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Sunday, March 21, 2010

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Wielding Authenticity


Several weeks ago, the supermarket in our old neighborhood closed for renovations, diverting most of its customers to the supermarket in our new neighborhood. I was a regular at the former supermarket for a decade. It mainly served three concentric populations within a five mile radius: the affluent liberal white population of mile one (think Volvos and hybrids with Sierra Club and Obama bumper stickers), the less affluent hipster and hippie population of miles two to three (think Vespas and bicycles with trailers), and those on the outermost rim (food stamp recipients arriving by cab and city bus).

Our new neighborhood is located in one of the wealthiest zip codes in the city. It has little independent markets where you can buy artisan bread, imported delicacies, fresh fish and specialty meats, but the big chain supermarket, located about a half mile from the Country Club, is well-appointed and does brisk business. After we moved, it took me a while to make the switch. Being in the new store made me cranky. The aisles were unfamiliar. It was too big. I was sure the prices were higher. And the customers were different. The parking lot was full of Land Rovers and Escalades. High heels clicked smartly over the polished floor, designer bags hung from shoulders. I was intimidated. I felt conspicuous handing my coupons over at the checkout, feeling certain that the customers behind me were wondering who let riff-raff like me in.

After a while, the strangeness, and my defensiveness, wore off. I came to appreciate the spacious aisles and wider selection of food, the great deli and sushi counter, and to see that mine was not the only non-luxury vehicle in the parking lot, nor was I the only coupon clipper (thank you, recession, for making frugal fashionable). I acclimatized, to the point that I was shocked at how small and run-down the old supermarket seemed when I ran in there to buy a bottle of water one day. I guess you can't go home again.

Since its closure, I've been getting to revisit the whole experience on a hugely magnified scale. The first week the diaspora hit, it was a culture clash of epic proportion, like Muggle and Wizard worlds colliding, with everyone walking around looking dazed and bewildered. I noticed (or imagined) many of the refugee shoppers also looked hostile or defiant, like they just dared Mrs. Louis Vuitton Bag to make something of their nose piercing or WIC card. I feel you, I telegraphed with my smile, thinking they'd recognize me as an ally. Peace out. Then I realized Mrs. Louis Vuitton Bag was me.

Some of you remember my first feature article for Good Housekeeping was a piece about investment dressing, in which I got to try and keep several high-end designer garments, including one utterly over-the-top, humungous LV bag. I wrote about my initial qualms over it and my subsequent conversion experience in the article, which you can read here. Two years later, "Louie" is my constant companion, so much so, that I take him for granted. I forget that a bag like that is a "statement bag." To me, it's a roomy, durable, comfortable tote, with a great story and fond memories attached to it. I wear it pretty much everywhere, and occasionally I get a look from someone to whom it means something else: Land Rover in the parking lot, gold card in my wallet, french country mcmansion for a home. When I sense that assumption coming my way, I almost want a bumper sticker for Louie that says "my other bag is a hemp sack." At such times, I enjoy a private chuckle over the irony of carrying a $1500 "it" bag while driving a seven-year-old minivan, in which the door handles are still futzed from being broken into last summer, so that I have to roll down my driver's side window to unlatch the door from the outside. I sort of wish the person I perceive to be sneering would follow me out to the parking lot and see my posh ride, but I don't believe my car makes a "statement" any more than my bag does. Nor do the contents of my wallet, the style of my house, or the numbers of my zip code.

It just happens to be. My circumstances are not reliable indicators of my values, my experiences or my character. They are simply circumstantial.

I paid lip service to that idea for years without realizing just how unevenly I applied it.

I was recounting my grocery store transition to my friend Heather recently, who saw my initially defensive attitude for what it was, and put it all too well. "Ah, so you thought you were too good for the rich people in that store, is that it?"

Ouch. Yes, that was it.

