I was having a conversation with a brilliant friend about amazing people we knew who had a lot to say but no platform to say it. My friend, who went to Harvard Business School and who is very successful, said that this was one of the saddest aspects of modern society.
I couldn’t agree more.
The more I interact with celebrities, influencers, and people who are followed by lots of people, the more I realize that very few of them have something original to say. Now this is not an attack on their intelligence, creativity, or character in any way; it is simply an observation that those with the biggest platforms in America often do not have the most unique “voices.” (There are, of course, exceptions to this but the exceptions do not disprove the rule.)
I’ve written extensively on what having a unique voice entails before, but here is a quick recap: having a unique voice is when we express our authentic, original, and breakthrough insights and ideas that help other people’s lives get better.
But so few who have the largest platforms are actually helping people’s lives get better in real and concrete ways. And the reason so few are doing this is because their platforms are not based on having a unique voice; they’re based on showing off superficial spectacle.
In today’s age, the average kid wants to be an influencer more than they want to be a doctor, lawyer, actor, or even entrepreneur. The average kid wants to soak up the online likes and applause because they are witnessing that that is where the greatest rewards are – in the superficial.
Our country’s youngsters see that to become an influencer you don’t need to have business ideas that could help others; that you don’t need to have profound wisdom that can be the ingredient people need to overcome obstacles in their lives; and that you don’t need to really be successful by any conventional standards in your life. They see that all you need to do is to look cool, to show some skin, to dance or make a funny video, or film yourself playing video games.
And because they see superficiality being rewarded with huge platforms, they desire this superficiality for themselves.
But where does this leave other people who refuse to play this superficiality game? Where does this leave people who have something important to say but who don’t yet have followers to say it to?
Although we have seen the rise of the superficial influencer take over the internet, there is still hope for substantive influencers to arise who will use their platform to empower others – not distract them.
In part 2 of this series, I will outline some key ways for how substantive influencers – the real influencers – can step up to the plate. They’re needed now more than ever.
3 Things Get Out Teaches Us About Harmful Stereotypes
3 Things Get Out Teaches Us About Harmful Stereotypes
Jordan Peele’s masterful breakout movie, Get Out, is a complex and compelling look at race in America. It follows a young interracial couple – Chris (who is black) and Rose (who is white) – as they meet Rose’s white parents for the first time. But things quickly turn for the worst as Chris realizes his girlfriend has set him up to be experimented on by her racist family.
While the film is definitely a psychothriller, its most important contribution to our lives comes in the social message it is conveying. Here are three things we can learn from it.
First, prejudice can begin by believing ‘good stereotypes’. ‘Good stereotypes’ are when we associate the positive qualities we perceive about a person solely because they come from a certain group. So in Chris’s case, Chris was perceived as being very artistic – a good stereotype some have about black people – and therefore he was highly valued for it by Rose and her family. They desperately wanted his natural artistic talents so they could transfer them to a blind white man in a sick brain/body substitution scheme. What this teaches us is that even good stereotypes can actually lead people to treating others in very negative and detestable ways – and why we should never stereotype others to begin with because this can become a very slippery slope.
Second, when people see others as a stereotype they do not think that their negative thoughts or behaviors toward them are bad. Because Rose and her family had a twisted view about Chris – and black people – they thought it was okay to try to harm and kill people like him. They had convinced themselves that they were right and that hurting black people was just normal. This “normal” thinking is what allowed them to suspend their consciences and not think twice about murdering other human beings. In real life, when people stereotype others – whether it be based on race or gender or political or religious affiliations or in other prejudicial ways – it makes it easy for them to justify negative, untrue, and sometimes harmful behaviors toward them. The history of slavery in America is an example of this and another reason why stereotypes can become bad things very quickly. A second example of this is how both political parties in America stereotype each other which makes it easier for them to dehumanize (and therefore hurt) one another.
Third, stereotypes will eventually backfire on those who hold them. In Rose’s family, their hardened stereotypes and prejudices about black people led to fatal consequences – for themselves. Even though they had gotten away with their racism for a long time, Chris put an end to this family’s wickedness once and for all. This happens in the everyday world too. People who hold stereotypes about other groups often have these stereotypes shattered at one point or another in their lives. Although this does not always happen, when prejudiced people interact meaningfully with others from a group they have (even unintentionally) stereotyped they often get taught major life lessons because the stereotypes they once clung to they realize are not true. They are forced to live in denial or to start to look at people as individuals (and not just as members of groups). I’ve seen this shattering of stereotypes happen to various people who did not know they held stereotypes about me, for example, because of my ethnicity.
With the movie Get Out, we can learn many lessons about why stereotypes in all its forms are bad. We see that good stereotypes are actually just as bad as bad stereotypes; that stereotypes can cause people to justify their harmful behavior toward others who are different; and how stereotypes end up backfiring on those who hold them.
Should We Worship Our Feelings?
Should We Worship Our Feelings?
In modern society, the key phrase is “I feel.”
“I feel happy.”
“I feel sad.”
“I feel excited.”
“I feel offended.”
And so forth.
All of these feelings we have experienced not only concern how we feel emotionally from one day to the next, but how we interpret our world. How we view it. How we perceive it. How we filter the complexity of ourselves, the complexity of others, and the complexity of society.
Because we have exalted our feelings to be the center of our worlds, we have also exalted something else too: we have exalted our feelings to be the center of THE world.
This distinction is important because no longer are our feelings just about how we perceive ourselves and relate to the world. Our feelings are about how we want the world to perceive and relate to us.
