I’m Sorry, but No (Special Bonus Rant: TED Talk Edition)

Once upon a time, a little article about a TED Talk showed up in my recommendations.

I had some thoughts.

I’m leaving in the identifiable information about the speaker, with the reasoning that anyone who has given a TED Talk understands that one downside of the platform is that it can lead unexpected new strangers to disagree with what you chose to say.

And, because I sometimes consider it appropriate to lead with caveats in an attempt to circumvent irrelevant and time-wasting challenges and “what abouts,” I’ll add my standard caveat that although I am discussing an individual person, my goal is to critique the ways in which her advice supports potentially harmful ideologies. It gets a little bit trickier with a TED Talk than it is with a totally decontextualized quote on an image macro, because obviously the person giving their own argument isn’t entirely separable from… themselves.

In some cases, I research the people behind pithy quotes in order to learn more about the context they came from, but I won’t do that here. I don’t know any more about this speaker’s work than what is available in the italic text below, because I am not interested in picking apart her overall scholarship or career. Just the arguments in this TED Talk. Whatever direction she has taken since giving this talk, her life is an active and evolving thing that has intrinsic value irrespective of my frustration with some conclusions she arrived at and presented on a stage in 2019.

That being said, the tone of this post gets caustic, and I am not sorry.

The speaker paints gender with broad strokes, and I tend to respond in kind. I would love to see the response to this talk that focuses entirely on gender essentialism, and that was not the direction I took here.

I’ve included both the content of the article (in italics below) and a link to the  summary of the TED Talk “How Apologies Kill Our Confidence” by Maja Jovanovic.

Let’s do this.

“Think about all the times you use the word “sorry” in a typical day. There are the necessary “sorry”s — when you bump into someone, when you need to cancel plans with a friend. But what about the unnecessary “sorry”s? The “sorry, this may be an obvious idea” at a meeting, the “sorry to cause trouble” when rescheduling a haircut, the “sorry, there’s a spill in the dairy aisle” at the supermarket.”

It’s not necessary to efficiently acknowledge your awareness of the fact that something is mildly inconvenient by using a common word capable of serving exactly that purpose.

This is because words can actually only have one fixed meaning and function at a time, and “sorry” is definitely not used in contemporary American English with a broad range of complex and situationally dependent nuances.

“Unnecessary” sorries (you know, the “embarrassed lady” ones) can only ever convey “I am ashamed of my own existence, and frankly I expect you to shame me for having called attention to the fact that I experience that shame in the first place.”

“Canadian sociologist Maja Jovanovic believes the “sorry”s we sprinkle through our days hurt us. They make us appear smaller and more timid than we really are, and they can undercut our confidence.

Jovanovic, who teaches at McMaster University and Mohawk College in Hamilton, Ontario, became interested in this topic when she attended a conference four years ago. The four women on a panel were, she says, “experts in their chosen fields. Among them, they had published hundreds of academic articles, dozens of books. All they had to do was introduce themselves. The first woman takes a microphone and she goes, ‘I don’t know what I could possibly add to this discussion’ … The second woman takes the microphone and says, ‘Oh my gosh, I thought they sent the email to the wrong person. I’m just so humbled to be here.’” The third and fourth women did the same thing.

During the 25 panels at that week-long conference, recalls Jovanovic, “not once did I hear a man take that microphone and discount his accomplishments or minimize his experience. Yet every single time a woman took a microphone, an apologetic tone was sure to follow.” She adds, “I found it enraging; I also found it heartbreaking.””

How about:

Canadian sociologist Maja Jovanovic believes that the word “sorry” is harmful to women because she interprets its phatic function as limited to the reinforcement of outdated dichotomous pragmatic expectations about gender performance. Furthermore, the lady version of those outdated dichotomous pragmatic expectations about gender performance is clearly the wrong version (out of the two options).

She frames her assumption that people who frequently apologize appear small, timid, and unconfident as universal. She is a scientist, after all, so her claim is completely objective and free from embarrassing caveats.

Many men, and also the smartest of women, do not like to hear apologies that they deem unnecessary, and therefore those apologies should be eradicated rather than re-evaluated.

Once when Jovanovic attended a conference, she completely failed to try to interpret the introductory apologies of her female colleagues as normal or functional, so instead of paying attention to their scholarly contributions, she focused on judging the fundamental wrongness of the inferior ways they chose to start talking.

