Saving Lives
October 27, 2011, 12:01 am
Filed under: Society | Tags: , , , ,

I have been thinking lately that the greatest accomplishment people can make is to save lives.

One thing that inspired my ideas on saving life was a comment I made on Facebook Sunday about how insulting someone’s manhood is similar to insulting a black person’s race loyalty.

I kept thinking and thinking. Then I thought about me thinking about the comment I wrote. I’m so lame, I thought, for repeating the words of my FB comment in my mind over and over.

But the more I thought of the comment the more meaning I found in it. For one, men being manly and blacks being loyal to the black race were probably both at one time related to protecting people’s lives: Men protected their families, villages, or countries, and black people protected other blacks, including slaves historically.

Think of the term “Uncle Tom.” This is someone who was unafraid to be disloyal to other blacks, something that could’ve meant punishment, including death, for other slaves during slavery. Today people who deny their blackness (like maybe Tiger Woods) not only their blackness, but the responsibility of fixing the problem of racial inequality in America.

I focus on black people because I grew up black and being concerned about looking like I wanted to be white, i.e. seeming to disown my blackness. As a kid, I liked the t.v. show “Beverly Hills 90210,” liked wearing flesh-toned stockings layered with slouch socks like white girls did, went to a predominantly white high school, and, perhaps most damaging of all to my blackhood: I’ve always been attracted to white boys/men more often than black boys/men.

I’m still kind of hesitant to say that, especially because I watched a “Boondocks” cartoon a FB friend posted a couple days ago about an “Uncle Tom” figure, who drooled over white girls. I was laughing out loud at the cartoon in which the “Uncle Tom” figure repeatedly calls black people “nigger.” I stopped when the character starts talking about white girls and has to take a break to calm himself down because he gets so excited. (Frown.) It reminded me of the sensitive nature of my preference for white men.

A few days later, I saw an interracial couple at the gym, and I could feel their self-consciousness, especially the black guy’s. I was self-conscious, too, wanting to smile at them to let them know I was fine with them, but I didn’t want to be too involved in their business.

Later, I felt unsuccessful, and thought maybe I should be overt, and next time say something like, “You’re alright with me.” Afterall, it’s our jobs to save people’s lives, not sit passively by, trying not to be “overly involved.”

I feel one way I’m supposed to save lives is by making suicide less likely. When Tyler Clemente killed himself because his roommate taped him having sex I felt certainly I was meant to help him. I just hadn’t taken my place in the world in time.

I didn’t know how, exactly then. But I surely felt I didn’t want to be a part of the public that must have seemed intolerant of seeing someone have sex, or learning someone was gay. It’s life, people. Time to grow up.

Similarly, I felt like our team lost when med student Phillip Markoff (referred to as “The Craig’s List killer”) killed himself in prison. He was a casualty to traditional ideas of what makes a person valuable (money, marital status, race, etc.). I felt the same way when I heard in the news months ago about a Pennsylvania dad who killed his wife and son and them himself. The family was having financial problems.

I’ve considered suicide many times in life, and I believe that’s useful insight into how to save others. How might you save another person’s life, or spare them the hurt you’ve encountered in life? I do believe when you help others in the way you’ve needed help, you fulfill your purpose in this life.


More on Insecurity

I think about my writing a lot after I write, even a seemingly insignificant comment on another person’s blog. This is an example. Somewhat unfairly, I edited it heavily (from the origninal published Oct. 12, 2011), but it felt right to edit it. Sometimes I can be too angry, and afraid and as a result, not explain enough, which I corrected:

I am still impressed with a comment I made on another person’s blog (*see below). I’m not sure if anyone has expressed the value of rebellion so well. I criticized another writer, which was not so nice, but sometimes it’s entertaining when people speak freely enough to offend in America’s overly cautious and insecure climate.

All people have insulting thoughts; perhaps it’s useful to let a few loose once in a while. In the past I have insulted people in my head, finding things that made them seem as imperfect as I felt, maybe a flat butt or wide waist on a woman who was skinnier than me. If I were to express more of those insults, they would likely show that much is missing in American interaction; so much about our imperfect, lovable human selves is held back that our perceptions of each other lack love, and inevitably foster jealousy and competition.

I once told a former coworker that I insult others in my head. She was treating me to lunch and was looking down at her purse to find her wallet. Sitting across from her at our table, I could see the “searching” look on her face relax and her actions pause for a moment as I made the confession. Until I noticed her body language, I thought my confession was no big deal, just an example I was giving; I was used to talking openly with this person but she was unusually guarded on this day.

I must have surprised her with my confession. In confessing I had picked away at the man-made rules about what was okay to discuss, and my former coworker felt the breeze of freedom. She had been more uptight than I was used to during our lunch, smiling a lot, talking contantly and asking questions without a break.

