Today is International Women's Day and I thought I'd try and articulate some things I've been thinking about.
Years ago, on a first day of school, I was asked by an art professor to quickly, off the top of my head, name ten women I admired. I can't remember if women artists was a stipulation or not. At the time I didn't really know why, but I felt the question was a bit unfair and put me on the spot in a negative way. I felt he was forcing me to prove something by doing that and it made me uncomfortable. Judging by the way the year went in that class, my basic intuitive reaction had some merit. At the time I stated that I didn't feel comfortable with what he was asking of me because I admire people I know personally for who they are, but I can't admire people I don't know; I can only appreciate what they do.
Jump ahead several years to the present and this issue is coming up in my life in a different way. As I get older, I find it necessary to separate my feelings about what someone achieves in a public capacity with who they are as a person. One can achieve great things yet be incapable of providing for their basic psychological and emotional needs -- be entirely self-hating even. I can't admire that. I want to be a well-rounded person and I strive on a daily basis to make achieving a healthy life my number one priority above and beyond the voice in my head that tells me my value lies in what I accomplish rather than in who I am. This is complicated for me because I also don't believe in separating business and personal. I need to take responsibility for what I do. It isn't who I am, but it is a part of me.
Which brings me to another point I've been thinking about lately. A while ago I found an interview between Maya Angelou and Bell Hooks. At one point in the interview they discussed fame and how that had affected them. Maya Angelou said:
There are lots of people who I think are doing great things and I really appreciate their efforts in doing those things. But I know I am treading on dangerous ground when words such as "looking up to" or "wanting to be like", or "I wish I had ________ like so and so" get thrown around.
A day later....
I'm carefully picking bits of perlite out of pre-prepared cactus and succulent soil so as to avoid poisoning the plants I'm transplanting (which are members of the Lily family) when it occurs to me what I really meant to say above. Mind numbing tasks can be good meditation.
It's not that it's wrong to compliment people or to receive compliments. It's how you send and receive those compliments. They should not be the litmus paper against which you measure the value of what you do and who you are.