I’m sure everyone is fucking livid that they didn’t get their free, dumbass newsletter from me for a week and a half!! Jk I'm positive that most people have not noticed and are living their lives trying to grapple with being in a pandemic/recession-hybrid from hell.
For some reason, in the past month, I hadn’t been feeling as jazzed (gross word alert) about writing these letters, and the quarantine gave me a very good excuse for taking a break and thinking about why that was, and I don’t have any particularly good or insightful answers that aren’t highly embarrassing or petty, but I am back!!!! The letter is back!! I’m going to try to write two-three letters a week going forward, like I was doing before. I may write things that aren’t advice letters because a lot of people don’t need advice right now and aren’t trying to decide whether or not to sleep with their boss. We’ll see!!
Since time is a fake bitch, I’m sure the schedule will be… loose. Thanks for making it this far into a very boring letter! ❤️🌭
As ever, if you have a question, PLEASE send it to email@example.com. It can be quarantine/COVID related, but it, of course, doesn’t have to be.
A BIG SWEETIE ANGEL:
I'm a politically active type who always stays up-to-date on current events. I've always found politics and the like to be interesting, but over the past 4 years it's less of "hey, this is interesting" and moreso "it's irresponsible to not be informed during this hellish time." Because of that, I talk about these things... a lot. During the election cycle, I post, I volunteer, I talk to my friends and coworkers. When Trump does something reprehensible, I speak up. I feel like this is my social responsibility -- to stay informed and try to inform others.
The problem is that I don't find that this is always very well-received. I'm unfortunately someone who cares a lot about what people think of me (doing my best to work through this in therapy), and I can feel people around me being annoyed by how much I talk about these things. When I'm in a social setting and someone lightheartedly mentions they didn't vote, I can feel even my sweet, supportive boyfriend starting to tense up in preparation for me to start talking about why they should be motivated to vote. I do my best not to lecture, or sound like a know-it-all, but I'm just baffled and angered by so many people's apathy right now.
On primary day in Texas, I got so frustrated with my coworkers (young 20-somethings around my age!) for their apathetic attitude towards voting. We have a polling place directly across the street from my office, and they still didn't bother. I pressed them, explained all that was at stake, but nothing motivated them. Instead, they were clearly annoyed of me and acted as if I was overreacting. Now**, with COVID-19, I'm at my breaking point. My CEO refuses to close my office, and despite being asked not to, I am choosing to work from home because I believe that's the responsible thing to do. The aforementioned coworkers are still going in, and I think they feel like I'm just trying to be "woke" or a contrarian of some kind. In actuality, I'm just following the guidelines set by the CDC in order to try and contain the virus. This all just makes me feel so isolated, crazy, and self-conscious.
So my question is, is there a way in which I can feel like I'm "doing my part" without being the debbie downer in every situation? Or should I try to care less about how I'm perceived as long as I feel like I'm doing the right thing?
**Note, this letter is from a couple weeks ago, I don’t know if this person’s office is still working or not.
Hello love! First of all, I know your letter was from a little bit ago, so I sincerely hope that your office has closed if they can (it seems like they can) or at least become much more accepting of you staying away. But I think if this shitty circumstance with your office can teach you (and maybe them, but more on that in a second) anything it’s that you are completely justified in thinking things are really bad. You are not a pessimist or a Debbie downer, you are mostly just correct. The world is very bad for many many people, and we have the ability to change that, but we (esp the political elite/billionaires/ruling classes) simply won’t in many cases. You are not nuts or wrong for wanting to shout to everyone that they need to get involved or people will die. That is, in fact, true. People will die because of the inaction of moderate folks and the action of evil folks. People are dying from it.
You are right to be sad and angry. You are right. You were right about how bad it would be.
The question becomes what to do with that, and how to spread it. There are are few things that you have here that you’ve woven together— your information about the problem, your feelings about the problem, and your actions about the problem. Those three things are OF COURSE interconnected. They’re connected by the fact that they are all parts of your reaction to the problem of the day— voting, health care, access to abortion, immigration, climate change, etc.
Right now, you want everyone to have the information you have, feel the same way you feel, and act the same way you act. Which all makes sense, because you are (again) correct in your desperation. You are right that people will die if we don’t act. But sadly, a lot of people do not know what you know, or do not feel what you feel, or do not want to act as you act. And you alone cannot change that.
It’s frustrating and heartbreaking to see people you love and care about suck shit. Or simply not care. It is agonizing! Sometimes I want to scream at loved ones, “I CAN’T EXPLAIN TO YOU WHY YOU SHOULD CARE THAT PEOPLE WILL DIE BUT YOU SHOULD!!!!! AND YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE TO BE TOLD!!!” I get it. And if you end up yelling that at someone, it’s ok. It might never win them over to your cause, but it’s ok. Not everything is about winning everyone over. Sometimes it’s just about letting out anger and hurt.
But you are not earth’s only hope, ok?
You can decide how you want to act and react to the world around you, what you feel is right and moral, what you can live with. And if it’s very extreme and turns people off, that’s ok. We need extremists dragging the Overton Window. If it’s more moderate or incremental, more about trying to get other moderate people on board, that’s ok. We need that, too. There are thousands of ways to impact people and to help causes. Maybe yours involves yelling at people in living rooms. Or debating people respectfully in living rooms. Or not hanging out with people anymore who showed who they really are when they didn’t vote.
But I would encourage you to go wider. To channel your anger and frustration at the inaction of others into helping people. Invite people into your actions. Be loud about what you care about, do not shut up about it, please. Model what can be done. Look for organizations that are already doing the work you care about. Surround yourself with more people who do actually care. Keep working. Take breaks. Come back. There’s tons and tons of work to be done. Some of it involves being disliked— a very small part, but sometimes it’s part of the job. Some of it involves not being fun. Or likable. That’s ok. It won’t kill you.
The good news is that there are a lot of people like you and more are born (not literally born, but created) every minute. People’s minds DO actually get changed by loud ass Debbie downers all the time. I know because when I first got on twitter in 2011, I was very sexist and very politically apathetic about literally every single issue and I thought that if you voted democratic that was about all you ever needed to do. (I was 17 and a naive idiot sorry!!!)
But then I followed all these funny women who were angry, and at first I hated them and wanted them to shut the fuck up about being a woman because I thought it was not that bad (BECAUSE I WAS A MIDDLE CLASS WHITE GIRL, DUH). But eventually I saw what they were talking about and then after I paid a tiny bit of attention to the feminists, I started listening to people of color and especially women of color and queer activists and I learned from them, and then I kept listening and learning and unlearning and it was all because people who were loud online that a lot of people HATE and a lot of people wish would SHUT UP.
So: keep doing what is right by you, but recognize that most of the real work is not about convincing other people. Other people will be convinced on their own schedule as it pertains to their own lives for the most part. Occasionally, something will speed that process up. Things like pandemics and authoritarian governments and activists on twitter. Some people will never learn and never care. Sometimes it’s because their own life is too hard to deal with more weight. Sometimes it’s because their own life is too easy to imagine weight.
You don’t have to drag everyone along with you, you just have to keep showing up and inviting others to do so.
And remember: the best thing you can be is disliked by the right people.
Sophia Benoit writes this very newsletter; she also writes about sex & relationships for GQ, tweets about everything else at @1followernodad, is a researcher for Lights Out With David Spade, and has had bylines in The Guardian, Reductress, Refinery29, Allure, and The Cut. You can reach her or yell at her at firstname.lastname@example.org.