I've had a chip on my shoulder about wealth and privilege for most of my life. My father, consciously or unconsciously, passed on the belief that affluence amounts to greed. Money wasn't just the root of all evil; it was evil. You can imagine this has made it difficult to hang onto any. To illustrate, when I pitched that investment dressing article, and the magazine went for it, allocating a budget beyond anything I had in mind (I thought I might be able to borrow a few designer samples for a couple of weeks), I actually wrote my editor in a panic, suggesting that the magazine raffle the wardrobe off for charity. Because, God knows, having just sold our home to avoid foreclosure, hanging by our fingernails on the brink of bankruptcy, and in possession of a wardrobe that was half-Savers, half-Target, I couldn't accept something beautiful, expensive and well-made. Not when there was suffering in the world. In other words, I was too good for it. Practically a saint.

It's really hard to root out something that's embedded that deep. But I'm working on it. A lot of things shifted for me when I wrote that article, both professionally and personally (so much for setting out to prove how superficial and irrelevant fashion is to my life). One was the decision to become more discriminating and less judgmental. We live in a culture that encourages us to build ourselves up by tearing others down. I'm not above a little snark, believe me. I watch The Soup religiously. I occasionally succumb to tabloid gossip. But I restrict my intake and my output of those toxins. Like a person who stops eating a certain kind of food for a while, I'm becoming more averse to them. I find it very uncomfortable to be around intolerant attitudes (you could say I've developed an intolerance). Certain words have become red flags that alert me to them in myself and in others. Like "tacky." I decided a while back to not use the word "tacky" anymore, because I don't believe it's possible to say "tacky" without looking down on someone. I've recently flagged another word: "authenticity." It's so much lovelier sounding than "tacky," but I hear it being wielded in much the same way, just from a different angle.

Not everyone has corrupted its meaning (Leah Peterson used it beautifully and appropriately in her blog Flawed But Authentic, for which I wrote), so I'm only giving it an orange flag. But I count myself among those who've abused it. Authenticity is what I comforted myself with when I felt jealous, insecure, excluded, frustrated. I may not have had much, but I had my authenticity, by god. I wrapped it around myself like a distraught toddler's ragged blankie.

The trouble with claiming authenticity in that way, is that it implies that you have it, and others don't . Which is beyond arrogant. Authenticity means being yourself. If that self happens to be successful, wealthy, well-liked, well-dressed, who am I to say it isn't authentic? Who am I to assume you don't think, don't feel, don't struggle--deeply?

Dad may have not been the best teacher about money, but he was wise about people, and he drilled it into me that everyone has a story that deserves to be honored. My father despised snobbery. As long as people were courteous, he was interested in hearing their story, no matter where they came from. Somehow I missed that this respect extended up as well as down the economic ladder. I became the snob.

Karen brought this post to my attention yesterday, in a hmmm-interesting kind of way, and was probably taken aback when I responded with my pretty intense objection. Not to the author's defensive recounting of her struggles as a single mom living in poverty, but to the way in which she addresses the "mommy bloggers" whose experiences presumably don't compare. She accuses them of being sheltered, but I thought hers was the limited and superficial point of view. Do you know anyone whose life is so charmed that they come to the end of it without profound challenges and experiences? I don't think I do. Every one of our lives is lived --and ends--in a struggle that is nothing less than life and death. We should bow our heads to each other every time we meet, in the checkout line, or anywhere else, just in observance of that fact. No one has the right to dismiss or assess another person's journey.

I'm grateful to the author of that post for giving me an opportunity to realize I'm no longer stuck in that kind of thinking, and I don't wish to send any negativity her way. I know any of my readers commenting on her post will do so thoughtfully and courteously. I responded in the comments section with what my father tried to teach me, and what I think I've finally learned: everyone's life tells a story that's too deep to be read in the checkout line, or fit on a blog. Everyone. Even Mrs. Louis Vuitton Bag.



Blogger Heather B. said...

