After making a series of applications for assorted things recently, I have concluded that one of the things that afflicts all of us these days is the resulting discomfort of being under scrutiny. My experiences are minor: two job interviews probed my experience and sought to ferret out degrees of competence to measure against other candidates; an application for a store credit card passed judgment on my financial fitness; and the desire to adopt a dog meant questions for friends, landlords, and veterinarians about whether or not I would provide a good home for a canine in need. Less formally, members of my church evaluate regularly whether or not I am measuring up to their expectations, and colleagues and potential new friends size me up to see if there's space in their world and gladness in their heart for the likes of what I bring to the table. Add to that the glaring light of our own tendency to inspect and evaluate our personal strengths and shortcomings, and, well, we just can't escape being held up to one kind of standard or another.
Everywhere we look there is scrutiny: book reviews, entertainment awards, political actions and protests, the list goes on. Scrutiny is normal, and in many contexts not only important, but necessary. That said, frankly, I'm worn out by it all. What intrigues me about all of this is that none of it is new. Instead, it is now heightened. It appears to be a combination of safeguards against the possibility of abuse (which can run the gamut from a few bad choices to ill-intent)--adopting a dog used to be a matter of picking one out and taking it home, for instance--and a degree of self-protection against forces that leave us feeling anxious and, perhaps, vulnerable. Political rhetoric has gone from abrasive to toxic in some cases (too many), and the veneer of protection against the awareness of privilege experienced among Whites has been deeply gouged, exposing a raw and angry core of insecurity that manifests as fear. These are generalizations, of course, and there are always exceptions and examples of lives lived and acting out of strength and well-discerned advocacy for justice. The level of "noise" is what is different, and wearing. When we're fatigued we are susceptible to yielding to our shadows and deficits, and the best of who we are and what we have to offer becomes obscured. This is true for all people, those with hearts of gold and those who entertain themselves with thoughts of pettiness, or strive to find a foothold of power in the overcrowded corner of the world in which they live, and move, and have their being.
I have no profound observation about this, never mind techniques for coping and repelling the assaults against our noble efforts to be as authentic and genuine as possible in a time that, by its ugly nature, seems to obscure those efforts. I really just want to name what I see as a distorted phenomenon that doesn't serve us well at the moment. I want to be aware of the trap of thinking that this is normal and right. I want to caution myself against giving the experience of being under scrutiny too much power, when I need my energy for positive action and affirmation.
As a result of other, positive influences in my life these days I have turned a corner in my own practice of how I react to things that ruffle my feathers. I am learning to stop myself as I am tempted to take the path that unleashes my criticism ("What an idiot!" to the driver who dances from the fast lane across three veins of traffic to an exit ramp), and instead take a breath to help me redirect my energy toward being a blessing. The phrase, "Be a blessing" has become a new mantra, and it is working.
So maybe I am developing a way to cope against the exhaustion of scrutiny. Better than that, however, is a newly forged discipline that is working successfully to build, support, and affirm in a climate where tearing down is all the rage (choice of words intentional). It's one way to love the world from where I live, and do my part to let go of scrutiny.