I am a product of the environment that I grew up in. In a predominantly white suburb of Portland, Oregon, my friends and I judged female beauty based on a scale that had been given to us by commercials and magazines. We laughed at each other’s religion, sexual orientation, and racially based jokes… knowing absolutely nothing about the cultures or the people that we made fun of.
I am aware of the fear based social programming that shaped the first 30 years of my life. It wasn’t reality that had me believing that I was better than my peers. It was the collective ideas of everyone having equal opportunity, women being inferior, and the LGBT community being able to spread their sexual orientation through handshakes that did it. Realizing that none of those things were true has been both shocking to my system and healing to my soul.
I am starting to see the truth. I used to judge people against myself, thinking that they had worked harder than me if they had nicer things… or believing that laziness was the reason that so many military veterans become homeless. Everyone out there is making choices based on what is best for them at that particular moment in time. At 16, my choices were between buying a letterman jacket or going to a Tom Petty Concert. At that same age, some people are choosing between broken homes, or living under freeway overpasses to try and escape them. At 36, while some people are worrying about how to feed and house 3 children with food stamps and welfare checks… I worry about where I’m going on my next vacation. So, I am trying to recognize my privilege now. I am trying to see the reality in things.
I am changing the definition. Knowledge flows through open eyes, open ears. I used to be someone who stayed in the house, watched sports on television, and was afraid to meet my neighbors. I let commercials, stereotypes, and fashion trends influence every aspect of my life. Today though… through artistic expression, through written words, through enlightening conversations with friends, and through uncomfortable silences at family barbecues when I refuse to laugh at ignorant jokes, I am changing the definition of myself. The cool thing is… I think it’s been rubbing off on the people around me.