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Why Poetry Matters Now More Than Ever

Why Poetry Matters Now More Than Ever

Poetry has never been more important. In turbulent times like these, it is natural to search for reliable sources of truth. But where do we find what can seem so illusive?

Does it come through the ever-increasing number of chattering channels, each competing to be heard in the swelling volume of contradictory news? Or through inherited wisdom and knowledge passed down through small family units, as we spread ever further from our roots?

Perhaps we need to look elsewhere. To a timeless source of truth that always speaks from its time to the present moment. Something not based on a need for popularity, specific geography or instantaneous praise.

In times like these, we need poetry more than ever. Here’s why.

When power corrupts

“When power corrupts, poetry cleanses”

What Kennedy understood as he uttered these famous words was the impact poetry can have on truth. Truth as an expansion but not stretching of the facts. Sometimes, facts can be truthful and yet escape without telling the whole truth. Because truth is more than fact, it is experience, it is the sum of all the facts and it is the truth of their importance.

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Poetry is something we can inherit; a lineage of wisdom extending backward from today. And in it you find an understanding of experiences that seem unfathomable to our own, current perception of life.

The poetry of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon offer insight into the first world war no documentary can offer. The South African ‘struggle poets’ show us the reality of apartheid oppression by using those very voices the oppressors wished to silence. And in these revelations, we find a source of truth that is personal, specific and felt. It is a truth we find through empathy and compassion rather than finding meaning through dry analysis.

Words that cross barriers

Adrienne Rich offers a humbling, raw picture of gender politics and American life over half a century. Through her precise, masterful incisions, she translates truths so that anyone might access them. And whether they make us uncomfortable, reassured or shocked, her poetry is a mirror for us to reflect our own experience in. They may not be of today but are no less relevant for it.

‘Certain words occur: enemy, oven, sorrow,

Enough to let me know

She’s a woman of my time’

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From Translations in Diving into the Wreck (1972)

There are also some genuinely extraordinary invitations from the most unlikely of sources in poetry. Take for example the Statesman-poets. They include a number of published US president-poets but, perhaps more interestingly, several infamous tyrants too. The young poet Soselo, is a fascinating example of this apparent contradiction. Aged sixteen, Soselo wrote hopeful lines like:

‘My spirit trembling, once again

I’ll glimpse before me the bright moon.’

From Iveria, No 123 (1895)

Yet Soselo was the pseudonym of a young Josef Stalin.

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Why poetry?

From beginners learning to write poetry to seasoned wordsmiths, all writers reveal themselves as individuals in their poetry even if we have always known them as icons or foreign others. They reveal an innocence and honesty in their desires and hopes; empathy and anger in their griefs and despairs. It reveals the writer as a human, as an individual – one willing speak out and reveal some part of themselves.

Poetry denies us the chance to dismiss any writer as illegitimate in their depiction of life. After all it is theirs they are telling, and in their telling is revealed some truth of their experience. It brings their conversation into our own and in doing so expands each of us.

But what else does poetry do? Poetry communicates meaning beyond facts; it connects people through shared experience or empathy; and crucially, it slows us down. To read a poem is not a quick thought, something to skim read and move on from, unmoved. It demands our attention. It asks us to step back and reflect; to empathise with some other perspective on reality.

And in this slowing down we invite ourselves into a further understanding of a situation: drawing new conclusions, asking new questions, finding new voice. We live in a time when so many voices are heard speaking, yet so few are actually heard. Poetry is our necessary counter to all this.

Add your own voice

But poetry is not something only for those who are wiser or better than us. Poetry is for everyone and everyone has access to it. And that means not only reading poetry, but writing it; discovering and cultivating your own voice. Writing the words that will slow others down into an understanding of your experience of this life.

In doing so, you contribute to a wider sense of the telling of the truth of our time, which may help us navigate it. Our voice matters. As Richard Frankland, the aboriginal writer, says:

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‘When you have art

You have voice;

When you have voice

You have freedom;

When you have freedom

You have responsibility.’