Then she gave a TED Talk about how it was their fault that she didn’t listen to them more closely.

She was angry and sad when she noticed that some women did not communicate like some men. That’s what feminism was for.

It’s not like her whole argument is based on internalized patriarchal standards that are like Ayn Rand, in which efforts at communicative accommodation are like The Communist Manifesto.

…is it?

Or maybe the men didn’t “discount their accomplishments” or “minimize their experience” because they have to be assertive and right all the time or the whole system falls apart.

The repercussions of talking like a lady include being treated like a lady, and we all know that we don’t want that!

No one listens to ladies.

“Jovanovic found the outside world not so different: “Apologies have become our habitual way of communicating,” she says. Since then, she’s collected needless apologies from her colleagues and students. One stand-out? “My research assistant said ‘Sorry’ to the pizza delivery guy for his being late to her house,” says Jovanovic. “She said, ‘Oh my gosh, we live in a new subdevelopment. I’m so sorry. Did you have trouble finding this place?’”

To paraphrase: “Our habitual communication strategies are habitual,” and for shame!

Also, never apologize to service people. They don’t merit your empathy. Who cares if they had a hard time and you are aware of a likely explanation that simultaneously permits them to save face and alleviate their very real concern that they might not be tipped and/or might be reported to their manager? That jerk of a delivery person should be reprimanded, if anything, or they’ll never learn better!

“We can eliminate the “sorry”s from our sentences — and still be considerate. “The next time you bump into someone,” Jovanovic says, “you could say, ‘Go ahead,’ ‘After you’ or ‘Pardon me.’” Similarly, during a meeting, Jovanovic says, “instead of saying, ‘Sorry to interrupt you,’ why not try ‘How about,’ ‘I have an idea,’ ‘I’d like to add’ or ‘Why don’t we try this.’” The idea is to be polite while not minimizing yourself.”

It turns out that there is a solution to this problem we didn’t know we had until someone told us they had a problem with it: just use different (therefore better) words to fulfill the same basic function!

Just be considerate without being apologetic. Understand? It’s obvious, if you’re smart. And you are smart, aren’t you?

It’s true that the functional distinction between “I’m sorry” and “Pardon me” as a response to physically bumping into another person is a little lost on me, but I also recognize that by acknowledging my own uncertainty, I’ve invalidated my perspective and should therefore be treated like an adorable little field mouse squeaking futilely into a microphone.

If anything, “Pardon me” is slightly less polite because it makes an additional request of the bumpee – “I beg that you grant me the favor of your pardon.” Whereas “I’m sorry,” or its colloquial variant “My bad,” more directly acknowledges and accepts personal responsibility. “I totally own up to having done that, and it’s not your job to absolve me.” (Assuming that the apology is clearly coming from the original bumper, or that the origin of the bumping was ambiguous enough for either party to safely assume responsibility.)

I’m also not sure that “Go ahead” or “After you” really comes across as polite in the context of me running my body into someone else’s body.

At best, it seems like a weird attempt to appear magnanimous in spite of having created the circumstances under which that magnanimity became necessary. At worst, it seems like a shady attempt to shift accountability to the bumpee: “Clearly, you were in such a hurry that you weren’t bothered to watch out for where my body was with respect to yours. Take all the space you need, bitch.”

This is getting complicated. If only a single, simple, widely accepted word or phrase existed to bypass all this nonsense. Does a word with such a function exist? I am sorry for admitting my ignorance, and also for apologizing for my awareness of my inferiority, but please remember that my self-confidence has the upper body strength of a newborn kitten.

Anyway, being considerate without being apologetic. That’s where this was going all along.

Jovanovic does not specify the nature of the interruption taking place when she suggests, “I’d like to add” as an alternative to “Sorry to interrupt.”

Is this script meant to happen in the middle of someone else’s words (like a literal interruption) or at a point of transition between speakers? Because describing the apology as “unnecessary” might be appropriate for the latter circumstance, but not so much the former.

SPEAKER 1: “My second point is that -”

SPEAKER 2: “I’d like to add to your first point! How about [x]?”

SPEAKER 1: “[x] was actually my second point. That was super helpful how you inserted it before I could sound like I understood my own argument. Your impatience is an asset to us all.”

