To the real heroes of Medium

The sad truth: it’s not our articles that make the world go round

I idolized my university design professor. She’d dance in the study rooms and climb on school furniture, she’d be loud and blunt, merciless and hilarious. I wanted to be like her when I grow up.

One day she sat on the edge of the table, an eyebrow raised in disdain, and said that if some of us didn’t have an unstoppable urge to express ourselves that would force us to work all night long, it might be the case that we were born mere consumers. Which was totally okay — as long as we would stop pretending that we matter.

Since then, my worst fear wasn’t drowning or spiders, but becoming a consumer. It still is. No wonder — the disgust expressed by a public university professor somewhere in the middle of Russia is made of the same fuel that powers the marketing forces shaping the contemporary western culture.

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Quotefancy.com

The self-expression imperative

Susan Cain, the author of the book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”, argues that our ideal of a self-confident, loud, captivating, over-the-top personality is neither a natural preference or a set-in-stone rule. In fact, it’s pretty recent: those are the qualities of a successful salesman, a group of people that gradually grew and gained influence from the 1900s, along with the bloom of corporate America.

This process, called by the author as the rise of the Extravert Ideal, become the cornerstone of the modern American culture and got exported to the rest of the world, altering the self-perception and aspirations of all of us.

Those qualities weren’t always preferential — there was a time they were considered shameful. Thoughtfulness, good manners, and other forms of self-repression (also known as dignity) would be welcome in the Old World aristocratic circle — but make you a horrible seller. Acting and performing used to be an “imporper”, shameful profession — but now the people who are professionally looked at became our role models.

I find the characters of Scarlett and Melanie in “Gone with the Wind” the best illustration of this shift: Scarlett is loud, inventive, unscrupulous, and fun to watch, while Melanie is quiet, caring, kind, and fades in the background.

Melanie, an aristocratic ideal, dies, and the brave new world gets full of Scarletts.

But not everywhere — Susan Cain sites examples of Asian cultures in which listening before talking is still considered a virtue, not a deficiency. There, the most popular kids in high school are not the ones most self-assured and aggressive — but the ones most empathic, friendly, and supportive.

We bought the idea that unhinged, unapologetic self-expression is our primary need and a natural state of things — but it’s just one of the ways of being. And some cultures value perceptiveness instead, celebrate those who listen.

How many concert-goers do you need to sustain a rockstar?

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Harry Styles deep in Watermelon Sugar

The excessive glorification of leaders, entrepreneurs, and celebrities, so ubiquitous in the modern internet, always feels a little uncomfortable to watch— like the promenade of a naked king from the old Andersen’s tale. In many cases, those are the people whose main capital is the fact that some other people like them. What if they stop?

We glorify them because we think it’s their superior personal qualities that got them up there; we dream about being like them, to walk up this stage, to speak to that crowd; we strive to “make it” — work nights honing our craft, make the world listen, and finally quit our day job.

But for every accomplished blogger who managed quit her day job, there are thousands of subscribers who didn’t; for every rockstar who lives a life of sex, drugs & rock’n’roll there are millions of fans waiting for his concert as a break from their routine. And the former is only able to live the life of their dreams because the latter allows them to do so.

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Florence + The Machine doing her thing at MELT festival 2018, by @riversideblues

For every accomplished blogger who managed quit her day job, there are thousands of subscribers who didn’t; for every rockstar there are millions of fans waiting for his concert as a break from their routine. And the formers are only able to live the life of their dreams because the latters allow them to do so.

The stars are only able to shine because there are people who want to look at them. The leaders are only able to lead because others chose to follow. The power of the on-lookers in this system shall never be forgotten. It’s the power of the tide, able to lift houses and crush ships.

Listening is the highest form of art

It always seems to us that we are loved because we are good. But we don’t suspect that we are loved because those who love us are good.

Leo Tolstoj

This platform is a gold rush. Look at me, no, no, look at me, build a following, publish five articles a week, no, better five a day; these are the ten things you need to know to make it on Medium, — no, this is the real one: work, b*tch; hey, I published just one article and used the money to buy George Clooney’s summer house — and his coffee machine as well. Oh, you still didn’t?

We so conveniently ignore the only factor that makes this platform actually sustainable: people who come here to read. Those who come to listen to our amusing frenetic screams and to give out the $5 of the monthly subscription without waiting for millions back.

Medium only works because so many people choose to listen instead of talking, to be impressed rather than impress, to support rather than fight in the dirt. And these, ladies and gentlemen, are the people who actually make the world go round.

Medium only works because so many people choose to listen instead of talking, to be impressed rather than impress, to support rather than fight in the dirt. And these, ladies and gentlemen, are the people who actually make the world go round.

Listening is the highest form of art. What are the greatest masterpieces without the people moved by them? What are the prize-winning stories without those who change their ways after reading them? What are the divine symphonies without those who leave the concert hall with tears in their eyes? What is beauty without those who let their soul exposed to its touch?

Being perceptive, curious, open, and reflective; let the seeds of ideas grow deep inside your soul; allow yourself to be impressed; be ready to step forward to support what you value — these are the virtues most rare and most precious in this age of ceaseless shouting.

And I’m sure each and every one of us needs a bit more of those qualities in order to stay sane. This non-stop race for attention is what gives us anxiety attacks and burnouts, creates demand for mindfulness apps and fancy detox retreats.

It’s time to recognize that reading a book on a train or supporting a local artist makes you a human just as worthy of love and respect as the one who walks up the stage with glitter all over their face. And that your contribution to the shape of this world is no less substantial.

Believe in yourself. But also, find some time to believe in others.

I will sure try.

Add Drama Button. Stories from another hemisphere. Russian in Milan, Italy. Get a letter from me: https://slidetosubscribe.com/adddramabutton/

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