In light of the recent controversies surrounding the Miss America Organization, I wanted to share a few thoughts that have been weighing on my heart, not only regarding that situation but in a larger context of our modern society. After the John Oliver segment, the reports made about Kira’s involvement with hazing, and the criticisms of contestants—everything what they wear to what they perform as their talent—I began to realize that this was a much bigger issue than just a pageant. While I have been affiliated with the Miss America Organization and am honored to have done so, this is simply from my own heart based on what I have seen and observed.
Criticism of others has become the fodder on which our modern society runs. From celebrities’ nude photos to the effectiveness of ice bucket challenges to reality shows that glorify drama and conflict, we feed off of negativity. With the rise of social media, it seems that everybody has something to say about everybody else—and it’s very rarely positive. We love pointing out, laughing at, and celebrating the slip-ups, the blunders, the dark secrets brought to light. It’s become modern day society’s kind of gladiator event: someone rises to fame for some kind of achievement, and within minutes we are digging up their past and releasing vicious rumors as quickly as we can to cut them down.
But this isn’t just an issue of social media. It’s an issue of who we are as human beings. Although I am by no means a celebrity, I have had awful and untrue things said about me and my family. I’ve been criticized on everything from my ethnicity to how I look in photos to the way that I lead. And as I’ve tried to pursue more and more of my dreams, those voices become louder and louder. It can be downright disheartening and even frightening for anybody to pursue goals that they have, simply because of the criticisms of others just waiting to take them down after they take that first step of faith.
I don’t know why we have such a love affair with negativity and criticism. I don’t know if it makes us feel better about ourselves or it somehow makes us feel moral by publicly humiliating others on their shortcomings and downfalls. But what I do know is that this is not how our Creator intended for us to view ourselves. 1 Peter 2:9 says that we “are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that we may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” Yes, we all have darkness. Every single one of us is broken and has fallen short of God’s expectations and our own. But God has chosen to use us in our darkness. He has chosen to take our ugly and call it beautiful. He has chosen to love us beyond our mistakes and has prepared ways for us to serve and glorify Him, even when we mess that up.
We are not our mistakes or the things that have happened to us. While we certainly need to deal with and take responsibility for our actions, they do not define who we are or will be. As someone who has hurt and been hurt by many people in my life, I have struggled to separate those aspects of what has happened to me from my identity. But if the perfect Creator of the universe was willing to forgive us and see us as perfectly lovable humans, why can’t we accept and love those who are broken with us? Why must we drag our pasts along with us instead of finding freedom to become the person we’ve always wanted to be?
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t talk about our mistakes. I’m not even saying that mistakes don’t have consequences. I’m just saying that if we spent half the time that we do criticizing and condemning others on supporting and encouraging the positive work that they do, this world would be a much better place. So you don’t like the swimsuit portion of the Miss America pageant? Fine. Why don’t you celebrate the fact that these women have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Children’s Miracle Network? You’re not a fan of Kira? That’s okay too. Why not focus on someone that you do support and spend that time encouraging and loving them?
As someone who witnessed the devastation of sexual violence, I am so glad that we have a Miss America speaking to those often-overlooked issues. As a former title holder for MAOT, I am grateful to the Miss America organization for the opportunities it has afforded me and for shaping me into the person I am today. And as a young woman who has big dreams for her life, I am so glad that there are others out there who are willing to boldly pursue their dreams despite the voices of negativity that echo with each step.
So before you share that gossip column, make that unflattering comment, or pass judgement on others, I’d ask that you would treat your fellow human beings with the same kind of respect that your Father has lavished on you. Let’s become a society that doesn’t tear each other down in the pursuit of higher things, but one that lifts each other up so that we might accomplish them together.
“You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.” —Johnny Cash