I was born on the right side of the tracks. In fact, where I grew up, the other side of the tracks wasn’t exactly poor either. Despite what part of town one lived in, it was a nice place to raise a family. The socio/economic dynamics in Flushing Queens during the 70’s & 80’s was an “aspired to” representation of pre-deregulation, middle class America. And whether our Dads wore blue or white collars, they were –for the most part– able to provide their children with the tools they needed.
While my family wasn’t wealthy, neither were we deprived. Indeed, as a child I had nice, store bought clothes to wear. I always had food on my plate, and snacks in our cupboard. The detached center hall colonial that I called home was accoutered with nice furniture, and expensive carpeting. We were cool in the summer, and warm in the winter. I even got the bike I wanted for Christmas.
However, my brother and I did have to share a bedroom. Oh, the horror!
But not a day goes by where I am not aware of the advantages I had. Certainly my parents did not spoil their children, nor did they indulge us like sickening new millennium parents, but they gave us all of what we needed, some of what we wanted, and north star to guide our way. Sure, my family underwent the usual dysfunction that most suburbanites experience growing up –my big sister and I once got into a brawl over a banana (we sure as hell weren’t the Cleavers)– but the travails of North Flushing accorded no real hardships.
… At least not the kinds of hardships that those in poverty stricken, inner city communities endured.
I never had to go to school without having eaten the night before, and try to concentrate during a test while dizzy from hunger. When I was told that I could not have something, it was because my parents had their reasons, not because they couldn’t afford it. I was disciplined, but I was never beaten. I was never abused. I was never thrown against the wall and frisked by the police while walking home. I was never treated badly because of the color of my skin.
I cannot pretend to comprehend the lives of those whose daily existence is so foreign to me. Even as I write this, I understand that I do not understand what it was like to grow up so much differently than I did. I dare not presume to.
My white, middle-class status at birth accorded education and opportunities which translated into a comfortable lifestyle in my adulthood. There are a lot of social dynamics that work in one’s favor that are all-too easily taken for granted by many middle-class white folks. It’s certainly easier to pull one’s self up by one’s own bootstraps when there is a significant support system helping you.
So I guess the point I’m trying to make is, that there are a lot of middle class people who take their background for granted. Not all, but some. I know that a lot of us like to think that we’re so damn terrific that our singular work ethic and acumen have enabled us to avoid the fate of those who have economically fallen. But the point from where we begin life’s journey usually means an awful lot.
In my early adulthood I had the luxury of having my father to indulge me. When I struggled –be it financially or emotionally– he was there, in whatever capacity I needed him. The man I eventually grew into and the man I aspire to be is because of the strength and stability of the man I was lucky enough to call “Dad”. Many who are reading this share the same fortunate experience. Many others wish they had.
I shudder to think who I would be today without him.
This piece in neither about “white guilt”, or institutional racism. It is about being able to practice honest introspection. A little humility about ourselves, and empathy for those less fortunate is something lacking in our discourse. Social media, and the accompanying lack of personal interaction, has translated into a severe lack of compassion for others. We too easily dismiss those in poverty as not having our own intrepid spirit, when in fact our own spirits would have been also broken had we been born into their circumstance.
If not for a couple of decent breaks, the poor which so many cavalierly dismiss, are all of us.
It’s kind of ironic that my Mother always wanted me to adopt her philosophies so that I could better “heal” people… And as admirable as that may sound, as I grew older I came to realize that her aberrant beliefs were much less about making the world a better place than they were simply a series of unfounded, self-serving assertions designed to illicit reactions from people. It amounted to nothing more than attention seeking humbug, and frankly, it was the exact opposite of what she claimed them to be. It was in fact, selfishness that came at the expense of others.
As it is with any child who has beliefs forced on them, I resisted. First it was out of youthful rebellion, but as I reached the age of cognizance, no part of my sensibility allowed me to believe in psychics, magic, space aliens, invisible entities, immeasurable energies or anything else that was a departure for rationality. Therefore I also couldn’t fathom any of that drivel actually helping anyone in any way whatsoever.
It has been my experience that this type of self-deceit leaves people hollow, and forever searching for answers where they can’t find them…in a fantasy world. Although it would be nice if there were “angels” to protect us and crystals that could cure cancer, that simply isn’t the way the world works. When fantasy fails us in favor of actuality we are left with the choice of either questioning faith, or submerging deeper into denial. Rather than admit intellectual culpability, most indignantly stand by their puerile postulations.
However rationality and seeking the truth rather than waiting for an ethereal force to answer prayers is ultimately what allows people to thrive. It is the difference between someone waiting to hit the lottery, and a pro-active entrepreneur. It is also the difference between people who prematurely marry hoping they will live “happily ever after”, and those who employ enlightened interdependent interaction.
This past weekend I performed my relationship seminar, “UnLearn Vanilla Marriage” at the Exxxotica NY Expo. I deliver it in response to what I perceive to be the self-help industry’s irrational attempt at applying a marital archetype that frankly isn’t serving the populace very well… which is based on platitudes and convention derived from religious and patriarchal ideals. It challenges monogamy as the singular marital standard, and offers some different perspectives on relationships and why it is that couples react to one another the way that they do.
The seminar only discusses things that are tangible in people’s experiences, and asks them to acquiesce to reason. It does not offer the key to any vault that contains any special wisdom, nor does it offer certain truth. It does not ask anyone to take a leap of faith, rather to draw conclusions based on acumen. It maintains that people’s truths are their own, and I try to throw in a few laughs along the way.
The responses I have received in the days following have been extraordinary, and quite honestly, humbling. While I will admit that the positive acknowledgment I get from people are an ego-boost, it also feels good to be able to provide couples with a rational perspective that they are otherwise unable to get in the present social climate. The truth is, I love helping people.
But apparently, conventional wisdom would have us believe that unless I ask people to adopt inappreciable abstractions, mine is an ideology that transgresses morality. Both ethics, and the truth it would appear, is not what we see, rather it is what serves the best interest of those selling it.