The salient point here is that SPEAKER 2 never minimized themselves. They were also considerate, and SPEAKER 1 is really not the focus of this illustration.

“The “sorry”s that fill our written interactions also need to be noticed — and banished. For emails, Jovanovic says, “There’s a Google Chrome plug-in called ‘just not sorry’ that will alert you to all the needless apologies.” With texts, she points out, “Every single one of us has responded to a text you got when you weren’t able to respond right away. What did you say? ‘Sorry.’” She says, “Don’t apologize — say, ‘I was working,’ ‘I was reading,’ ‘I was driving, ‘I was trying to put on Spanx.’ Whatever it is, it’s all good. You don’t have to apologize.”

*Due to space constraints, discussion of the ‘just not sorry’ plug-in will be tabled for the time being, but please help yourself to Deborah Cameron’s perspective*

Jovanovic’s advice implies that she always assumes the most negative possible reading of those everyday “sorries.” Communication isn’t a constant act of negotiation and clarification, after all – if you think you know what someone else means, then you probably do!

Condescendingly insisting that “you don’t have to apologize” serves to demonstrate how deeply she misses the point of these “unnecessary” apologies.

“I interpreted your accommodation attempt as an invitation for your own dismissal, and so I summarily dismissed you. After correcting you.”

It’s exactly like at the conference. Jovanich is so distracted by feeling mad about the “sorries” that she completely ignores the purpose of the words that happen around the “sorry.”

And again, she frames her own act of dismissal as the other speakers’ fault rather than owning it as her choice.

If they would just stop apologizing, then of course she would listen.

These people are texting to communicate why they were late: “I’m sorry, I was trying to put on Spanx” is not a literal apology for the misdeed of trying to put on Spanx. The apology is for the lateness, and the Spanx struggle is a reason.

In turn, the function of the common responses, “You don’t have to apologize” or “It’s all good,” is not to say, “I condone your efforts with your Spanx.” The function is to say, “I do not begrudge you your minor delay.”

Or “I accept the legitimacy of the reason you gave for your lateness.”

The obtuse emphasis on the presence of “sorry” negatively affects the interpretation of the rest of the exchange.

If I texted a friend, “Sorry, I was [doing a thing],” and they texted back, “It’s all good,” I would feel reassured that my friend was understanding about my delay. But her explanation of the function of the response “it’s all good” seems different.

It seems more like when she says “It’s all good,” she actually doesn’t mean, “I accept the validity of your reasons, whatever they are,” (read: reassurance) but rather, “I don’t care about your reasons, full stop – why are you telling me this?” (read: impatience).

Now, it may seem that saying words capable of implying that you accept the validity of people’s reasons also kind of entails your implicit acceptance of the ways they chose to explain those reasons.

And therefore, it may seem like Jovanovic is arguing for exactly the same end game as those “unnecessary” sorries, but with fewer words.

“And, in some of the instances when we’d typically throw in a “sorry,” we could just use the two magic words: “thank you.”

Jovanovic tells of the moment when she realized the effectiveness of gratitude. She says, “Four of us were at a restaurant for a work meeting, and we’re waiting for number five to arrive … I put my sociological cap on, and I thought, ‘What would he say? How many apologies will he give?’ I could barely stand the anticipation. He arrives at the restaurant, and you know what he says? ‘Hey, thanks for waiting.’ … The rest of us said, “Yeah, you’re welcome,” and we all just opened our menus and ordered. Life went on, and everything was fine.””

That late man is a true inspiration. We have so much to learn from him and how his confidence makes him so adept at conveying meaning.

Context doesn’t matter, after all.

Whether he’s habitually late is immaterial. Whether his lateness genuinely impacted anyone else’s schedule, or if it was just a minor and temporary inconvenience, does not need to be part of the non-apology picture here.

“Another time when “thank you” can work better than “sorry”? When you’re with a friend and you realize you’ve been doing all the talking. Jovanovic says, “instead of saying, ‘Sorry for complaining’ or ‘Sorry for venting,’ you could just say, ‘Thank you for listening,’ ‘Thank you for being there’ or ‘Thank you for being my friend.’”