A group of ladies and I, discussed the "Ho Mama" article over email yesterday evening. Actually I didn't join in, I sat on the sidelines because I always get that itchy feeling when I think about jumping into some sort of Mommyblogger debate. That said, I'm realizing now that it's not just about Mommybloggers but about how we as people, perceive other people. We all have judgment and stereotypes which go unnoticed until we're called out on it and then it's like Oh, yeah, I'm just as judgmental of seeing someone with a LV bag as people are of me when I drive my crappy car to the grocery store while in my pj's. I don't know your situation and you don't know mine but of course just by looks it's human nature to deduce how well off - or not - a person is. And it's really hard to put whatever judgment we have aside for 15 minutes. I do it. You do it. We all do it.

The point is that I'm glad you wrote this post because it's hard to tell what people think from a brief email. I remember reading that post and not being offended but I could see how others might be. It's no fun to be lumped into some monolithic group based on a purse or a car or which side of the proverbial railroad tracks your home happens to be. I guess it's moments like this when some of us take the time to step back and realize that our assumptions of others is just that, an assumption and like you said, "No one has the right to dismiss or assess another person's journey." I hope others heed those words.

5:56 PM  
Blogger Lindsay said...

Great post. You are so on point about the word tacky.

6:02 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

(the artist otherwise known as erniebufflo here)

Good post! I think the Ho Mama poster could have worded her post better-- I have been frustrated sometimes to see so much angst and handwringing on blogs (mama or no) over what could be, at best, considered "first world problems." Like friends who just think the world is ending because the party favor they wanted for a first birthday party is out of stock or something, which, yeah, bummer for your party, but there are people in your town who are worried about what they're gonna feed their baby tomorrow, not to even think about a first birthday party's favors. So I think she could have maybe expressed a sentiment about that, being aware of just what a gift it is to have money and live in this country, and to maybe not talk about "first world problems" as if they are the end of the world, without casting judgment on a whole class of people she knows little to nothing about.

Because otherwise, you're so right. We are all struggling in ways no one else knows, and we should be offering support instead of judgment. Money is just such a hard thing. I worry all the time how I'll react and change when my husband is no longer a resident and he's making real doctor money.

6:10 PM  
Blogger SUEB0B said...

Maybe it comes from living in a land where counterfeit goods are so common, but if I saw your LV bag, I would automatically assume you got it for $35 on Santee Alley. So that's pretty funny, no? You are assuming people think you're a rich snob, and people may be thinking "Oh, she thinks she's fooling people with that big logo bag!" Ha.

6:16 PM  
Blogger Kyran said...

Ha! Suebob, that is truer than you know! It's so funny, it's actually the black check-out girls who appreciate the bag, and praise it with the least self-consciousness. We totally connect over it!

6:21 PM  
Blogger SUEB0B said...

I think some cultures have an easier time accepting dressing up as something to be valued. The Persian-Americans that I know dress and groom so impeccably. I think their families/friends who share their background would be unhappy if they looked slovenly. But with my lower-middle class WASP background, dressing up is viewed with suspicion. You don't want to show off, get above yourself, or, god forbid, waste money on foolishness.

I think these cultural assumptions - the things that are so ingrained that we have a hard time even talking about them - are hard to leap out of, and are our biggest sources of judgement and misunderstanding.

6:29 PM  
Blogger Chrissy said...

I loved this post.

I was given a lot of second-hand designer clothing a few years ago, and I have worn the HECK out of it. It is stuff that I never EVER could have (or would have) bought on my own, and I always have that little defensive explanation in my head when someone notices it.

I struggle with assuming "rich" people don't have problems, too, but recently I heard something profound from a friend: Everyone has had a difficult life, in one way or another. Everyone.

7:22 PM  
Blogger Lindsey said...