It was unpleasant, to say the least. I had been looking forward to the lunch all day and afterward I was wishing I’d worked out or stayed home instead.  That one moment of confessing was life-, or rather, lunch-saving–but only now, in retrospect.

I didn’t mean to start telling that story in detail, but it’s a perfect example of how speaking freely and being secure enough to handle imperfect situations (or words) can influence people, speak to them through the walls we learn to put up, as my favorite former coworker had put up that day.

One is balanced when he makes use of his security and insecurity equally. Security is knowing it’s natural to be imperfect, and insecurity is awareness of an imperfection or a difference that has been judged harshly by the outside world, not nature or God, if you believe in God as I do.

Americans seem easily offended by politicians’ (like Anthony Wiener’s) exposed sex lives and people’s impassioned remarks, like those of Hank Williams Jr. about President Obama. But they may not be so far from being more secure, present, and clear-headed in dealing with behaviors deemed offensive (such as me insulting others in my head).

One big step is neccessary. People have to admit an imperfection to transcend it. For example, America would have to acknowledge that it’s overly dramatic in handling “offensive” comments and behavior before it could handle them better. And facing mistakes is highly unusual in America where we learn to hide almost every mistake or imperfect thing about ourselves. We’re often too ashamed to even tell someone he has a crumb in his beard.

We seem unaware that it’s okay to make mistakes, like fart in others’ presence, or vart (as I do in yoga). That it’s okay to have a crumb. Getting home from a gathering and seeing it, however, reminds us of how lonely we are in “the crowd” of perfect people. But it’s just how people are in America, my birth place, my home, my responsibility to make better.

*Here’s the comment I made on the blog post, “How to Dress – A Guide for Nitwit Young People,” which I read because it was “Freshly Pressed,” and I thought it was good, but kind of unoriginal (a hypothetical old guy complaining about young people’s fashion):

“I’m sorry, but you sound really uptight. I think “Farticus” is great for a t-shirt. We all fart. So what? Rebelling is all about embracing what we learn to throw away, leaving a spineless ghost of a human being, who only appears perfect. Not so true with those who rebel. We might just hold onto enough of who we are to say we’re actually “here” while we’re still here.”

Inevitably Insecure
October 10, 2011, 12:48 am
Filed under: Human Potential

I used to always be scared of being too different for anyone to understand, of being psycho, and snobby. I look back and see myself as an extremely insecure person, so I don’t know why I was afraid of seeming snobby. I’m bringing this up because I’m about to sound like a total snob.

I went to a writers conference Friday and yesterday and just felt like it was so off key. What people need is not what the conference offerred: tons of advice and correcting. What people need is to feel like they’re free and able to do their thing, which comes from self-confidence.

I left early from the conference Friday and felt strongly that I didn’t want to return, even though I did. Later Friday I realized I felt haunted by the conference’s atmosphere of insecurity, which is an obvious bi-product of continuously looking to others for advice and approval. Insecurity is also the opposite of what people need to speak with AUTHORity.

It hurts, but also helps to see that no entity (not even a group of “free thinkers”) is unscathed by America’s culture of insecurity.

Insecurity is not so bad for a writer (or probably ANYONE!) if he owns it. But owning our words, actions, and true motives seems strongly discouraged in American culture.

People in my life have recently helped support my belief that we disown parts of ourselves that seem unacceptable: “No, I wasn’t offended by the little boy saying I was fat,” or “I was just tired, not distancing myself from you.” People actually said that to me, contradicting the understanding I had of each person’s preceding words and actions, making me feel crazy and abandonned. In disowning we abandon our whole selves and others who see what we don’t want them to.

People say that just because racism and classism is part of our culture doesn’t mean it’s part of them, but it is, whether you act on those beliefs or consciously (very consciously) try not to. I know because it’s part of me.

Racist ideas are supported by our environment, and believing them seems inevitable.  For much of my life I felt deep down that black people were dumber, a belief I must have gained over years of seeing black kids in lower level classes and reading groups.

One of my favorite authors, Edith Wharton, was a racist. Without effort I knew Wharton was simply following the ways of her time, and being a part of the society she lived in.

My greatest challenge in life has been really being a part of society, making friends, pursuing my dreams, while I hid so much of myself because I believed I was unacceptable: unattractive, unintelligent, human (farting,etc.), black and from a low-income family.

I’m still struggling with where I fit in a world that has so many beliefs that have hurt me and all people: black and white; rich and poor; young and old.

I used to think it was just black kids who were hurt, but then noticed I felt saddened when I looked at white kids, too. What our beliefs amount to is that our race, our parents’ income, where we go to school, matter more than who we are inside in making us loveable, successful and somebody important.