That is, “I am assuming your consistent goodwill so that accounting for its occasional situational absence becomes your job to handle on your own time, rather than it being my responsibility to pay attention to predictable reasons why you might get legitimately annoyed with me. Thanks for all the work that I’m passive aggressively reminding you that I expect from you, and remember that if you express any irritation about my venting now, you’re really being kind of an asshole for not graciously accepting my gratitude.”

That expression of gratitude is really a solid strategic diversion to take your friend’s focus away from your own lack of consideration.

That is, what they might wrongly perceive as your lack of consideration.

Because you don’t have to be sorry for talking over everyone all the time, ever. Hashtag girlboss.

If you do actually feel sorry for dominating a conversation with a colleague or friend, for god’s sake, don’t say so. Using words that accurately convey your real inner feelings is not the way to get ahead in life.

“Besides removing them from our own communications, we should tell other people when they’re overdoing their “sorry”s, suggests Jovanovic. You can start with your family and friends — and if you’d like, go beyond them. She says, “I have been interrupting these apologies for three years now. I’ll do it everywhere. I’ll do it in the parking lot, I’ll do it to total strangers at the grocery store, in line somewhere. One hundred percent of the time when I interrupt another woman and I say, ‘Why did you just say sorry for that?’ she’ll say to me, ‘I don’t know.’”

It’s a good thing that she knows a woman when she sees one. That’s definitely a cool way to navigate the world when your career is knowing things about people and how they are. 

“Without accounting for the weirdness or inappropriateness of my own imposition, I literally interrupt strangers from accomplishing whatever routine thing they were trying to do without the assistance of my opinion, and use the natural confusion and discomfort apparent in their most common response (“I don’t know”) to shame them in my data for first communicating wrong and then not understanding how fundamentally they had been failing at communicating. With an aggressive stranger. By using language in a way that came to them naturally.”

This llama pausing in mid-chew to give some serious side-eye, as though it had been minding its own business until it was interrupted by unsolicited advice, is exactly how I imagine my face looked when I read that original paragraph.

“Why did you just say sorry for that?”

Because it’s a common fucking script and I sometimes want to let other humans know that I’ve acknowledged their existence even though I’m more busy with living my own damn life. Sorry if you didn’t want to hear one of the words that my brain came up with just now, stranger.

Snark mode off (or at least significantly dimmed):

In some cases, my responses above are just as problematically reductive as the original argument, but this blog is also a space where I hope to demonstrate the necessity of complexity and nuance by artificially removing them.

I agree that careful reconsideration of unquestioned language practices is often valuable and sometimes necessary.

Situations exist where alternatives to “sorry” (including “thank you”) can be genuinely useful, and it’s fair to reflect on why some people seem to feel compelled to basically apologize for their existence.

There are some interesting questions to explore with respect to the frequency and distribution of some kinds of “sorries” and whether that correlates with gender (but actually, like, all the genders, and I don’t think we have access to many accurately-coded data sets to assess that).  

The blanket advice that people whose voices are often silenced are responsible for modifying their already adaptive language habits in order to “earn” the right to be respectfully heard is a bullshit argument put forth by people who don’t want to bother to listen.

Sorry, but my self-aware and elective apologies are not going anywhere just to make pedants feel less compelled to correct me. If you go around worrying about whether people’s “sorries” seem unnecessary, it might not hurt to ask yourself whether your opinion is all that necessary to them.

It Doesn’t Matter

Trigger Warning: Sexual assault and abuse.

Content Note: Animated gifs.

A light tan, textured background has a stylized line drawing of a couple who appear to be a man and a woman, embracing, with a heart covering their faces. The black serif font says, "It doesn't matter who hurt you, or broke you down. What matters is who made you smile again." The word "smile" is in red. The lower left-hand corner logo says "Heart Centered Rebalancing."
A light tan, textured background has a stylized line drawing of a couple who appear to be a man and a woman, embracing, with a heart covering their faces. The black serif font says, “It doesn’t matter who hurt you, or broke you down. What matters is who made you smile again.” The word “smile” is in red. The lower left-hand corner logo says “Heart Centered Rebalancing.”


Animated gif of the character Titus from “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” shaking his head “no” and also shaking his finger “no”


Animated gif of the character Lana from “Archer” saying “noooooope”




You don’t need to invalidate your partner’s (or your own) history of trauma in order for good times to also exist.