At first glance this seems innocent and reasonable. We all want to be understood and respected by the world. We all want to be treated fairly. We all want to live our own lives without others ignoring, disrespecting, or oppressing the feelings we experience deeply within ourselves.
Where this gets tricky, though, is when we go beyond believing that our feelings should be things we experience and should be respected for. It gets tricky when we start believing that our feelings should also be taken as our truth -THE TRUTH -about ourselves, about others, and about the world. In other words, this gets tricky because our feelings are no longer about our emotional experiences and become about something else entirely.
With this “feelings-as-truth” mindset, it doesn’t matter whether or not our feelings are the actual objective truth about the various things in our lives. All that matters is how we feel about things. All that matters is that we believe our feelings represent reality.
The problem with this is that our feelings are not always reality. And our feelings are not always truthful. In fact, our feelings often lie to us and they often cause us to believe things or make decisions that aren’t good for ourselves in the long run. Here’s a classic example.
How many times have we heard the story about the nice girl falling for the bad boy? She thinks she’s special because he finds her interesting and treats her well – for a while. She finds it thrilling that he is so mysterious and adventurous and believes she can experience a side of life that has been missing. Her feelings have convinced her that even though he is a bad boy – and has mistreated other girls and is a jerk to everybody else – that she can change him. She just knows she can and will try to with her beauty, personality, or behavior.
But what almost always happens in this scenario? The bad boy ends up – surprise, surprise – mistreating her in the end. He ends up hurting her. And she ends up realizing that her feelings about him were wrong all along. But to her, her feelings were her truth – they represented the facts and reality even though she was probably objectively warned by family or friends that the bad boy would hurt her.
In our own lives, how many times have we experienced the same thing? How many times have we flirted with the bad boy or the bad girl (the feelings we are convinced are right) only to realize they were wrong in the end? How many times have we let ourselves believe that our feelings about certain things – our truth – was actually THE TRUTH about them? And how many times were we hurt because we mistakenly thought our reality was THE REALITY?
The point I’m making is not to see feelings as the boogeyman. The point I’m making is that we should stop letting our feelings replace reality and we should stop letting our feelings replace objective truth – about ourselves, about others, and about the world around us. Instead, if we can start to see that our feelings are simply emotions to experience – and not truth we convince ourselves is objective reality – we will be better and stronger in every area of our lives.
Refuting the Myth of the “Destructive Artist”
Refuting the Myth of the ‘Destructive Artist’
One of the most popular myths that has been promoted about – and adopted by – artists is that we must somehow be “destructive” to be brilliant. That we must somehow live painful or sordid lives to create great art. And that we must somehow let our dark sides become our default realities so that we can generate ideas that will move humanity forward.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Although it is true that there are artists who have spoken about the “benefits” of drug use, immoral behavior, sketchy relationships, and dangerous emotions for improving creativity, the reality is that these behaviors are not only unhelpful for our souls but they are unhelpful for our art.
We’ve all heard of a few famous artists who got high or abused women or generally were unpleasant people but were still nevertheless “successful.” And unfortunately we’ve often excused their character because we were blinded by their creativity and blinded by their gifts. If we like their art, for example, but don’t condone their destructive personal behavior we say to ourselves, “well that’s just an artist for you.” We convince ourselves that we can separate our enjoyment of their work from their character. We think, who are we to judge their baggage since we all have a little baggage ourselves?
While this perspective might make sense and be comforting to us, it is very dangerous for artists for several reasons:
First, it enables these artists to continue abusing themselves or others and consequently adds more unnecessary misery to the world (how many more overdoses, domestic violence cases, and other negative things do we really want to see because artists mistakenly believe their destructive behavior is ok as long as it is being validated by the market?).
Second, it doesn’t encourage (living) artists who are engaging in destructive behavior to seek the help they truly need (they don’t need more needles or turmoil or success, they need more therapy and love).
Third, it sends the signal to impressionable up-and-coming artists that it’s okay to be destructive for the sake of their art. It says to them, “the great ones are all this way.”
And fourth, it runs counter to the reality of what actually makes a good artist.
The truth is that the few artists who are destructive and happen to be successful are the exception to the rule, and not the rule itself (most successful artists are not destructive and data shows this). The reality is the vast majority of would-be artists who engage in destructive behaviors get stuck in these behaviors and never live up to their potential. The reality is, most of the artists who live in these destructive ways wind up living short, tortured, and tragic lives.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
We don’t have to encourage (or at least condone or excuse) destructive behaviors that lead to substance abuse, poor relationships, and terrible mental health in artists.
We don’t have to condone artists selling out their souls so that society can be briefly entertained by their work.
And we don’t have to condone the myth that pain and tragedy (i.e., destructive things) are the most important ingredients for artists’ creative genius.
Instead, we should do something entirely different than we’ve been doing when it comes to artists:
- We should encourage artists with potential to seek to live healthier lives and adopt beliefs and behaviors that, according to science, will actually improve not only their creativity but their productivity.
- We should encourage artists to read more broadly and engage in more diverse art forms to spark their imaginations (instead of believing that shooting up or wallowing in selfish behaviors are the tools they need to get creative inspiration).
- We should encourage artists to engage in more healthy reflection about themselves (not just reflections about how they are different or misunderstood or are a victim in society, but reflections about how they are real human beings who deserve peace, happiness, and wholeness like everyone else).
- And we should encourage artists to immerse themselves in communities of people who are not self-harming (either physically or emotionally) like they so often tend to do.
If we start to more actively refute the myth of the destructive artist, we can not only save many artists from hurting themselves but we can save many artists from hurting others. If we do, we’ll enable more of them to do what they were sent to this earth to do: create art that will lift up humanity that doesn’t require them to sell their souls.
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