A Response to Rachel Held Evans

August 16, 2013 in Misc · 10 comments

rhe-goya

A response to Rachel Held Evans’ piece: You Don’t Hate Me. You Hate My Brand.

No, people aren’t reducible to a brand. But to complain that people are judging you by your creative output is arrogant and naive. Don’t want people to criticize your theology? Don’t publicly take theological stands. Don’t want to deal with “2.5 gazillion responses on the internet?” Don’t write for CNN. Don’t want to be judged by your writing? Don’t write.

No one’s making you blog. No one’s making you write. No one’s making you establish a brand. You’re doing that to yourself. You may think that critiques from others are unfair, you may think they’re un-Christlike, you may think they devalue you as a person. But, coming from a white middle class American, such complaints fall woefully flat.

A quick scan of the headlines shows that 60 protesters in Egypt were killed today, Somolia’s in the middle of a severe polio outbreak, 17 people died in a ferry collision in the Philippines, 22 people were killed in a bomb blast in Beirut — and you’re worried about your brand? You’re worried that people don’t know the “real” you? What terrible First World problems we must endure!

The appropriate response to the tension between being a privileged American Christian and the desperate plight of others in the world isn’t guilt, it’s humility. The appropriate response to the success of your blog, books and lectures isn’t to complain about how “your life gets distilled into these little pixels,” it’s humility. A public expression of angst regarding one’s personal brand is anything but humble — it’s self-centered and self-serving. To put it bluntly, complaining about the existential problems of one’s success is obnoxious.

We all have images. We’re all perceived by others in a myriad of ways — that’s life. But if you’re going to create, you need to learn to endure and ignore and even accept the boxes people put you in. Creating means exposing yourself, it means willingly subjecting part of who you are to critical appraisal by others — including those who don’t know anything about you. The fact that our creative expressions don’t fully represent who we are isn’t a weakness or shortcoming, it’s simply part of the process that we must learn to work with rather than rebel against.

No Rachel, I don’t hate you. No Rachel, I don’t hate your brand. What I dislike is the fact that you’re complaining about your success.

10 comments… read them below or add one

Grace August 16, 2013 at 11:05 pm

The correct response to a person who’s feeling down about negative comments isn’t a lecture, it’s empathy. To pull out the great woes of the world instead of offering compassion and understanding boils down the issue to a comparison where you try to guilt anyone with “first world problems” into feeling like crap for having feelings. We can see our privilege, but we are allowed to have feelings, too, which was sort of one of Rachel’s points. Allowing for the sensitivities of our fellow humans is a part of being en empathetic person. Rachel writes plenty about the pains of the world. Allow her to have some time for her own pain, no matter if it isn’t one you share.

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Dan August 17, 2013 at 10:48 am

I don’t fault RHE for having feelings or feeling down or being human! But I don’t have empathy for someone who has devoted a large part of their life to developing an online brand who then becomes upset when people equate her with that brand. As I thought I made clear, I’m not trying to drum up feelings of guilt, rather, I’m trying to say that we all need to be realistic about the nature of public discourse and the challenges of living at least part of our lives online.

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Dave Taylor October 6, 2013 at 5:50 pm

Exactly. And the word “brand” is exactly what RHE is about. That’s one reason, incidentally, I find it ironic that she should criticize a “consumerist” model of the church that millennials are supposedly reluctant to embrace. She has simply created another niche in the market.

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Ford1968 August 17, 2013 at 6:08 am

Hiya Dan,

I had somewhat the same reaction to this piece. I’m generally a huge RHE fan, but it seems a little self indulgent to write a piece about being wearied by tremendous success.

I do think, though, that there’s a valid point in there for us not-famous people.

Our public conversation (and consciousness) has degenerated into a sackful of caricatures. We pin unfair labels on others based on a few litmus-test positions. Everyone is either friend or foe. Republican or democrat. Progressive or evangelical. Foolishly-open-minded-elite or hateful-uncaring-greedy-bigot. I find myself suspicious about someone’s motives/ethics based on very little information (e.g., what church they attend).

And if we question or challenge those in our own tribe (as RHE has done) we’re shouted down as traitors. “Don’t you understand? THEY’RE the enemy.”

Unfortunately, this keeps us from truly knowing and delighting in one another. Lately, I’ve been taking a deeper dive into what it means to love our enemies. It’s an interesting (and liberating) journey.

Best!
Ford

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Dan August 17, 2013 at 10:35 am

I agree that there’s an extraordinarily valid issue in RHE’s piece — and you sum it up nicely above. But I don’t think viewing people as caricatures is anything new — we’ve always done this, whether by virtue of someone’s gender or skin color or accent or education and on and on. We, as a species, seem extraordinarily driven to both covet and hate that which we see in others.

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Ford1968 August 17, 2013 at 11:29 am

Your command of language is brilliant. “We, as a species, seem extraordinarily driven to both covet and hate that which we see in others.”

Truer words were never spoken. There’s a parallel thought I like a lot – “show me what you hate and I’ll show you who you are.”

Peace!

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Randy Buist October 18, 2013 at 7:55 am

While good discourse is much needed, let me suggest you push this too far. You suggest she has worked hard to create her ‘brand,’ but perhaps she simply writes and speaks well and resonates with readers?

While I am often too hard and harsh on people, your response could be understood as something that is not helpful to the conversation. I’m not even sure I want to engage in this conversation…

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Dan October 18, 2013 at 9:49 am

RHE does write and speak well and does resonate with readers. But I don’t think the issue is “simply” that. Plenty of people fall into that category and don’t whine about being unfairly judged on the basis of their work.

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Randy Buist October 18, 2013 at 7:59 am

After reading through all of the responses thus far, let me suggest that Grace’s response holds the most faithful response.

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Dan October 18, 2013 at 9:36 am

And I stand by my response to Grace’s comment 😉

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