Three guesses about who wrote this:

  1. A person who once caused another person to break down and just wants them to get over it, already.
  2. A person who wants to be the person who makes someone else smile again, once they just get over that time they were broken, already.
  3. Brett Kavanaugh #topicalhumor2018# #ioriginallywrotethisin2018 #thatfeelslike20yearsago #abortionishealthcare #nomeansno

The categories of “having been hurt” and “being able to smile” are not mutually exclusive.

Why are they being presented as if they are? Let’s explore!

I get the sense that the author was going for a chiasmus-type thing, and failed, but they wanted the basic infrastructure to uphold the illusion of forethought.

I could probably find a more precise rhetorical term for this setup than “failed chiasmus,” and maybe some day I will learn it, and then update this post. Hold your breath for that. #itsbeenthreeyearsandistilldidntdoit

At any rate, let’s see how the basic point holds up without the syntactic support of not-quite-chiasmus.

“The identity of who hurt you and how they did it isn’t important, as long as you don’t forget that there are also people who make you happy!”

“It’s important to remember to smile after you’ve been hurt by abuse, and also that you remember to give humble li’l me sufficient credit for making you do it. Smile, that is!”

“The experiences that shaped you aren’t as important to me as the warm, fuzzy feelings I want you to be having right now!”

“Happy is better than sad!”

We’ll just table cisheteronormativity for now. (Which, I know, is basically all day every day in so many contexts, but this blog post isn’t gonna fix all those. If I find compelling evidence that this image and message were created by queer folx for queer folx, I’ll certainly update some of my commentary.)

I just doubt that the creators of this image were progressive or intentionally transgressive with respect to gender, sexuality, or intimate relationships. I think we’re safe to read this as a stylized rendering of a passionate cis-man-to-cis-lady embrace and also possibly they are getting married.

If this was a photo in this couple’s scrapbook, I would interpret the big ol’ heart sticker covering their faces as an effort to mask obvious tension, rather than as a cheerful decoration.

That dude just gives me bad vibes. I can’t read his body language as unaggressive.

He’s leaning down and leaning in. His hug looks restraining, and she kind of looks like she’s pushing back on his chest.

Just me?

Animated gif from Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” showing the character Gaston leaning aggressively in to plant a non-consensual kiss on Belle after he’s weirdly abruptly proposed to her, and she backs into the door and opens it outward behind her so that he falls outside

On a side note, when I looked for animated gifs à la Pepé le Pew, I was surprised at the frequency of this same posturing: taller man on left, leaning down, arms constraining if not restraining, lady looking up and backing away.


Anyway, it turns out that it can matter that you were hurt and that you are ready to smile at the same damn time. The latter doesn’t cancel out the former.

It’s entirely reasonable to be suspicious of people who are aggressively insistent that you have to “get over it, already.”

And it’s entirely reasonable to remember that you can take the credit for learning to smile again all for yourself.

Keep Going

A bright red umbrella obscures the face of a person wearing dark boots and a gray coat, walking on a snowy beach. The text alternates between red and black. and says, "Pray, when you feel like worrying. Give thanks, when you feel like complaining. Keep going, when you feel like quitting." The logo at the bottom says, "Power of Positivity."
A bright red umbrella obscures the face of a person wearing dark boots and a gray coat, walking on a snowy beach. The text alternates between red and black. and says, “Pray, when you feel like worrying. Give thanks, when you feel like complaining. Keep going, when you feel like quitting.” The logo at the bottom says, “Power of Positivity.”

I’d argue that there’s a difference between “reframing” and “denial,” and that this macro captures the importance of that distinction.

A reframe for “I’m worried” can be as simple as “I feel worried right now because I don’t have a sense of control over a situation that really matters to me. I know that this feeling will pass and that it will probably happen again.”

Instead of not complaining at all, maybe something like, “I want to examine the source of my irritation when I feel calmer to decide whether it was a defensive response or if it is really important to address.” It can be worthwhile to reframe the urge to complain, but it depends entirely on the situation. Sometimes complaints are necessary for change to happen, and in those cases people who offer gratitude as an alternative to frustration often want stasis, power, or both.

I might counter the suggestion to “keep going” with the words of one Kenny Rogers: “You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away.” Persistence without purpose isn’t necessarily laudable. A reframe might just be a pause: “If can make it through the next five minutes, I can check in with myself again.”