I am so grateful to you for writing this post ... I think there is such wisdom in recognizing that assumptions about "authenticity" and judgements about value go BOTH ways, as you say, up and down the value chain. I could not agree more. Just as there are kind and authentic wealthy people, there are nasty and closed-minded people without means. And there are, mostly, at least in my opinion, good-hearted people doing their very best. It behooves us to remain open to the goodness of others. I try to do this, and fail all the time.
Thanks for your words, beautifully expressed as always.

7:50 PM  
Blogger Kyran said...

Sarah, most posts I encounter like that are written with a heaping dose of humor and irony, but even if they weren't, I think everyone's entitled to express their own frustration, bad mood, weariness, worry, annoyance, what-have-you without having to acknowledge the obvious truth that someone, somewhere is having a different experience (as long as they express it in a way that doesn't hurt others).

We're all entitled to swim in both the depths and shallows of our sea. And nobody's forced to read about it. :-)

Thanks for weighing in, and I would be happy to help you enjoy the problem of more money!! xo

8:41 PM  
Blogger K said...

I do think we all have to attempt to understand that everything you mention is just HARDER when one is living in real poverty.

Yes, we all face illness/disease/loss/cancer/death. But some of us are facing it with health insurance, jobs, supportive husbands, or neighbors who bring over casseroles and cards. Yes, we all have weariness, worry, and annoyances, but many of us have never, ever, in our lives had to put our kids to bed hungry, because we had no food, in the midst of our weariness.

I spend a lot of time with kids who don't have enough to eat, who have mothers who love them just as much as I love my kids. Many, many odds are stacked against these kids. I applaud that mother for writing her story. I didn't hear judgment in her writing - just a deep desire to be heard.

9:27 PM  
Blogger Neil said...

The corporate side of mommyblogging, while offering new opportunities to many women, is also a heavily consumer-oriented one -- and companies tend to focus on a certain demographic for their peer to peer advertising. That is what sells -- people selling to people just like you. So, I do think that when people say "mommyblogging" now, at least in the business sense of the word, it is primarily one involving mid to upper middle class mothers in stable marriages selling to others who are the same(especially ones who can afford to go to the ten conferences each year in order to network). That's how life works. I can see how some mother/bloggers who are out of the norm might feel left out because they don't fit this business model. Maybe mothers can come up with a way to broaden the opportunities to different women, especially those of limited financial means.

That said, writing is a completely different animal. Writing is about the soul, and what you have in the wallet doesn't make someone more or less authentic. Should we toss out Henry James and The Great Gatsby from our canon to just focus on stories about the poor?

I think the problem here is because some are talking about mommyblogging in a political/business sense, and others purely as creative expression.

9:46 PM  
Blogger Kyran said...

K, of course there are varying degrees of hardship and suffering. Like others who responded to that post, I suppose I felt somewhat condescended to, that anyone would assume that I don't understand that, or have never come in close contact with it, or perhaps experienced it myself, just because the tag line on my blog doesn't state it. There are aspects of my history that I choose to keep private, as do most other bloggers I know. I understand how someone can read a blog and feel it doesn't speak to them, but to assume that the blogger doesn't address those issues because she just doesn't get it is assuming too much in my opinion.

I applaud her for writing her story too. And I respect that you (and many others) didn't infer negative judgment. I can only speak to what it brought up for me.

10:02 PM  
Blogger Kyran said...

I appreciate the great comments and welcome more, from all perspectives, but I hope this post doesn't become just about that post. I deliberately left off mentioning it until the end of mine, and included it mainly to show the provenance of my thinking. I encourage anyone who wants to comment on the Ho Mama post to read it in its full context (if you haven't already), keep an open mind, and address appreciation or disagreement to the author.

And please, let me know what you think of my post here!

Peace out. :-)

11:24 PM  
Blogger Cid said...

I suffer from a similar "reverse snobbery" sometimes. I went to private school and grew up with very wealthy friends, most of whom still are well off. We, on the other hand, consider ourselves the "have nots" of the "haves." We are very fortunate in many ways but my husband and I have chosen a different path from most of our banker/lawyer/stockbroker friends. We build boats, not a particularly lucrative field but one that makes our customers so happy. And I love the fact that my children are growing up in a little town where they can see that are those who have more than them but there are so many more who have much less.

