Rambly post about gratitude and praise

My life is weird.

During college, I made a name for myself with a style of activism that mixed fucking with people with serious rebuttals.  It worked for me and I had fun (I give a talk about it here).

Now I’m kinda grown up, no matter how much I fight it (and boy, do I fight it).  For everything that’s happened to me over the last few years, I still feel really small.  I still feel like a college student fucking with people for lulz.  But when I speak, people come up to me and tell me I changed their lives.  It’s still hard to believe, which makes it hard to express my gratitude.

I’m grateful because hearing stuff like that (or this or this) helps me feel like I can do some of this “big” stuff and that I actually belong as an activist, not just someone tweaking the bad guys.  It’s actually a more difficult mindset to get into than you may think.

But as flattered as I am by the praise, I must say I’m not amazing.  I’m simply not.  I’m a guy with a particular skill set who got lucky (and who is trying to put that luck to the best use possible while I have the chance).  The fact is that I’m one voice out of millions.  I honestly feel like every success I have belongs to a gajillion people who have, for lack of a better phrase, grown up with me – whether they’re people who saw me speak when I was first starting out or blog readers now.

Even if our roles are different, we all have significant parts in this movement (even the reluctant warriors).  The person who arranges a weekly get-together for atheists to go bowling is working for social change just as much as I – it’s just my skill set often puts me on a stage.  But we’re the same – neither more amazing than the other.

A good comparison would be Greta Christina for me.  I read her every day in college.  I molded my style of writing to match certain qualities of hers.  When I met her, I was floored and probably couldn’t have managed to wipe my ass.  Ditto with Matt Dillahunty.  Now I’m friends with both of them, and both of them jump straight down my throat if I even mention the word “hero” around them.  It took a while for me to get used to it, but eventually I did.  I still admire them, but I’m close enough to them now to realize they were never heroes – they were normal people fighting.  Their normalcy has led me to admire them even more.

We’re all normal people who care about the plights of others and who care about the well-being of society/the planet.  In this light, it almost makes me want to correct people when they send me praising emails.  “No, no, no!  I’m not that great!”  Not because I’m not grateful, not because I don’t think I’m good at what I do, but because it’s the truth.  Don’t put me on a pedestal without putting yourselves on a pedestal.  I’m not better than anyone else (who isn’t a complete douchenozzle).

I’ve said it before, I’m honestly (and not just being falsely modest) the least capable employee at the SSA.  It’s not that I’m incompetent – I know I’m pretty good at my job.  It’s just that they’re all so phenomenal.  Working with them makes me a better activist.

I just sent a response to a praise email that pretty much sums up my feelings after all of them.

These emails always present me with a conundrum.  My immediate reaction is to say “thank you.”  But that always seems a terribly inadequate way to express the breadth of my gratitude for both your support and your willingness to part with your own money to make things better for students.

However, I can’t think of anything more expressive than “thank you.”  It’s the best I can give, but know that I mean so much more.

Thank you.

I hope I never feel big.  It’s an unappealing thought to me.  I hope I always feel like the little guy having a blast while being an activist.

It’s been a very wild ride for me over the last several years.   Without everybody else I bumped shoulders with, I wouldn’t be who I am today and I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Thank you to all of you.  Thank you for your support of me, which helps me to do my job better.  Thank you for your support of this movement, through donations and the giving of your own time.  Thank you for your friendship, your compassion.

Just…thank you.

  • Celeste

    I can totally understand you feeling this way. I’m a Bursar for an online university. Most of what I do is add and subtract numbers. But when dealing with math and money, (especially federal financial aid funds) a lot of people tend to have mental blocks. My ex-husband experienced it frequently. By the time I get the call from a student, they’re often confused and upset. They want their account explained in simple terms, and that’s where I excel. Once I’m done talking to them, I often receive an effusive “thank you” that makes it sound as though I’d just explained a complex physics equation to them. I get similar reactions from co-workers who are confused by an account.

    I think that the reaction comes not from what I do, but how I do it. I break it down for them in a way that helps them tackle the issue on their own.

    And that’s what you do, JT. You break it down for us, and by doing so, you empower the rest of us. You make us feel as though we can tackle a bigger problem, because we have you at our backs. When I read your blog entries, I often get the same warm and fuzzy feeling I get when looking at lolcats. I feel like the world is a better place, because the problems in it just got a little smaller.

  • doctorburger

    Go Team.

  • http://www.cstdbill.com/ Bill

    Thanks for being…well…you.

    I’m an old fart, myself; and I think it’s great that you younguns are taking over. I think I’ll take a nap now.

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/crommunist Crommunist

    Not because I’m not grateful, not because I don’t think I’m good at what I do, but because it’s the truth. Don’t put me on a pedestal without putting yourselves on a pedestal. I’m not better than anyone else (who isn’t a complete douchenozzle).

    This. Exactly this. Except… I am better than all you mindless peons! MUHAHAHAHA! Now polish the base of my pedestal and gaze in awestruck horror upon my unevenly-shaven chin!

    Butt seriously folks… this is more or less exactly how I feel. People telling me ‘your writing changed the way I think’ makes me feel simultaneous joy, gratitude, and collar-tugging regret (“who, ME?”). I’m just some guy who likes talking about stuff, and if that’s helpful then I am glad, but I wouldn’t ever want anyone confusing me with anything other than just some guy… with poor chin-grooming habits.

  • http://justdfacsmaam.wordpress.com MarkNS

    “Normal people fighting.” Umm…that’s pretty much what all heroes throughout history have been.

  • christophburschka

    a style of activism that mixed fucking with people with serious rebuttals

    Took a moment to see the intended meaning. :P

  • John

    What you’re saying is true – you’re just one dude who’s working for a cause, in a long line of people who’ve been working for said cause.

    That said, your work with those letters is the real life equivalent of this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KS7hkwbKmBM

    When we see that, we’re going to cheer.

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