The message on the macro could be paraphrased as, “Don’t stress, don’t whine, don’t rest!”

That’s denial.

If you are experiencing a common response to a trying situation, STOP! Do something else instead.

That’s how you do healthy. 

Ungood feelings are definitely not appropriate responses to inappropriate circumstances. Your feelings are wrong and they need to be corrected.

If you haven’t learned to eliminate your human stress response by praying, then you’re really just asking for an ulcer.  

If you can’t solve a huge systemic problem by practicing individual gratitude, you’re really just an ungrateful leech.

If you haven’t managed to persevere in the face of overwhelming resistance, were you even really trying?

I just don’t know why so many anxious and depressed people miss these obvious solutions to simple problems.

Life is mysterious, I tell ya.

With respect to the image:

I don’t know that “Thank god I remembered to bring my big red umbrella today so I can finish this shitty winter beach walk” should really be the takeaway here, and yet it seems to be supported by the text.

It’s okay to give up on your walk that turned out to be windier than expected.

The Right People

On a light brown, dappled background, a typewriter font says, "Don't change so people will like you. Be yourself and the right people will love you." In the lower left-hand corner, there is a cartoon picture of a toaster with a face high-fiving a coffee mug with a face, while a piece of toast with a face jumps out of the toaster. The logo in the lower right-hand corner is for the site "Positive Energy."
On a light brown, dappled background, a typewriter font says, “Don’t change so people will like you. Be yourself and the right people will love you.” In the lower left-hand corner, there is a cartoon picture of a toaster with a face high-fiving a coffee mug with a face, while a piece of toast with a face jumps out of the toaster. The logo in the lower right-hand corner is for the site “Positive Energy.”

As always, I grant that there is often a nugget (or more) of valuable insight tucked into the questionable folds of these macros.

So I’ll affirm the message that your authentic self has inherent value.

But enough of that talk.

Do you really want to hang out with anyone who goes around designating whole-ass humans as “right” and “wrong”?

“Don’t change . . . and the right people will love you.”

I can’t help reading “change is bad” as the dominant message, when “you deserve love” is probably a more salient takeaway.

I get that the macro aims to convey a simple message. “Right” people will naturally gravitate to other “right” people, who love each other as they are. But this also implies the existence of “wrong” people with the “wrong” kind of love, and dang.

That just doesn’t hold water.

Sometimes, the “wrong” people can sound a lot like the “right” people because they are enabling you to suck and/or to not really be yourself.

Sometimes self-proclaimed “right” people, who give you lots of supportive lip service, secretly thrive on shaming you from their high, high horses (and I mean tall-type high, y’all, not stoned ponies).

A lot of change-resistant folx like to invoke the defense that “I’m just being who I am / telling it like it is!” when they’re really just being intransigent assholes.

Sometimes, changing in response to the fact that people don’t like you is called “growth.”

There are always people with a vested interested in your being ignorant, downtrodden, demotivated, and dependent, and so they don’t want you to grow.

And those people just might be your family and friends, whose opinions may seem exactly like the “right” ones to value.

Those apparently “right” people might be the loudest about delivering the words to your ears that “they love you just how you are,” without bothering to specify that what they love about how you are is your willingness to permit them to suck and/or not grow.

“Be yourself” is not necessarily bad advice, but don’t fool yourself into believing that you never need to change or that “right” people even exist.

In terms of the image chosen to accompany this quote, I feel like a coffee-maker should be participating in the good times.

I mean, we’ve got toast and toaster together. Coffee and coffee-maker feels like a natural parallel, right?

The coffee is just personified by its vessel, though.

I wonder why toast is a sentient entity, but coffee is not.

Granted, I’m not aware of any liquids with personalities, but none of these characters are technically living things anyway, so at that point I don’t see why a solid state is a necessary criterion for a face.

They also all have exactly the same face, and I’m struggling with that.

It is a very cheerful face, for what it’s worth.

Anyway, when you think about it, toast is really just bread that has changed to be better liked by those who encouraged it to change in the first place.

The bread / toast depicted here always had intrinsic value, but its appliance buddies certainly seem thrilled with the outcome of the toasting.

Does this technically make them the wrong people (or people-like things) for pressuring their bread friend to change according to their preference? Or are they the right people-like things because they love that the toast is being its authentic self?

