I can run a thread through my life noting all the times I felt different. Wearing a school uniform in grade school, I felt different because my shirt was much longer than everyone else’s. I wanted to live in the country yet grew up in the suburbs and couldn’t relate to the general interest in shopping when all I wanted to do was climb a mountain or play in a stream. Younger than my classmates I did not mature into the teen years with them so again felt different.
ran track and cross country during high school – which at the time was
not considered cool. These were just personal experiences. Then, there
are the family stories. How our ancestors had their culture and
language taken away from them. How they were discriminated, oppressed
and marginalized. How hard they had to fight for their rights against
the ways they were silenced. How they starved at the hands of
landowners who had so much food they shipped it and sold it for profit.
I did not learn my ancestor’s history in school, only hearing bits and
pieces of it from family members.
Feeling different caused me to believe I was alone. The silence of my
ancestor’s stories, the anger expressed when the stories were told,
caused me to feel ashamed and devalued. As an adult I am very aware of
the damage caused by the powerful manipulation of silencing even one
It is that awareness that has opened my eyes to recognize people not
for their circumstances based geography or family history, but for
their inherent humanity. As a result, I am aware that I am not alone.
The way I identify with others has more to do with similar experiences
than with the common way of identifying with others, ranging from
color, economic status, religion, occupation and choice of music.
My life has been much richer noting all the ways I am similar to others
rather than dwelling on the ways I am different. That doesn’t mean I
want to be just like everyone else. It means I want to celebrate the
characteristics which distinguish who I am while at the same time
celebrating how I am similar to others. The two do not need to conflict
with each other. Accepting that they can coexist challenges my
assumptions and learned reactions. I may have compassion for the
homeless, but when my son walked away from me and gave a homeless man
his cookie my learned reaction was to snatch my son to safety. When I
walk into a home that is large and in my mind excessive I have to leave
my judgments aside and simply recognize and accept the individual I am
My assumptions and judgments have the same power to manipulate and
silence others resulting in an environment where similarities are based
on damaging experiences. One skill I am gratefully re-learning is to
first take care of myself which includes taking care of my ability to
see people for who they are not what they are. This has required a new
way of thinking.
To honor this I have come to challenge myself to remove as many
judgments and assumptions I have about myself. It means taking
ownership of my decisions and the way I identify myself to others and
the way I identify others. It means I can’t play the victim because my
ancestors were oppressed while expecting people to value me. As a
woman, I can’t play the helpless female while expecting people to take
me seriously. Instead, I need to take myself seriously and rely on the
similar experiences of others to support a common desire to be taken
seriously despite gender or any other limitation that needs to be
This challenge, of noting life through a thread of similar experiences,
is especially relevant for Black History Month. Whether I am black,
white or purple, rich or poor, Buddhist or Christian, formally educated
or street smart, I am just like everyone else who has experienced love,
fear, joy, sadness, compassion and oppression. Essentially, I am just
like you yet we are wonderfully different.