You Won't Change Anything: a Blog Post about Devaluation
This post is very different from everything I’ve written before. First of all, this is not my text. A couple of months ago I stumbled upon an article about devaluation written by talented Daria Serenko and I was terrified: I recognised myself. Secondly, I translated her original article from Russian to English because I really want you to read it. And finally, it’s not about fashion this time. If I were to make another category on the blog, I would include this post into Mindfulness or Slow Living.
So there are at least two reasons I feel vulnerable this time: I’m not a translator and I don’t want you to think that Daria’s text sucks (blame me if anything), and I don’t know how you’re going to take this new category.
Nevertheless, I’m sure each one of you can relate to devaluation especially because we hear things like “Hey, saved the turtles already?” or “Is your underwear second-hand too?”. And we (ok I) devalue others as well: “Couldn’t you get organic veggies?” or “This shirt would look better on you if it was produced ethically”… You get the idea.
This article won’t change anything
“You won’t change anything”, “it won’t help you”, “she’s just marketing herself” and many other examples of how devaluation works and how to fight against it.
Below is a reaction of one of my acquaintances when I said that I was going to write an article about devaluation:
“Daria, no doubts you’re great, but your articles won’t change anything. Best case scenario 10 thousands people will read them. The rest will remain the way they were. Seriously, going to Africa to volunteer and do real things makes more sense”.
In respond I asked if I could use his words for my article as a classic example of devaluation. He didn’t mind although didn’t understand why I called his “useful advice” devaluating.
As an activist I constantly hear phrases with similar structure. No matter which project I’m on, who is involved, what horrible things I talk about and “real” things I do, very often I get this kind of feedback:
“It won’t change anything”
“There’s always someone worse off”
“It didn’t happen to me, means it doesn’t exist, and the problem is fake”
“Better go and cook / start a family / make kids” (if you are a woman, there’s just a few options)
“She hasn’t had a good man”
“She’s just marketing herself, it’s just the hype”
This sort of reactions is very easy to group. Imagine, you say: “I am depressed” or “Once I was hurt”. These are the most common types of devaluation:
“Be above this, don’t pay attention to this” (Meaning “Shut up, hide and conceal, don’t take actions, wait until it stops)
“Don’t be so serious about yourself, be more simple” (You can translate it as “You have a very high opinion of yourself and your concerns”)
“Well, I’ve had worse, let me tell you…” (The fact that someone has had worse, of course, supposedly makes you feel better. As an option this answer: “Kids are dying of hunger in Africa, wish they had your problems”)
“Are you sure it didn’t just seem to you?” (I don’t even know how to reply to this one. Just imagine: “Yeah, I wasn’t hurting, it just seemed to me”)
Not to rely solely on my experience, I asked other people to describe real life situations when they felt devaluation was happening. I had 130 responses. I’m going to quote a few most typical situations: “— I have a postpartum depression; — Ah nonsense, everybody gives birth and somehow they cope.” (There were many options: in old times they were giving birth in wilderness/ I have 4 kids and I’m ok / you just don’t love this child)
or parents: “Why do you need this degree if you are not gonna work in this industry?” Same parents: “Therapy doesn’t make sense, it won’t help you anyway”.
or for example, I sort my waste and bring it to recycling centres. Heard multiple times: “It won’t change anything, do something else instead.”
After reading such stories I want to offer everyone to experiment with their feeds: ask what type of devaluation your friends face, how they feel about it, and how it affects their lives. And then you’ll realise the scale and consistency of this problem. Or you could just read comments to any articles about discrimination of any group of people, including posts on Takie Dela platform [RUS].
Unfortunately, most of the reactions fall under this thesis: “You and your efforts are useless. This problem doesn’t exist, neither do you.”
Devaluation is carved in our language - we automatically say “it’s nothing” to “thank you”. But if you think about it, why would it be nothing? If you did something good (sometimes it also means complicated), why would you say it didn’t cost you anything? Devaluation (and self-devaluation) is such a common practice, that many of us are just unable to detect it in our words. Like, you don’t mean anything bad, you wanted to support a person needing help, but as a result you didn’t notice that you brought everything down to yourself and your own issues: “Some things worse happened to me”. Or we want to say that it’s a pity not everyone has access to a certain resource, but it comes out as “This won’t make things change”. One of the signs of a devaluing phrase is drawing attention to yourself, your feelings and your way of doing things. Those are imperative interpretations of one’s feelings: “No, you’re not hurting, you’re pretending”, “No, I don’t think you’re tired”. And unbidden valuations “You call it achievements?!”, or unbidden advices “It would be much better if you did this”. All of the above just demonstrates that we do not hear another person, belittling things that are important for her/him.
But the worst thing about devaluation is that it does actual harm. In relationships devaluation accumulates and brings destruction. For example, a person in our life (child, wife, partner - whoever) stops feeling her(him)self significant and important, and adequately estimating own actions and desires, just as actions and desires of others. This is not something easy to forget and forgive, these are not tears without a reason. This directly affects motivation and trust. Psychologists categorise devaluation as one of the forms of emotional violence.
“Not to devalue” doesn’t mean constantly accept, support and praise. It means recognising the importance of a certain situation that involves a person, and only then disagree with what this situation represents. Instead “It’s nonsense what you do!” you can say “Could you tell me what you do and why it is important for you? I don’t understand”. Instead “I know how you feel” (don’t assume you know what’s there inside that person even if you kinda went through the same thing) say “Tell me how you are feeling, I have similar experience and can share it with you if you wish”.
Yes, these are more complicated phrases, which will possibly take more time to say than those devaluing ones. But I’m recalling how after two months of deliberately working on such phrases I looked back and was terrified: how often we address other people with words which would hurt ourselves! And then I was glad because I felt how much better it was to communicate with others without self-assertion.
Sensible care about one’s feelings is also self-care, emotional hygiene in some way. Every time when I have an urge to downplay someone’s knowledge or skills, belittle by one phrase all the achievements and hard work of another person, I think: what does make me angry? why do I want to say that? maybe I’m angry because I couldn’t do it and she could? because someone has the guts to do something and don’t? or is it just a habit to say so? Since I don’t let myself devalue other people, I don’t want other people devalue me. So at last I would like to say that my article, even if just 5 persons will read it, can change a lot.
It is changing already.
— Daria Serenko
When I was a teenager I read somewhere: “You can’t change the world but you can make a difference”.
For many years it’s been my motto and maybe that’s why I decided to start this blog. But after reading Daria’s article I realised that I cannot change the world or even make a difference if I can’t change myself.
I ask for your forgiveness, as I know I’m guilty of devaluation. And I promise I’m working on becoming a better person, because all big changes start from the inside.