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Thursday, February 02, 2006


No Ground to Stand On 

It has been a frustrating week so far, with a few bright spots, like last night's opera. I've been frustrated that there is not more for me to do at my field-ed. While it is an excellent place to work and my supervisor is a brilliant person from whom to learn, I often find myself sitting in the office reading. We had a staff meeting today and I look forward to those because it makes me feel involved. There was an inane moment in today's meeting where one person said that down the road a bit something was going to happen, scheduling-wise. Another person misunderstood them and responded in a confused fashion. The original person repeated themselves and made themselves clearer. The second person still didn't get it and responded the same way. This went on for ten minutes. My supervisor had to eventually act as translator of plain English, and even then it took three tries. I think she handled it excellently. I wouldn't have had the patience for that. It was ridiculous.

The main reason I'm frustrated this week is I got into an argument with a friend of mine that was not entirely resolved. Essentially, I think it's a case of two separate worlds colliding. It's not that we don't see each other's points so much as it is we operate from two different premises. While I tried to get them to understand the ground from which I stood, they tried to convince me that was inappropriate ground on which to stand and that I should change my ways. In some regards, about certain things, they were right. There are some things about myself I need to change and work on and there are others that are just a part of who I am. Part of the argument centered on my status as a privileged person and how that colors the way people hear what I say quite often. I come from the top of just about every power spectrum out there. I'm white. I'm male. I'm heterosexual. I'm physically in good shape. I come from a financially secure background. I have an excellent education, and come June, I will be more educated (degree-wise) than about 95% of the population. I'm statistically more intelligent than most people I meet. These are the facts of my life and I cannot change them. I'm not black, and so I cannot ever know what that kind of racial prejudice is like. I'm not gay and consequently have never had to deal with someone who thought I was an abomination to God. I'm not poor and have never had to deal with economic oppression. I'm not fat and have never been looked down upon because of my weight. I'm not uneducated or of below average intelligence and so have never had to deal with being looked down upon in those regards. But just because these are not the realities of my life does not mean that I cannot sympathize and fight against injustice. And I have to do so in my own way, myself ackowledging that I do so from a privileged position and have others do the same. To do anything else would be inauthentic. And I'm, once again, wearied by having to preface everything I say with, "I know I can only say this because of X factor," or apologize for the realities of my life. I feel like I'm in a place that puts such a high value on championing the downtrodden and oppressed, but when I try to join in, I get dirty looks as if to say, "your kind isn't welcome here. You're part of the problem."

So, it's been frustrating.

-R

8 Comments:

It's good to be aware of who you are, bro, and the gifts you are given, and the advantages that you have-- and you needn't apologize for that. Privilege is not a virtue; but, so long as you are putting it to godly use, neither is it a vice.

By Blogger Jane Ellen+, at 8:58 PM  


You are physically in good shape? Thanks for mentioning it. I did not notice. (alright, I probably don't see you enough to be that sarcastic and you are in better shape than me, but had to make the jab.)

By Anonymous Jeff, at 10:52 PM  


Just remember you're only able to say this because you have a computer and internet access, you elitist technocrat! How many homes had to be bulldozed to link your apartment to the information superhighway, eh?

By Blogger BrotherBeal, at 8:31 AM  


As a thought, coming from my completely hearsay and ridiculously non-researched knowledge base...but where would the civil rights movement have been in the 60s had people in your demographic (or would later become your demographic in terms of education level) not participated? Where they not welcome either?

By Blogger Hudd, at 2:18 PM  


I've been listening for a long time to the stories of others - stories of which I can only have limited understanding because I haven 't had the situation myself. However, I've paid attention to those stories, and I've learned a few things.

First, all of us have had pain, and pain is not really comparable. The pain you've had have been yours to deal with, and that's the pain you have learned from. But while pain isn't quantifiable in a way that allows direct comparison, it is still pain; and it allows you a resource, a valid resource, to understand another's pain.

Second, you can learn from the stories of others. I have learned there's something valid in saying, "I haven't had the experience myself, but this is what others with similar stories have taught me."

Finally, if you're listening, others will know, and that will provide your credibility. Will all accept it? No; but enough will.

By Blogger Marshall, at 11:36 PM  


I'm going to be really blunt about this - your friend's attitude ticks me off.

I can think of few expressions more corrosive than, "your kind".

This is life. We're all in this together. Instead, "your kind" serves only to further separate us.

Privilege endows one with a set of lenses through which one sees the world. Poverty and oppression do likewise. And so do any person's life circumstances.

The challenge is to set aside those lenses, and see the world as it really is, and the individuals therein as who they really are, and work to make life better - to work for justice.

I don't know the friend of whom you speak. But I do know you, and I see you as trying to remove those lenses. I see this in your views of the Israeli-Palestinian situation, and in other things you have written here. I think you have lessons that you could give to many of us.

Pax,

By Blogger Dawgdays, at 12:24 AM  


Thank you all for your responses to this post. I always feel odd writing about things that upset me on a very personal level, and so I thank you for honoring these feelings. Thanks for your support and words of advice and encouragement. I think it is especially important to bear in mind what DawgDays had to say about how every person's life experiences provide them with their primary lens through which they view life. It happens for all of us no matter the person, no matter the circumstance. The trick, as DawgDays wrote, is to learn to see the world as it really is, and that is a life-long learning experience. Peace to all of you.

-R

By Blogger Ryan, at 11:50 PM  


Ryan,
Blessings to you. Your wisdom and faith are blessigs to us in return. Never forget that misunderstandings, especially regarding "thee-better-than-me" accusations, often come from those in greatest need of the very thing they decry. Your trust in us in sharing this shows your love and concern for your friend.
Trust your heart and the spirit; you're OK here.
Be Well.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:57 AM  


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