9:27 AM  
Blogger Steve said...

There may be many reasons to lament my fundamentalist upbringing, but I did repeatedly hear the verse you mentioned:

For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.

My teachers tried to explain that the "love of money" and the craving for it applies equally to those who have it and to those who don't. They also tried to explain the difference between "money" and "love of money."

Of course, no one loves money, per se. Money is an artifice. It's what we can have with money that's our problem. And, mostly that's status. The problem, as you eloquently wrote, is that status can also be achieved by eschewing status.

So, in true Zen fashion, striving for status and striving for non-status are both pretenses. Better just to be. Now, that's something I'd pay good money for.

2:49 PM  
Blogger Amy B. said...

I've debated even commenting on this because, like Heather, I tend not to jump into the fray. And because I know you. And because what I say will sound stupid. And a million other things that women everywhere, no matter what their bank balance, feel self-conscious about.

But whatever, here goes.

Thank you for saying this. As a child of privilege, I do get a little weary of having to explain myself to the people I hang out with. I get tired of having to explain that yes, while I've had a fairly easy go at life, I still feel deeply for those who haven't. And that I've still had my fair share of unique, breathtaking, exquisite pain. I frankly get pissed when my experiences somehow don't count because I had money or love or support.

They are my experiences. They are my feelings. And when we discount anyone's feelings or experiences just because they're different from ours, well, that's when the whole world goes to pot.

That said, I judge. I judge because judgments and stereotypes help our brains compartmentalize and make sense of things that otherwise our prehistoric brain stems and hormones couldn't handle. But thankfully I've evolved enough to (usually) judge without hard feelings. I like to think that I can judge you in one thought and love you, regardless, with the next. It's likely that I'm not as good at that as I think I am, though.

But please, don't take tacky away from me. I love that word. It's just perfect for so many situations. You can't take "precious" away from a Southern girl, can you? So don't take tacky away. It's evocative, laden with meaning, a sort of "jack-of-all-trades" word. And it's sprinkled liberally throughout my conversations.

And to what Neil said -- I HATE that mommy blogging has become consumer-oriented. HATE IT. That's what causes all this backstabbing and anger and jealousy and inauthenticity, and I can't stand it. Steve nailed it -- money is the root of all evil. As long as we're thinking about money and what it does/does not bring, we're not thinking about the things that matter. Says the girl who has money. So what do I know, right?

7:07 PM  
Blogger Kyran said...

Amy, I will grant you special dispensation on "tacky," because I have never heard you say a mean word against another person. Even when we are tweeting over the terribly, terribly wrong use of silk florals in a Sunday bridal portrait ;-)

I love that you chimed in, because it brings it home to me what a tiny, selective slice of someone's experience a blog represents. I know some things about your history, and you know some things about mine, that would probably give us a certain kind of respectability in the eyes of some, yet neither of us feels the need to roll up our sleeves and show those scars just to show what survivors we are. Those experiences may find voice for other reasons, or they may remain private.

Again, circumstances have no intrinsic value. They are just circumstantial.

Steve, I really appreciate seeing the "root of all evil" in it's original context. Yes! Love of money is it, or maybe "desire" is more accurate. A positive net worth is not a prerequisite to suffering from it.

8:18 PM  
Blogger Kyran said...

Neil, I am so far out of the "money blogging" loop, I haven't really thought about that. But I'm pondering it, and will get back to you on it.

8:19 PM  
Blogger sweetsalty kate said...

This was beautifully put. Head swirling with so much I can't get it into words in response. The link between claims of "authenticity" and arrogance... it's always nagged at me, but I've never put it together like that.