We can’t know if the bread became toast with the goal of being better liked by the coffee mug and toaster (and I question whether the toaster is able to recognize the influence of its own cultural bias).

If the bread decided to change just to earn the shallow approval of its judgey friends, then the message is kind of like, “Have a little self-respect, Bread.”

But if the change was motivated by truth-to-self rather than desire for popularity, it’s good that the appliances approve of the change, right? “Yay for Toast!”

Where does our ability to evaluate motive begin and end?

All we know for sure is that the visible impact of Bread’s choices is that it is now Toast.

Everyone looks happy, but that doesn’t mean everyone is happy.

I really want to believe that Giant Coffee Mug isn’t judging Toast because of its own projected shame.

I want to believe that Toast is living its best life, surrounded by its supportive friends.

In that case, we all deserve the kind of love that Toast has.

Remember that you are both imperfect and lovable.

Choose Not to Find Joy

An image of mostly white sky, with some snow-covered pine trees along the lower edges and bottom of the square. The black sanserif font says, "If you choose not to find joy in the snow, you will have less joy in your life but still the same amount of snow." It is credited to @mindfulfitness.
An image of mostly white sky, with some snow-covered pine trees along the lower edges and bottom of the square. The black sans serif font says, “If you choose not to find joy in the snow, you will have less joy in your life but still the same amount of snow.” It is credited to @mindfulfitness.

Granted that joy is just a lifestyle choice that’s unconnected to circumstance, I still kind of wish that @mindfulfitness didn’t have to flaunt their joyfulness all the time.

You’re joyful. I get it. Keep shoveling. 

Unless there’s a possibility that joyfulness isn’t any more of a lifestyle choice than sadness?

And that real people who experience real joy in their daily lives are actually less likely to make a big deal about it than aggressively sad people?

And maybe really joyful people aren’t secretly trying to get everyone to fall in line with their nefarious pro-shoveling agenda?

And real people who experience real sadness, frustration, and apathy can actually just not be super into snow without channeling their misguided and possibly jealous resentment toward their more joyful neighbors?


That kind of holds up.

Maybe it’s okay to talk about your joy or sadness and it doesn’t necessarily mean you made better or worse choices than anyone else.

But then how am I supposed flaunt my emotional superiority?

Adjust Your Attitude

A picture of a hand reaching out and upward, with a yellow swallowtail butterfly just above it, and a blue sky with fluffy clouds in the background. The black serif font says, "Remember, most of your stress comes from the way you respond, not the way life is. Adjust your attitude, and all that extra stress is gone." The original source is  "Positive Outlooks," but the attribution was cut off.
A picture of a hand reaching out and upward, with a yellow swallowtail butterfly just above it, and a blue sky with fluffy clouds in the background. The black serif font says, “Remember, most of your stress comes from the way you respond, not the way life is. Adjust your attitude, and all that extra stress is gone.” The original source is “Positive Outlooks,” but the attribution was cut off.

I’m gonna try to be funny, but I honestly almost burst some blood vessels when I first read this.

Just so we’re clear, my right eyeball nearly exploded because I am bad at having responses to things that exist.

Not because of the way that this image macro is.

The fact that it’s possible for humans to persevere in the face of unfavorable circumstances is inspiring.

And it’s fair to remember that our knee-jerk responses to upsetting situations do not always dictate the most reasonable course of action.

But it is a slippery, slippery slope that slides us from “be mindful of your reactions” to “if the way life exists around you creates negative feelings inside of you, then your feelings are the real problem.”

The latter interpretation is especially popular among folx who want to rationalize the inevitability of structural and systemic issues like poverty.

“Those people who are struggling are just having bad responses to normal circumstances, and people who are successful have better responses!”


Across all situations, any dissatisfaction you ever feel is just a problem with your feelings-haver.

Let’s practice.

Sexism isn’t limiting your career. It’s your rage about patriarchy that’s holding you back! So relax.

Climate change isn’t stressful. Your house just happens to sometimes get in the way of naturally-occurring disasters, so you should really be grateful that you have a house! Just breathe deep.

Homophobia isn’t preventing you from adopting children. It’s your choice to prioritize your own life goals over the unfounded anxiety of random straight people! Go ahead and chill.

Your poverty isn’t preventing upward social mobility. You’re just poor because of your choice to not cope more effectively with your chronic depression, which is unrelated to your poverty! Smile for once.