Featured photo credit: etsy.com via img0.etsystatic.com

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Last Updated on March 30, 2020

What Does Self-Conscious Mean? (And How to Stop Being It)

What Does Self-Conscious Mean? (And How to Stop Being It)

Have you ever walked into a room and felt like your nerves simply couldn’t handle it? Your heart beats fast, you start to sweat, and you feel like all eyes are on you (even if they’re really not). This is just one of the many ways that being self-conscious can rear its ugly head.

You may not even realize you’re self-conscious, and you may be wondering, “What does self-conscious mean?” That’s a good place to start.

This article will define self-consciousness, show how practically everyone has faced it at one point or another, and give you tips to avoid it.

What Does Self-Conscious Mean?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, self-conscious is defined as “conscious of one’s own acts or states as belonging to or originating in oneself.”[1]

Not so bad, right? There’s another definition, though — one that speaks more to what you’re going through: “feeling uncomfortably conscious of oneself as an object of the observation of others.” For those of us who regularly deal with extreme self-consciousness, that second definition sounds about right.

There are many different ways self-consciousness can spring up. You may feel self-conscious around people you know, like your family members or closest friends. You may feel self-conscious at work, even though you spend hours every week around your co-workers. Or you may feel self-conscious when out in public and surrounded by strangers. However, you probably don’t feel self-conscious when you’re home alone.

How to Stop Being Too Self-Conscious

When you’re in the throes of self-consciousness, it’s nearly impossible to remember how to stop feeling that way. That’s why it’s so important to prepare ahead of time, when you’re feeling ready to tackle the problem instead of succumbing to it.

Here are a variety of ways to feel better about yourself and stop thinking about how others see you.

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1. Ask Yourself, “So What?”

One way to banish negative, self-conscious thoughts is to do just that: banish them.

The next time you walk into a room and feel your face getting red, think to yourself, “So what?” How much does it really matter if people don’t like how you look or act? What’s the worst that could happen?

Most of the time, you’ll find that you don’t have a good answer to this question. Then, you can immediately start assigning such thoughts less importance. With self-awareness, you can acknowledge that your negative thoughts are present and realize that you don’t agree with them.[2] They’re just thoughts, after all.

2. Be Honest

A lie that self-consciousness might tell is that there’s one way to act or feel. Honestly, though, everyone else is just figuring life out as well. There isn’t a preferred way to show up to an event, gathering, or public place. What you can do is be honest with your feelings and thoughts.[3]

If you feel offended by something someone says, you don’t have to smile to be polite or laugh to fit in with the crowd. Instead, you can politely say why you disagree or excuse yourself and find a group of people who you relate to better. If you’re nervous, don’t overcompensate by trying to look relaxed and casual — it’ll be obvious you’re putting on a front. Instead, nothing is more endearing than saying, “I’m a little nervous!” to a room of people who probably feel the exact same way.

On the same note, if you don’t understand why someone wants you to do something, question it. You can do this at work, at home, or even with people you don’t know well. Nobody should force you to do something you don’t want to do.

Also, even if you’re willing to do what’s asked of you, there’s nothing wrong with asking for more clarification. People will realize that you’re not a person to be bossed around.

3. Understand Why You’re Struggling at Work

Being self-conscious at work can get in the way of your daily responsibilities, your relationships with co-workers, and even your career as a whole. If you’re facing some sort of conflict but you’re too nervous to speak up, you may be at the whim of what happens to you instead of taking some control.

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If you’re usually confident at work, you may be wondering where this new self-consciousness is coming from. It’s possible that you’re dealing with burnout.[4] Common signs are anxiety, fatigue and distraction, all of which can leave you feeling under-confident.

4. Succeed at Something

When you create success in your life, it’s easier to feel confident[5] and less self-conscious. If you feel self-conscious at work, finish the project that’s been looming over your head. If you feel self-conscious in the gym, complete an advanced workout class.

Exposing yourself to what you’re scared of and then succeeding at it in some way (even just by finishing it) can do wonders for your self-esteem. The more confidence you build, the more likely you are to have more success in the future, which will create a cycle of confidence-building.

5. Treat All of You — Not Just Your Self-Consciousness

Trying to solve your self-consciousness alone may not treat the root of the problem. Instead, take a well-rounded approach to lower your self-consciousness and build confidence in areas where you may struggle.