The same goes for the rewarding of so-called "courage" in blogging. It makes me uncomfortable - as do the masses of people leaping to reveal (and tweet-pimp repeatedly) their "MOST HEART-WRENCHING POSTS EVER!" (read in the voice of the dude on The Bachelor who promises the most dramatic rose ceremony ever)

It's so rampant now that posts like that make me glaze over. I can't help it. Then I feel like an ungrateful hypocrite, being uncomfortable with this whole dirty-laundry trend. Because on my blog, I've knowingly wrenched hearts, I suppose.

It's a complex thing but I do think, somehow, that the whole 'courage' facade, and all the tinsel that goes along with it, is a cousin of arrogant authenticity.

Holy shit, I'm a cynic. I need a beer.

9:23 PM  
Blogger Kyran said...

And Kate just takes the discourse to the next level. Someone send for beer! (lots, maybe some rum).

That's a brave and generous comment. Your posts sometimes (often) wrench my heart (really it's my gut, but that might sound like it's an averse reaction; it isn't), but you never YANK it. And that's the difference. I don't know if I can explain it, but I know it when I come across it. There's a difference between sharing pain and flaunting it.

9:43 PM  
Blogger sweetsalty kate said...

Well, another level - I was worried I was like "Yeah! How about those apples! Now let's talk BANANAS." I digressed.

Back to your point - it smacks of poseurism for authenticity (or courage) to declare itself as such. Similarly, spirituality need not declare itself. Both are best expressed humbly and through action rather than declaration.

On another note, please don't tell me I'm going to have to edit my Top Ten Signs of Douchebaggery manifesto. DAMMIT.

10:02 PM  
Blogger Thomas said...

(Sorry, I can't number, so I had to delete and repost.)

1.) In Sweden, it is not wealth that is a sin, but the demonstration of it. No one wants to see you flaunting your success.

2.) Most people aren't *given* $1.5K LV bags. It's still a statement.

3.) Not to judge though: If you were given an LV bag, you might as well rock it! Most people cannot justify spending $1.5K on a depreciable luxury item however, (and I do judge the hell out of them for the purchase itself. But hey, I'm a social-capitalist: you get rich so you can make the world better. No man or woman is an island in our interconnected world, and we have new responsibilities to people who were previously totally irrelevant.)

4.) There is no way to equivocate the struggles of the rich with those of the poor. You do not worry about surviving through the summer, or feeding your children tonight, the way a Haitian mother does, and you likely never will, and will never understand what that is like. The rich feel their struggles as deeply, no doubt, but the consequences of failure are rarely as large. (Similarly, I can trip acid and THINK I'm dieing, but that doesn't mean I need a doctor. Experience is not everything, and is actually often deceiving.)

5.) The "other" mommy blogger is still spot-on: the types of struggles the poor deal with are often very different than those of the middle class and up, and far fewer blogs-per-capita are written for her income bracket.

6.) SUEB0B - dressing up does not equal "Who you are wearing" or "spent a lot of money" - not for Persians, not for us. I look damn good in my Walmart slacks. Damn good!

7.) Well said, Steve.

8.) Tacky is cool, so I dunno what yall are talkin bout.

9.) Kyran- can you believe you have a single childless male reading your blog? :) Keep up the thought-provoking work.

10:15 PM  
Blogger Kyran said...

THEATRICAL SIGH. I suppose if Amy can have "tacky" I have to give you "douchebaggery."

Because I am a gracious arbitrer of the language that way.

10:18 PM  
Blogger Kyran said...

Thomas, luring single childless males to my mommy blog is all part of my cougar plan.

I'm sure not going to argue the relativity of suffering with a guy who just came from the Haitian tent camps, and whose heart I know is still there.

I'm just going to say your fire and passion reminds me of my Dad sometimes. And that's one of the highest compliments I can pay.

10:22 PM  
Blogger Thomas said...

LOL, I cannot comment on the scheming of large cats, as you might imagine.

And FTR, "you" in my above post is the reader, generalized, not you, Kyran.

