This is How You Stop Existing
Note: This poem was inspired by a class in which I learned about increasing efforts to integrate behaviorist programs and ideology into the public school system, which led me to think through the effects behaviorism has had on me and my embodied experience.
This is how you become a series of numbers,
a string of data, metrics,
grades and behaviors.
Gold stars, letters, rubrics,
checklists, happy and sad faces, rankings.
This is how every part of who you are gets turned inside out,
pushed out of you, yanked, stolen,
taken and used, put on paper, showcased and displayed,
This is how you learn what’s valuable and what’s not,
what is useful to them,
how to make yourself useful,
how to twist and contort and shape every part of yourself to fit their needs.
This is how you learn to tolerate pain,
to be compliant, to perform compliance,
to fight all of your instincts, suppress them, ignore them.
This, you learn, is what it means to be loved.
This is how you learn what’s worthy of love -
and it’s certainly not you.
Not how you feel, not your innermost thoughts,
certainly not your embodied experience,
your wants, your needs, your dreams, your values -
but your results, your metrics, your numbers, your performance.
This is how you create a false self,
a self that performs, that complies,
that stays still, that remains silent, that smiles and nods, that keeps her head down,
a self that maintains perfect grades, that receives praise and adoration,
a self that appears happy and docile even when in agony,
a self whose skin you try to step into,
whose skin you surround yourself with even when it’s painful,
even when it’s unbearable.
This is how you are murdered.
Not by sword, not by fire, not by executioner,
but by numbers and measurements,
by the relentless pursuit of the unattainable norm,
by the knowledge that one slip-up or falter,
one failure to step into the skin you have so carefully constructed,
will leave you abandoned, invisible, shunned, utterly alone.
This is how you are vanquished, conquered, quelled,