Racism isn’t making people call the police on you for existing in a public space. It’s your conscious decision to not have a better attitude about the possibility that those people might have to want to call the police on you for co-existing in their space that’s really the problem! Ease up.

Image from KC Green's comic "Gunshow," featuring a yellow cartoon dog with a small hat sitting at a table with a mug of coffee, saying “This is fine,” while the surrounding house is actually on fire.
Image from KC Green’s comic “Gunshow,” featuring a yellow cartoon dog with a small hat sitting at a table with a mug of coffee, saying “This is fine,” while the surrounding house is actually on fire.

The picture here feels like a Photoshop tutorial.

Like, “Find a background and two images, and combine them!”

So, as an outcome of an exercise like that: “okay job, Photoshopper!

Some of those edges are crisp, and I am comfortable pretending that the butterfly isn’t sitting on a flower!

Good thing you didn’t stress about it too much.”

True Self-Care

Content Note: Animated Gif

Square image from quotecatalog.com with a cartoon piece of strawberry shortcake on a black background. The pink sans serif text reads, "True self-care is not salt baths and chocolate cake, it is making the choice to build a life you don't need to regularly escape from." -Brianna Wiest
Square image from quotecatalog.com with a cartoon piece of strawberry shortcake on a black background. The pink sans serif text reads, “True self-care is not salt baths and chocolate cake, it is making the choice to build a life you don’t need to regularly escape from.” -Brianna Wiest

People who are well-off enough to periodically reject some of the many comforts available to them at any given moment are good about weirdly moralizing other people’s inconsistent access to comfort, at least partly due to a complex combination of projection and rationalization.

I am leaving that rat-maze of a sentence there, and barreling on to the cheese at the end.

For some reason, I haven’t seen a macro that says, “Don’t weirdly moralize other people’s access to and use of comforts you assume are equally available for everyone to reject in the name of self-righteousness!”

The rest of the article that this quote was pulled from does account for the fact that hygiene and food are not necessarily bad forms of self-care, but someone’s choice to pull the quote from that context speaks for itself, too.

The other squiffy implication of the framing “…the choice to build a life you don’t need to regularly escape from” is that you, cake-eaters and bath-takers, are wholly responsible for the stressful conditions that exist elsewhere in the world.

Probably your own shortcomings created the context in which you are mired in an exasperating, unsupportive, and/or dehumanizing workplace and/or life situation.

The infrastructures behind those exploitative systems supported by your employer / government / family / etc. are irrelevant here.

“…the choice to build a life you don’t need to regularly escape from” is just code for “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”

The implication that small indulgences are “lesser” forms of self-care is grounded in the warped mentality that suffering and denial are inherently noble.

You built your own hedonistic little prison out of minor indulgences! For shame.

ME: Fix my problems, cake!

CAKE: Nope, sorry – you did your life too wrong to get to want things that are nice!




Decadent bath cakes will only shield you from the harshness of reality for a little while, without addressing the real roots of your own inadequacies.

This macro is the decontextualized quote version of the Onion article “Local Woman Authority on What Shouldn’t Be in Poor People’s Shopping Carts.”

I can’t stand the kind of petty assholes who judge the adequacy of another person’s argument based on adherence to arbitrary grammatical conventions. That is some classist nonsense.

But you know what?

I bet that the Venn diagram of “people who have shared this macro” and “people who pride themselves on correcting internet grammar” is barely two circles.

And so, I’ll go ahead. I’ll be petty right back. I can get pedantic about a rule that doesn’t really matter to me.

Show a semicolon some love, you independent clauses.

From a design perspective, who decided to use strawberry shortcake instead of chocolate, like in the quote?

“The background is black, so chocolate wouldn’t contrast,” you say?…


The creation of this image did not require a design team. Stick that in your back pocket.

Lastly, I feel like the point of the quote is to reject the value of the cake, because finding comfort in cake means that you hate your life so much that cake is an escape from it.

So if you loved your life more, you wouldn’t need to seek solace in, like, physical comfort.

Shouldn’t the picture be… I don’t know… not cake?

Being truly happy because of how right your choices always are is like eating cake in the tub all the time, but without the guilt of knowing that you shouldn’t be eating cake, because you actually aren’t.