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The Problem With Vanity Searches

Dec 5, 2011

I gave up on vanity searches awhile back. (In case you’re wondering, “vanity search” refers to typing your own name into a search engine like Google to see what comes up.) I gave up on them for a good reason: sometimes you just don’t want to read what people have to say about you.

This story started last week. My husband and I were each on our own computer (parallel playtime 😉 ) and the conversation went something like this:

Dennis: Well… how does it feel to have your music sung in Westminster Abbey?

Me: Dunno. When you find out, you tell me.

Dennis: No, no… I’m not kidding. Look at this…

It seems my DH had done some vanity-searching on my behalf, and had found that in late November a youth choir presented “Arise and Shine Forth” as part of a service in… **drum roll** …yep, Westminster Abbey.

I was more than a bit surprised (“astonished” describes it better), and pleased (okay, “tickled pea-green” comes to mind here). We visited there a couple of years ago… it’s a magnificent, venerable structure (<--- understatement of the year) and of course we just walked around gaping like the gormless tourists we were. I watched the royal wedding there a few months ago on the internet (blame insomnia... I didn't plan on it) and listened to the gorgeous choir that sang that day. I would never in a million years have dreamed that at some point, some brief moment in time, the harmonies echoing around those vast expanses would be my own. I wish I could have been there to hear it.

Now here’s where I got stupid. I wondered, “Wow… what else have I missed by shunning vanity searches? If Dennis hadn’t looked, I would never have known…” So I crept back to my computer, and surreptitiously, foolishly, idiotically entered my own name into the Google search bar.

The results were a miscellaneous lot… sites linking to other sites; lists; lists of lists; a few friends and fellow composers (that conjured a smile); and then…

…one nice little blog in which my name appeared as a synonym for “bad music.” It wasn’t outright criticism, just an offhand comment in which you could just see the blogger’s eyes rolling, and the disgusted look with which the words were typed.

I’m going to wear my heart on my sleeve here for just a minute, because I think that some of the Denizens of the Internet who post from the safety and anonymity of their rolly-chairs and their screen-names need to understand exactly what they do.

I felt sucker-punched. I did not cry… much… but what I felt was akin to physical pain. (I did shut down the computer and recommit to leaving vanity searches to my husband, so the exercise wasn’t entirely a waste of time.)

I wonder what the blogger wanted to achieve. Did he want to convince me that my poor little contributions to the world of music have shortcomings? No-one knows it better than I. Did he want to demonstrate his superior taste? Probably. Did he want to cause hurt? He succeeded.

Many of us humans are a bit weird. Our sense of self-worth is like a house of cards, each card written over with encouragement or friendship or love… anything positive we can gather out of an overly-negative world. And then somebody comes along and with a single breath or a few keystrokes blows the whole structure to the ground and we have to start building all over again. I don’t know why one such comment can wipe out every positive thing you’ve ever heard, but there it is.

At least I’m in good company. I can’t think of any LDS musician as vocally criticized as Janice Kapp Perry, notwithstanding the real, solid good she’s done in the world (not to mention the fact that “I’m Trying to Be Like Jesus” is the best Primary song ever); JRR Tolkien took a lot of public criticism for his flights of fancy (though he gained credibility as the copies started selling); I occasionally haunt a place called Cougarboard where athletes and coaches who work their hearts out for the entertainment of a fickle fan-base are verbally abused by those same fans for even the smallest mistakes.

The standard advice when it comes to critics is “ignore them.” Easier said than done, because I’m as insecure as… well… as the average human being. (Did you know that every time I do something new and send out an update, I want to go curl up in the fetal position and not come out for the rest of the day? It’s true.) My wise husband tells me that just maybe, for me, my insecurity is part of what I have to sacrifice in order to serve. That idea helps.

So what’s the point of this over-long rant? I don’t want sympathy (I’m over it), I’m not begging for compliments, and I don’t want anyone to poor-baby me (unless you want to do it with See’s Lemon Truffles).

Here’s the point: We can criticize and complain all we want in private. We can do it over dinner and teach our kids. We can form our own Friendly Neighborhood Haters’ Club. But hateful comments made on the internet will do no good, and may do great harm. Whether we anticipate it or not, what we say will be read by the people we reference. Since we do not see into each others’ hearts, who knows how much damage is done?

Okay, I know it’s hopeless. I’m preaching to the choir again. But this is just one more plea for internet civility. No, internet kindess. No, better yet, internet Christianity. In the words of one of the most Christian men who ever lived, “We can all be a little kinder, a little more generous, a little more thoughtful of one another.” (Gordon B. Hinckley)

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