A Reflection Written/Contributed by Camille Michelle Gray
We live in a highly impersonal world. But we take it personally.
I am a singer/songwriter, and in this modern era it is pretty much suicide not to have an online presence. So I have a YouTube page. On this page I have posted pretty well received covers of songs with a smattering of originals. I am lucky to have such a solid base of online supporters. Every time I go to check the comments, my soul sours. A teen from Jakarta is now learning how to play the guitar because of me. A beauty from Tampa wants to use my rendition for a talent show. A suave young man from London proclaims that he will buy any and all of my albums, should I choose to make them.
And so it is that these online strangers have added momentum to my dream, to my calling, to the goal I set forth for myself when I was less than a decade old. These people do not know me, though. They have never seen me in person. They’ve never witnessed a pimple on my face, or a dark shade of my mood, or the certain spark of seeing me smile. I am nothing more than a digital presence to them, and for me, they are just words on a screen. Yet those black Times New Roman words stitch themselves to my spirit, and allow me to show up for life a bit brighter than I was before.
But, I am not here to boast about my gratitude for these strangers. I’m here to examine the dark underbelly of being able to share opinions so freely and without accountability, specifically as it relates to those of us in pursuit of music.
Here’s a YouTube comment (YouTube comments, we can all agree, are where kindness and empathy go to die) I happened upon the other week:
You ruined this song, you should go kill yourself. You’re not really that pretty and you can’t sing.
Okay, whoa. Let’s just all soak that in. Regardless of whether or not you dear readers agree with that anonymous comment, I think we can all agree it’s a massive overreaction to something they just happened not to like.
My first reaction was to laugh it off. So I did that. My next reaction was to delete the comment. I did that too. (I always delete nasty comments. I don’t tolerate reckless negativity and I especially don’t want to give it life by letting it sit there being able to be read by others. Constructive criticism? Yes, always, bring it on! You telling me to die? Nah. How will I get better if I’m dead?). Then I texted a friend about it and we laughed about it together. Then I let the comment settle in my psyche. I’m not sixteen anymore, so I didn’t automatically go to some poor me wasteland. I’m grown now, and I refuse to be tackled down by anonymous mean-spirited comments. So instead, I got righteous. I got righteously indignant. I found myself justifying my talent to myself!
I can totally sing. If there’s one thing I know I know how to do, it’s sing! So that’s not even, like, factually accurate. And I can definitely write! I can write songs too. Writing and singing—these are things I know I know how to do. No one can tell me different! And so what if I’m not the prettiest. I value being able to sing and write over my looks anyway so BOO YAH!
I let this inner monologue drape my brain for another hour or so. And then once I was tired of marinating in my madness, I realized that I was taking this impersonal comment personally. Just as easily as Internet admirers allowed my soul to sour, Internet haters allowed it to drown. I allowed it to drown.
It was during this epiphany that I was drawn back to one of my favorite quotes by Theodore Roosevelt that is truncated below:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena… if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly”
I am in the arena, literally and figuratively. Every time I get up to perform an original song, I am in the arena. And if I mess up the words and miss all of my notes, at least I had the bravery to get up there in the first place. And so it is with all musicians. Anyone brave enough to take his or her God-given expression and hold it up for the world to see, regardless of whether or not the world will like it, has dared greatly.
When I post a YouTube video, I am in the arena. I am relinquishing all control and sharing my heart space with strangers. Not in an attempt to seek validation, fame, money or adulation—but with the hope that it will inspire others to do the same, whether it is with music, graphic design, accounting, or law.
Posting mean comments behind the safety of your computer is not daring greatly. Criticizing and belittling the music others have worked so hard to create is not daring greatly. Telling someone to die or to stop pursuing their dream because you do not have the wherewithal to accept that talent comes in infinite shapes, sizes and colors and that you have the free will to pick and choose as you please without degrading or deriding…is not daring greatly.
Remember this the next time you feel the need to share cruel comments about someone who has or is daring greatly. But especially remember it when you are on the receiving end of such unkind words.
Are you in the arena? Or are you merely sitting on the sidelines?
Camille Michelle Gray is a 22 year old singer/songwriter from Washington D.C. She likes dogs, cheese, and Lady Gaga.