10:42 PM  
Blogger Kyran said...

Thomas, to point no. 4, I think you might be surprised who here in the comments (and how many) have watched helplessly as life is stolen away, violently, tragically, needlessly, from someone they love and could not save.

11:00 PM  
Blogger Kyran said...

As for large cats, ask Patrick to tell you the story of a tiger and her tail :-)

11:05 PM  
Blogger Patrick said...

Well, this has certainly taken a turn for the interesting.

I reluctantly went and read Ho Mamma's post, and while I found her struggle gut wrenching, I also detected a note or two of self-satisfaction and maybe a hint of smug self-righteousness.

I suppose she's earned that.

I can't experience her pain and triumph first hand, just as she can't experience mine, but hopefully - if we are human - we can empathize with one another and give each other the benefit of the doubt.

We've all earned that.

We're all just doing the best we can do. Most of us anyway.

And thank you Kate for the "courage blogging" weariness. I share it.

11:28 PM  
Blogger Amy B. said...

I have to echo Kate and Patrick with the "courage blogging" thing. You two have given me the courage to say something I've been wanting to say!

I can't care for every sick kid in the world. I just can't. I can't read all your stories and post all your badges and put dozens of twibbons on my avatar. I just can't. I'm sorry. I have drama blog fatigue.

While gaining insight into how others handle tough times can often be enlightening and helpful, I want to say to all the drama bloggers out there, "There is more to you than your problems!" Please, talk to us about everything else that's going on. I'm sure you're a pretty cool, funny, interesting person under all that crap.

Sometimes we wear drama like a pre-teen with pimples wears too much foundation. We need to wash it off and be ourselves.

And if your dog's disabled, your kid has ADHD, your mom (who lives with you) has cancer, you have some kind of auto-immune issue and your husband just lost his job, yet you blog about how excited you are because y'all just got approved to be a foster home, and your new crack-addicted infant will be here any day, so can someone help you get a car seat, well you just lost me as a reader. AND FOR GOD'S SAKE, GET HELP, BECAUSE YOU HAVE MAJOR ISSUES!!!!!

Thanks Kyran. I hope this has been as good for you as it has for the rest of us. Who else needs a cigarette?

6:59 AM  
Blogger Kyran said...

I thought we were talking about not judging? :-)

I think the key point you just made is acknowledging that you don't have to read. And when I start thinking in all caps while reading someone's blog (AND BELIEVE ME, SOMETIMES I DO), that's my cue to click the little x in the corner of the window, wish that person health and wholeness, and never return.

People who revel in their pain are victims. People who discuss their pain with insight, perspective and restraint are good writers.

And yes, to twibbon fatigue. I recognize all the good that has been done through such campaigns, but I hardly see the ribbons anymore through the forest of them.

7:56 AM  
Blogger Kyran said...

One thing that really helped me dial down judgment about people in different social-economic situations was a class I took in understanding poverty a few years ago through my church.

The instructor, who worked very closely with inner city poor, told us to consider that what constitutes a set of survival skills to the the middle class is different if you are poor, or very rich. In other words, we look at co-dependency in poor communities and think how stupid, clearly, they are dragging each other down. But when you have very little in the way of material assets or security, depending on each other is its own kind of currency. We think, well that was dumb, to give your windfall tax refund away to relatives and neighbors, but there's a different paradigm at work.

At the other end of the spectrum, it was pointed out that it takes an entirely different set of "smarts" to successfully navigate the world of the country club and the stock market.

It really made an impression on me. Now when I think, well that's just stupid and self-defeating, I try to stop and consider where that person is coming from, and whether I'm looking at an adaptive behavior that is dumb in my world, but smart in another.

And hey, here we are, a bunch of mommy bloggers (and a few men who love and fear them), talking about "the single, the slutty, the low-income, the illegal, the lost, the struggling, the uneducated, and clueless," as the Ho Mama blogger pleaded with us to do. So, hat off to her.