All of our actions speak, especially to kids who are learning about their world. For example, when they see their parents and other people around them almost always married to someone of the same race and income they learn that people’s lovableness is heavily determined by their race and income. It’s particularly hurtful for kids, like me, who have crushes on boys or girls of different races. I realized later that I had learned that white boys/men couldn’t love me. (And believed that I was an Uncle Tom for liking them.)

It’s been hard for me to see that I had those beliefs, and that they were wrong, considering so many people seem to be okay with them. I still feel defined by my race in America and in my head, and believe it’s a big part of me feeling like a broke loser sometimes.

I believe the messages we get from our environment about race and money are wholy responsible for America’s racial and socio-economic divisions and its culture of insecurity. That insecurity drives us to continually follow the crowd because we learn that what’s inside us is not enough to make us admirable and significant.

We could go our whole lives and miss the lesson the black maid tries to give the white little girl in the movie, “The Help:” I cried when I heard her say, “I am kind, I am smart, I am important,” for the little white girl to repeat.

That movie shows that even the little white girl, who happened to be fat, was hurt in a culture that put so much value on outside appearances.

Because I cried so much during that movie, I felt in my heart that times were not so different today, but I questioned myself. Things can’t be that bad, I thought. But I believe they can be just as bad on our psyches because we still put so much value on race and things other than our characters.

Martin Luther King knew what he was talking about when he talked about the need to value our characters, but we never really listened.

The fact that we don’t value people is showed by the disapproval people had and the shame I felt when I revealed things about myself on Facebook and in an email once. All I was doing was revealing things that would have been there whether I revealed them or not, and making myself feel a lot less afraid of seeming psycho, different and snobby.

Stereotypes fall away when we value the most powerful parts of ourselves, our characters. And security and confidence are inevitable.

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Our Unspoken Beliefs
October 5, 2011, 9:50 pm
Filed under: Human Potential

I was going to write about how wrong I was to write a note on Facebook a couple of weeks ago about how I look down on people. But then I looked at the wordpress.com home page full of snapshots of the best blogs and thought,
Wow, people are so out of it. Blah…

I look at you (the masses, everyone seems the same) and assume that you’ve bought into these ideas we’re fed about what life is: that having money makes us somebody important, that love is something mostly meant for two people of the same race, that we’re just lucky to have a job if we have one.

What all of these ideas amount to is that none of us is here for any good reason–other than to look forward to the weekend. When I say I look down, what I really mean is, I can’t believe people are happy with this “reality.”

“Focus on yourself,” is what I heard writers are supposed to do, so here I go. I say I’m different, but I walk around believing in all the same ideas: that interracial love is odd, that money makes people valuable, and that people are fortunate/secure to have even a super-crappy job.

This is the “truth” offered to me by my surroundings, and, for some reason, I believe it–effortlessly, even though I know it’s wrong. The real reason I look down on you is because I look down on myself based on these same beliefs: for being broke, for seeing myself as crazy since everyone else seems to think so, and for believing my soul mate is someone my surroundings say is practically in another realm since he’s rich and white—and may be married to a white woman.

I’ve been feeling like the crumbs at the bottom of an empty cookie jar lately, going out shopping with my broke ass and my steady belief in the American ideas I grew up with.

I gave all my old clothes away a month ago, feeling like I’d been settling for less (old clothing, lowly jobs) way too long. All I have left are some old workout clothes, which are just fine for a trip to the library, the gym or the grocery store. But in a high-end mall I’m reduced to feeling like all I am is my washed out yoga pants, my washed out hoodie, and knock-off Vera Bradley bag.

Talented, who? Not me, just broke—and nappy. I only noticed my hair seeming wild while trying on a hat in the Gap (a more friendly store). In my regular circles (gym, etc.) I’m used to being proud of being strong enough to be different with my uncombed hair and hairy arm pits.

I would’ve much rather shopped online to avoid the store clerk glare, but it’s so much cheaper and easier to try stuff on in the store, not having to ship back returns.

Really I’m grateful for my shopping trip. I realized the reason it’s wrong to look down on you (the masses) is because doing so is like saying it’s okay for people to look down on each other, for people (including me) to look down on me (myself).

But that didn’t stop me from feeling the way I did when I went to wordpress.com today. I don’t know how to feel when people find so much to talk about other than the things that seem so wrong.

It seems like no one cares about obvious racial inequalities, or people working their days away in mediocre jobs when they’re meant to change the world. Only I seem to be the only person who thinks so.

How do I approach a world that seems caught up in the same beliefs I am, except I’m the only one who says she’s hurt by them. I did read a good entry today on the blog “Reasonably Ludicrous,” that hints as the divide between following your dreams and making it in the “real world.” I enjoyed it.

Maybe I should read more. But writers often disagree with popular opinion. I’ll still really miss the rest of the world. I don’t think I can be truly happy without you being happy, too. But first, you would have to admit to being hurt—to want to make things different. Not many people admit to that.