Even professional counselors are embracing this holistic type of treatment[6] because they feel that the health of the mind and body are inextricably linked. This approach combines physical, spiritual, and psychological components. Common activities and treatments include meditation, yoga, massage, and healthy changes to diet and exercise.

If much of this is new to you, it will pay to give it a try. You never know how it will impact you.

If you’re feeling self-conscious about how your body looks, a massage that makes you feel great could boost your confidence. If you try a new workout, you could have something exciting to talk about the next time you’re in a group setting.

Putting yourself in a new situation and learning that you can get through it with grace can give you the confidence to get through all sorts of events and nerve-wracking moments.

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6. Make the Changes That Are Within Your Control

Let’s say you walk into a room and you’re self-conscious about how you look. However, you may have put a lot of time and effort into your outfit. Even though it may stand out, this is how you have chosen to express yourself.

You have to work on your internal confidence, not your external appearance. There’s nothing to change other than your outlook.

On the other hand, maybe there’s something that you don’t like about yourself that you can change. For example, maybe you hate how a birthmark on your face looks or have varicose veins that you think are unsightly. If you can do something about these things, do it! There’s nothing wrong with changing your appearance (or skills, education, etc.) if it’s going to make you more confident.

You don’t have to accept your current situation for acceptance’s sake. There’s no award for putting up with something you hate. Confidence is also required to make changes that are scary, even if they’re for the better. Plus, it may be an easier fix than you thought. For example, treating varicose veins doesn’t have to involve surgery — sometimes simple compression stockings will take care of the problem.[7]

7. Realize That Everyone Has Awkward Moments

Everyone has said something awkward to someone else and lived to tell the tale. We’ve all forgotten somebody’s name or said, “You too!” when the concession stand girl says to enjoy our movie. Not only are these things uber-common, but they’re not nearly as embarrassing as you feel they are.

Think about how you react when someone else does something awkward. Do you think, “Wow, that person’s such a loser!” or do you think, “What a relief, I’m not the only one who does that.” Chances are good that’s the same reaction others have to you when you stumble.

Remember, self-consciousness is a state of mind that you have control over. You don’t have to feel this way. Do what you need to in order to build your confidence, put your self-consciousness in perspective, and start exercising your “I feel awesome about myself” muscle. It’ll get easier with time.

When Is Being Self-Conscious a Good Thing?

Self-consciousness can sometimes be a good thing[8], but you have to take the awkwardness and nerves out of it.

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In this case, “self-aware” is a much better term. Knowing how you come off to people is an excellent trait; you’ll be able to read a room and understand how what you do and say affects others. These are fantastic skills for people work and personal relationships.

Self-awareness helps you dress appropriately for the occasion, tells you that you’re talking too loud or not loud enough, and guides a conversation so you don’t offend or bore anyone.

It’s not about being someone you’re not — that can actually have adverse effects, just like self-consciousness. Instead, it’s about turning up certain aspects of yourself to perform well in the situation.

Final Thoughts

When you’re self-conscious, you’re constantly battling with yourself in an effort to control how other people view you. You try to change yourself to suit what you think other people want to see.

The truth, though, is that you can’t actually control how other people view you — and you may not even be correct about how they view you in the first place.

Being confident doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, it happens in small steps as you slowly build your confidence and say “no” to your self-consciousness. It also requires accepting that you’re going to feel self-conscious sometimes, and that’s okay.

Sometimes worrying that there is a problem can be more stressful than the problem itself. Feeling bad for feeling self-conscious can be more troublesome than simply feeling it and getting on with the day.

Forgive yourself for being human and make the small changes that will lead to better confidence in the future.

More Tips for Improving Your Self-Esteem

Featured photo credit: Cata via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Merriam-Webster: Self-conscious
[2] Bustle: 7 Tips On How To Stop Feeling Self-Conscious
[3] Marc and Angel: 10 Things to Remember When You Feel Unsure of Yourself
[4] Bostitch: How to Protect Small Businesses From Burnout
[5] Psychology Today: Self-conscious? Get Over It
[6] Wake Forest University: Embracing Holistic Medicine
[7] Center for Vein Restoration: What Causes Venous Ulcers, and How Are They Treated?
[8] Scientific American: The Pros and Cons of Being Self-Aware

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