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Today’s Ramblings

September 18, 2010

Something I’ve had on my mind the past few days — that I have not allowed proper exploration of — is whether or not I can even participate in conversation on certain issues that I am innately ignorant of  (I need to figure out a better term for  innately ignorant, but for now it stays.  What I mean by that phrase is ignorance that I don’t even realize because of my life circumstances.  Such things as racism I am aware of, but there are certain sub-categories of racism or other issues linked to racism that I am not aware of, nor can I be because of my current life experience.  Basically, its not about me being an unaware person as much as my ability to perceive only as much as my environment and experience can allow).  Can I really discuss racism?  GLBT issues?  Issues of homelessness?

In my discussions all I have to offer is from my own perception as an outsider looking in.  I’m not black/African-American and in speaking of issues dealing with issues of race in America, I might offend someone who is black/African-American just by opening my mouth and believing I have the ability to understand.

I’ve been feeling quite uncomfortable speaking on certain issues lately.  This is mainly the result of working with the homeless population and then discussing issues surrounding the problem, as I see it from my currently limited perspective, with my white friends from upper middle class socio-economic backgrounds.  Yes, many of my friends are extremely aware and well-educated (either academically, through work/life experience, or a combination) on the topics they are discussing — but we still bring our backgrounds and personal bias into it.  Simply speaking to what needs to be changed is bringing in a power dynamic.  While much action today is working with members of communities to empower and lead their community — you can’t get away from the feel/perception of “us” going in to help “them”.  “Them” needing “us” to tell “them” what is “right”.

Education and knowledge (especially legal/governmental) is at the core of this.  As are pure intents.  But, I am currently feeling strong emotions on being aware of this and remembering to be open-minded that perhaps what I perceive to be “right” or something that is for another’s best interest is not necessarily what they believe to be the case.  And I have to be respectful of that.  I have to keep an awareness of the other side of the table.  The problem is, I don’t know if I can understand the other side of the table.  We can imagine what it is like to walk in another’s shoes — but that is still our imaging from our perspective.

Back to my uncomfortableness at discussing certain issues — I am currently homeless.  I am crashing with people and am therefore dependent on them.  Yesterday I spent the bulk of the day without a home base (although I did have a car).  Besides a policy paper in need of being written, I had noting to do.  At one moment I had a massive wave of emotion roll through me.  The loneliness and boredom I was experiencing I suddenly realized was a very minute version of that which many of those I am working with feel constantly.

On Thursday a man came in who was speaking to his boredom.  He wanted to volunteer for Pathways so he’d have something to do with his days.  He didn’t care what the task was (cleaning the shower, folding towels, loading up a car, etc) — he’d do anything.  He spoke of visiting the Einstein Planetarium at the Air and Space museum when he was a boy.  I looked into free shows there and at the Planetarium in Rock Creek Park.  He was so excited to have something to do with his day.  The boredom and loneliness this man must feel….it brings me great sadness and appreciation.  Appreciation for the hustle and bustle of my own life.

But yesterday I felt a small dose of what his life is like every day <granted due to my situation: car, credit card, knowing it was only a few hours I realize my understanding is still limited by my innate ignorance>.  I walked myself, mentally, through a day in his life.  Then the next day.  Then the next.  And I realized, I have had small experiences dealing with some of the issues I’ve been thinking I can’t understand so therefore have no right speaking of.  I doubt another would believe that I can understand where they’re coming from ( a man suffering homelessness who had been in jail for 25 years and therefore can’t hold a job immediately comes to mind) — but in terms of my daily interactions with people I can use this understanding in the positive.

One of the most disheartening aspects of viewing the helping profession from my just-starting-out stand point is the lack of individuals in the field for years who aren’t burnt out.  Who are still empathetic on a moment-by-moment basis and, more importantly, patient.  Too many have dealt with too much B.S. for too long and it shows.  In their face, their perception, their interactions with co-workers and with clients.  I don’t know if there is any way to keep this from happening, but my approach right now is to give myself ample time to emotionally debrief at the end of every day.  Go over the events of the day and really ponder what hit the biggest cord and follow it down that rabbit hole.

It is my hope that this will keep me coming back to the core — why I am living my life as I am living it.  Keep me coming back to the interconnectedness of us all and remembering help is not linear but continuous.  I can’t help another without also helping myself.  And just as I have awareness to share there is awareness to be shared with me.  In this way, if I can keep my awareness here, I think the power dynamic can be lessened.

I don’t know if this will work, but I do know it’s keeping me sane and increasing my awareness now.  And now is all I ever really have of my life.

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