There’s a fair amount of buzz out there about a few speeches from last night’s Oscars, and for good reason, but there was one that both inspired and troubled me at the same time. Graham Moore seemed to be among the most humble and authentic in the parade of speeches and I appreciated much of what we he said, as well as his intention to use that stage to say it. He was vulnerable in sharing about his own teenage struggles with feeling weird, different and out of place in this world, even to the degree of mentioning his own suicide attempt. We need to talk about these issues more, and we need to not be afraid to talk about them. I greatly appreciate his vulnerability and intention in using his limited time in this way. Perhaps even more so, I appreciated his message to “stay weird, stay different” and furthermore to tell any young people out there who feel that they don’t fit anywhere “yes, you do”. We need to continually preach this message of inclusion and belonging. Feeling like one doesn’t fit is very real and very serious. So thank you, Graham Moore, for saying those things.
But as I was watching and feeling inspired, my heart quickly sank at his words, and it’s here that I’m sure many will vehemently disagree with me: He said, “…but now I’m here”, and then later, “…and then when it’s your turn, and you’re standing on this stage, please pass the message to the next person that comes along.” We have made incredible strides at including others and even bringing the limelight to others in our culture today, which, at its heart, is a good thing. The intentions are really good. But the problem is that what’s still within a message like Graham Moore’s (a message I am certain was not what he wanted to say or was trying to say) is that it is that stage which validated his weirdness and his differentness. And more so for any young people out there by saying “when it’s your turn”, he was saying, “hang on, because one day your weirdness and differentness will be validated by being on such a stage as this”. There is a sneaky lie in there that he did not mean communicate, which is is “one day it will be your turn”. We don’t all get that turn. This is not at all what I know he wanted to say- I believe what he was getting at is “hey, anyone who is up on this stage, let’s use it as a platform of include and affirm all”. He did say that, but he also subtly said what we often subtly and unintentionally say in those moments, which is that winning is validation. There is something in our culture today that still only sees that limelight as the place of validation.
We have so uplifted the celebrity in today’s world, that there is a sentiment that one has “arrived”, “belongs” or “fits” only when we see them on the stage with the trophy, on the podium with the gold medal, or in front of the crowd scoring the touchdown or last second basket. We have made winning the mark of belonging. And I cannot stress enough that much of it is rooted in good intentions, but we are still missing something crucial- that is, addressing the issue of belonging when you don’t win. I loved Graham Moore’s heart last night, but what he did was a dangle a carrot in front of all those young people who feel they don’t belong which says, “one day you might get to be up here too”. But the truth is that the vast majority of them won’t. How can we move as a culture to a place where the “weird” or “different” kid can feel they fit somewhere in this world without being the one who stands on the stage looking at all the pretty people, or even needing some one on the stage to say to for them. This not the world in which we yet live, but it is the world for which I long and toward which I want to work, and speeches like that are actually (I feel) a small step in the wrong direction.
I affirm Graham Moore for using that stage to communicate a message of inclusion, but that (or any other) stage cannot and must not be what validates us or what gives us the sense of arrival or fitting in. Awards, accolades, championships, trophies, medals and the limelight are deceptive gremlins tricking us into thinking that they give us a fit in this world. The stage cannot be what affirms and validates the innate beauty within us all, for the stage is, by its very nature, exclusive. We need a world where the innate beauty within us all is affirmed and validated through the every day rhythms of life. We need to shape a culture where spotting, calling out and celebrating the beauty within one another is a daily practice. Reese Witherspoon said last night about women, “we are more than our dresses”, which is true. What is also true for everyone there is “you are more than your trophy or even your nomination”. But the way we laud those with that trophy, and the amount of validation it gives to those who clutch it communicates a whole other message. We need to be more careful about the power and value we give to the limelight. I think it sometimes subtly slips in and takes us over with a mask of inclusion. It is fun to win. It is okay to win. It is okay to feel good about winning, but let us never let winning be what validates us. May we one day live in a world where simply being a human is beautiful enough.