For as long as I can remember, even as a child, I have been fascinated with organizing my world and being “productive.”
Because I like organizing, I’m drawn to sites like LifeHacker and I have a little bit of an obsession for planners, organizers, calendars, to-do lists, etc. I’m always looking for those technology tools that will help me be more efficient, more productive, more more. In my last blog post, I talked about how I often listen to a podcast called Unmistakable Creative, a podcast that is all about productivity and creativity. I recently listened to a podcast featuring Rahaf Harfoush, titled, Technology’s Impact and Our Productivity, Creativity and Humanity. In this podcast, Harfoush talks about having a “meltdown” after seeing a meme that says, “You have the same amount of hours as Beyoncé.”
This got me to thinking about a discussion I had in my Diversity and Social Justice course a couple of weeks ago. The topic was on ableism, and we were discussing the concept of “inspiration porn.” That is, the use of a photo image of a person with a disability who is excelling at something – typically some athletic activity – as a motivator for those of us who are able-bodied. These images often include the saying, “What’s your excuse?”
Image of a male amputee lifting weights.
Image of a female with an amputated leg in an advertisement that says, “So…What’s your excuse again?”
For many of the students it had not occurred to them that an image that on the surface looks to be about changing our beliefs about people with disabilities might actually have deeper problematic messages (click here for a good article discussing ableism and use of images of people with disabilities).
Although these images are quite different – one featuring a successful pop star and the other two feature a person with a disability, the message is the same – if other people can achieve great things, then your so-so achievements are completely your fault because you’re not trying hard enough.
Both of these images are “shamespiration,” shaming people as inspiration. “Shamespiration” originated as a critique of weight loss culture that shames people into losing weight such as shows like The Biggest Loser, for example. Perhaps for some people, being told that you’re lazy and that you could achieve success if you just tried harder is motivating, but for most of us, shame actually inhibits our productivity and more importantly, our ability to relate to others with compassion and empathy.
Shamespiration causes us to be competitive towards others, rather than cooperating. Shamespiration causes us to judge others who are struggling as being weak, lazy or unwilling to change. Shamespiration causes us to define success and productivity for others and allows others to define success and productivity for us. Shamespiration reduces the ability for us to have true empathy for others, and doesn’t acknowledge that some of us have more privileges than others. Shamespiration assumes each of us comes to the starting line with the exact same tools, skills and opportunities and that we could be the best if we only tried harder or stopped making excuses.
Shamespiration tells us to value others for what they do, rather than for who they are.
As an antidote for the shamespiration, it might be worth re-visiting Brené Brown’s Ted Talk on Listening to Shame. If you haven’t seen this before, I recommend watching it every time you see a shamespiration meme that tells you you’re not good enough.