8:43 AM  
Blogger 6512 and growing said...

I love the small, inner transformations that can take place due to a grocery store migration.

Thanks for all the food for thought; I'm munching away.

4:15 PM  
Blogger Denise said...

So tantalizing. So thoughtful. (I, too, have been transforming my attitude about wealth and privilege.) I'm perplexed by Ho Mama blogger's comments about Mommy Bloggers-- I don't chastise her, yet I feel like she's chastising me. I'll try to understand the bigotry she's faced and ignore, but I'm peeved.

To you: Bravo, bravo and encore.

8:31 PM  
Blogger M said...

I have a Rolex (worth about $6K)that comes with a wonderful story of how I came to own it. We are not wealthy. In each of our cars is a film canister that holds change. There are times when what is in the canister detirmines if I get a soda with my taco. - Everything we see, is not what it seems.

I'm sure I'd like your father. It's about taking interest 'in' a person. Shaking the hand of a lady with a fine bag...or shaking the hand of a bag lady.

3:53 AM  
Blogger Mariellen said...

Enjoyed this post very much.

3:54 PM  
Blogger Ronna Detrick Miller said...

I just came across this post - gratefully. I'm most powerfully struck by this statement:

"My circumstances are not reliable indicators of my values, my experiences or my character. They are simply circumstantial."

I'm also struck by the reality that the person I most have to convince of this is myself.

Thank you. Good, good stuff!

4:38 PM  
Blogger Denise said...

Back comment again. I've thought about your post at least twice a day since I read it. You obviously sparked an online discussion, but you should know that you've also ignited an internal, personal one for me. That's a powerful post...thank you again.

7:51 PM  
Blogger Thomas said...

Hi Ronna,

"My circumstances are not reliable indicators of my values, my experiences or my character. They are simply circumstantial."

True as far as we are not in control of determining our circumstances. Speaking very generally, this is more often true for the poor than the rich.

8:06 PM  
Blogger Robert said...

I never met your father, but his attitude seems a very typical Newfoundland one. It is a sweeping generalization, but an awful lot of Newfoundlanders are deeply suspicious of wealth; anyone who has money must have attained it by taking advantage of others.

Americans celebrate wealth - it is an indication of hard work, patience and other positive virtues. Newfoundlanders often see it as the opposite - wealth is evidence of venality and presumption, the dubious mark of someone who thinks they are better than everyone else.

I live in Newfoundland but work elsewhere, mainly in the USA and Western Canada. I am often struck by how communist Newfoundlanders are, in a way invisible to ourselves. It seems the Newfoundlander in you has not so easily been erased.

Your piece is very perceptive.

6:53 AM  
Blogger Kyran said...

Robert, I never thought about that, but I think you're right that it does have some cultural roots. And when you look back at the exploitive merchant system that fishermen were dependent on for so many years of our history, it's kind of hard to blame them. :-)

But Newfoundlanders are also incredibly resourceful from living in scarcity and uncertainty through all those generations. I think my earlier comment about adaptive behavior may apply.

Tall poppy syndrome would take a whole other post; maybe a book.

Thanks for weighing in!

7:59 AM  
Blogger Kyran said...

Denise, as a writer, no feedback could thrill me more than to hear that something I've written is affecting change in someone's life. Thanks for the report.

8:03 AM  
Blogger ourladybeth♥ said...


This post is brave. It takes guts, in any situation, to admit you may have had your part in judging or belittling others and that you are willing to work on yourself in order to battle that attitude. What this post... combined with the other... made me realize personally is that I have a bizarre sort of superiority complex.

You see, I am a single mom of low income. But, in my mind, I don't belong here and I'm a bit snobbish regarding others in circumstances similar to mine. Your post has brought that to light in my own mind and I'm stunned. I haven't fully digested it yet, and feel my own blog post brewing, but I thank you.

8:56 PM  

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