I Am (Was) Part of the Problem: Assumptions

Tamar Carroll and I are cousins-through-shared-cousins, which means I’ve spent roughly 1/4th of my holidays growing up (about half of the gatherings on my father’s side) with her. Between the combination of a significant-enough age difference that always affects interactions with the ‘once-removeds’, geographical distance, and an almost diametrically opposite upbringing, I had never considered that we had much in common.

I am sorry for that perceived and assumptive brush-off, Tamar.

We both published a book within a year of each other, and I still considered us at somewhat ‘opposite ends’ – her book being based on ‘real’ education and mine only on ‘opinion’ (we all understand the significance of that, and I admit it).

With the normal expansion (and division, in some cases) of families, I began to see less and less of her. Then we became ‘Facebook friends’ (still a funny term to me). I ‘see’ her regularly now; more than when we saw each other at family gatherings.

We are both adults, she is married and I once was, and we are both parents. As expected, the age gap that seemed so divisive long ago has declined with age and commonalities became more … well, common.

I (finally) began to notice things, like specific-subject-matter posts she put up, and her likes/comments on certain posts of mine – and I began to see a resemblance between us, and our way of thinking.

So, I went to Amazon and looked up her book –

and realized I was a complete idiot.

First of all, it was not some lofty, over-your-head thesis type, written only for the well-educated to debate at dressy cocktail parties, laughing while barely opening their mouths.

Again, I’m sorry for my assumptions – all of them.

Secondly – and this was the biggest kick in the pants – her book is about ‘community’ activism, the affecting of change, the banding together of groups usually marginalized, AND how they are all intertwined.

Connections.

Isn’t that what I write (preach) about, in my own way, in my own words? About separation and pre-supposition? About pervasive attitudes and ignorance of the scope of their reach?

And I missed this in her? Because of my own ‘programming’ that seeps into my thoughts and actions?

This means that as much as I talk about fixing certain problems, I am still an active part of them.

Was.

The first step is admission. To be able to admit I’ve done something wrong or negative, I    have to be well enough away from it to view it from the outside. Now, any assumptions I make are not ‘habit’ but choice, because I’m aware I make them.

This also validates points that she and I both touch on in our writing: how ingrained our ‘learned’ behavior is, the un-awareness of the full scope and pervasiveness of certain issues, and the ties between them. It is all connected. We are all connected.

Now, this ‘young grasshopper’ has learned – yet again – that with all she has learned, she still has so much more to learn.

Thank you for the lesson, Professor.

………….

Purchase her book here:  Mobilizing New York: Aids, Antipoverty, and Feminist Activism (Gender and American Culture) by Tamar W. Carroll

From the back cover: “Carroll contends that social policies that encourage the political mobilization of marginalized groups and foster coalitions across identity differences are the most effective means of solving social problems and realizing democracy.”

From the Preface: “… I began to doubt prevailing assumptions that a strong group identity is likely a barrier to social movement building, and I wanted to learn more about how [these] coalitions maneuvered within the difficult terrain of identity and power.”

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I SEE You, San Nguyen

For the job-that-pays-my-bills, I visit stores that sell my company’s product. Since my territory covers the Boston area to mid-New Hampshire, I spend a lot of time in my car. In some cities and towns, though,  I have stores that are close enough together that I can park the car once and walk back and forth between them. It’s never a problem – well, except for that one time a young police officer stopped me with, “Are you soliciting, Miss?”

(He called me “Miss”!)

Anyway, today was one of those heavy walking days. When the weather is nice I allow myself a slower pace because I enjoy looking around when I walk.

When I’m inside the stores I need to visit I talk with the owners or managers for a bit, fill out a report on my cell phone, and take pictures.

I’d just walked outside of one of my stores and was taking pictures when a man stopped me and earnestly asked me to take his picture. I was a little confused at first; he spoke broken English and I couldn’t tell if he was trying to get me to take his picture or not take his picture. Normally, when other people are nearby they duck out of the way to avoid the camera, but this gentleman was trying to get my attention. I told him I was taking pictures of the store and he smiled cheesily then pointed to his chest and opened his arms wide in a “Look at me!” pose.

I took his picture, giving him a minute to assume his position as it appeared to matter to him. My noticing that point made me think. Why did I find it unusual, or why did I notice, that he needed a moment to think about his pose before I snapped the picture? People pose for pictures all the time – all.the.time. – and adjust themselves for pictures, yet this seemed different.

I got another thought: he might never get his picture taken. That would make this – this simple act of taking a picture – a big event.

Digital cameras and cell phones have made it possible for us to take as many pictures of as many things as we want to (without worrying about running out of film/flash or the time it takes to develop the pictures). And we do. We need only one picture for our profile on Facebook, and we can take thousands just to get the right one. We think nothing of whipping out the phone to take random selfies with each other, a coffee cup, or a burrito. Even my Facebook friends six times removed can see that I take great advantage of that opportunity.

That privilege.

And here was this man, asking me to take his picture.

Look at me!

I talked with him for a moment after I took his picture. I introduced myself and shook his hand – and then he took my hand and cradled it against his cheek. When we said goodbye he didn’t ask for money or anything; all he wanted was his picture taken. When I was a few steps away from him I turned back to look; he was still looking at me and I waved.

Look at me.

LOOK at me.

For all the enjoyment I get when I’m walking around, I know there are still some things I don’t see. I’m absolutely certain that on days that I’m rushing around for my ‘important’ busy-ness that I miss even more –

– like people.

Acknowledgment of one another is huge. It doesn’t hurt to greet someone when you make eye contact, or even greet someone before you make eye contact. People matter, and need to feel like they matter. Think about how you feel when you feel snubbed by someone you know, or how it feels to be ignored. Think about what it might feel like to be unacknowledged. Most of us question our existence in times of stress and tragedy; how much more would you question the Universe if you felt your existence went unnoticed?

I take pictures as casually as I breathe (another privilege I take for granted). How lonely does one have to feel to ask a stranger to take his picture?

It’s not like I will see him again, or exchanged phone numbers with him to text the picture to him. He will not get the picture, but I will have it.

San Nguyen, I am very happy I met you today. Even if we never see each other again, we are tied forever in that moment and right here.

One more thing …

I see you.

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