this is a great pop song, making intelligent use of metaphor to sing about a subject that’s relatable to all. It’s just as good as Bad Romance, and better than Born This Wa-hey. Enough with making mountains out of molehills, people – can’t we just stop finding fault and enjoy a decent record? But why the album cover depicts her inexplicably as half-motorcycle (I suppose quarter-motorcycle would just be silly), I’m still guessing…

What do you think? Are people just seeing what they want to see, and making an artist look bad to serve their own agendas, or do you believe the hype and think Gaga’s gone too far? I’m really interested  in hearing your thoughts!

The Disease of Perfectionism

Recently, I had one of those “Message from the Universe” moments. You know, when you encounter the same message repeatedly in a plethora of different situations all within a relatively short time frame? I love it when this happens. This time around, I was at singing class, having just finished what must have been my 8th or 9th attempt at getting this one bar of music down. I don’t read music, and I don’t know what the different notes mean with regards to tempo, so I was struggling a little with this one bar. I’d got it right first time, but in every subsequent attempt, I found myself getting stuck at the same point. Overthinking it, overprocessing, frantically trying to figure it out, panicking as the melody caught up and overtook my internal efforts, resulting in messing it up each and every time. After a few goes, I think I got it, but my coach said something at the end that began the theme of the next few days:

“Perfection is never the goal. When you think about it too much, you stop learning – you should trust your instincts more, because they’re right!”

I went off into the night, that sentiment floating around my mind, and thought no more of it until the very next day, when an article forwarded to me by a friend sat in my inbox, entitled The Disease of PerfectionismHow aptly timed (and, if I may say, how very Borg!). I immediately opened it, and was intrigued by the first few lines: “It’s amazing that people admit to being perfectionists. To me, it’s a disorder, not unlike obsessive-compulsive disorder. And like obsessive-compulsive disorder, perfectionism messes you up.”

I’ve seen a lot of “Protesting Perfect” blog posts floating about lately, which I think originated at this wonderful one,  and it’s made me really happy to see so many people recognising that we don’t NEED to be perfect, and taking a stand against it. Not only acknowledging, but embracing our imperfections for what they are – part of who we are. One man’s flaw, after all, is another man’s perfection.  Take a look around. If a friend of yours said something silly, tripped over their shoelaces, or stated an incorrect fact, would you think less of them? Probably not. You’d both laugh about it in a few minutes, and it’d be something that’s evaporated into the past, barely even remembered by the same time tomorrow. So why are we so afraid to make mistakes?

“The huge problem with perfectionism is that people stop learning when they’re constantly afraid of being wrong. We learn by making mistakes. The only way we understand ourselves is to test our limits. If we don’t want anyone to know we make mistakes, which is how perfectionists tend to behave, we are actually hiding our true selves.”

When I read those words, I’m pretty sure my heart skipped a beat. How many posts have I written in the last few months about staying true to yourself? About being genuine, regardless of it costing readership, comment counts, or social acquaintances? I think the Universe tried to send me this message once more this week, when I was attending a Journal Therapy workshop put on by one of my best friends. The first exercise was the “5-Minute Sprint”, where we were given a question (a big one, like “Who Am I?”, “Why Am I Here?” etc. – something that would usually demand an awful lot of thought), and had five minutes to write the first thing that came to mind. At first, I panicked – in true introvert fashion, I like to take my time to construct my thoughts and write them well, paying strict attention to flow, grammar and language – but when it came to sharing, I realised I was having another Universe moment, and thought of the above excerpt, and my voice lesson experience. When I think about it too much and focus on being or creating something perfect, I lose the raw, natural essence of it all. By being forced to write instinctively, without giving the inner critic time to catch up, I was allowed to be my true self. So why do I devote so much energy to perfectionism?

The realisation that we only have a finite amount of mental energy has been somewhat of a theme as of late. I am guilty of having spent far too long allowing futile, unproductive, negative thoughts consume my mind. Setting goals is one thing, but beating yourself up every day for not having achieved them on the journey to accomplishment is entirely another. In my job, I make a point of encouraging others to learn at their own pace, offering support and telling them it’s okay if it takes a little while, it’s okay if they make mistakes, that they’ll learn from them, and that they’ll get there in the end. Yet I tell myself the opposite story. There’s no such thing as a learning curve. You need to be good at it now. If you screw up, you’ll look like a failure. You’ll wear your mistakes like a giant badge for all to see and judge.

The act of writing this out forces me to see this ridiculous mantra of hypocrisy and self-created falsehood. Nobody thinks this way, and by choosing to spend time giving power to thoughts like this, I’m robbing myself of authenticity as well as of time that could be spent infinitely more constructively.  I’m spinning my wheels in a frenzy and remaining absolutely stationary. And what’s the point of that?

As I believe everyone has the choice with how they spend their time externally, I always advocate for the fact that everyone also has the choice regarding how they spend their internal thoughts. Inner critics may have worked their way into our minds, entangled and entwined themselves around our every thought, masquerading as reality, but through the simple act of recognition and choice, we can cut the strings. Realise nobody cares if we’re perfect, and all anybody cares about is if we’re real. By focusing and ruminating on being perfect, we lose our true selves. So let’s put an end to it now. If we have imperfections, it’s okay. It makes us human. If we have ones we really dislike, we have the power to work at changing them. We can choose to work hard at being a good person instead of working hard at beating ourselves up for not being perfect. We can choose to spend our time and energy productively, or self destructively. We can learn to see ourselves through the eyes of others, and give ourselves a bit of a break.

Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone has the choice to learn from them. And at the end of the day, simply ask yourself the question: Does anybody really care if you’re not perfect, or if you make a mistake? Imperfections are the source of growth, of learning, of adventure. And most of all, I think, of sincerity.