One of the things I have found to be true is that many people have a limited scope of experience with the world — more aptly, the many different “worlds” that exist within our society. Now, in no way do I claim to have experienced everything the world has to offer; far from it. However, I do believe I have a unique experience that merits sharing.
Growing up in the “city”, I was, as a child and adolescent, exposed to many things that most of the people I know were not. There are many who would call my neighborhood “unsafe”. Yes, there is the occasional break-in or theft and one of my good friends was held up for his bike when he was 10 years old. But a little bit of “insecurity” is a small price to pay for perspective.
In fact, in America we put such a high premium on security that sometimes it’s hard to imagine that the majority of the world (and even many people in our own country) live every day in fear. Fear that their children won’t be able to do any better than they could, fear that they might not be able to eat or feed their family and, yes, fear that they might die or be killed. These are the realities that many people live with on a daily basis, yet we often choose to ignore.
I was home-schooled (surprise!) until high school, which allowed me to read and read and read. Fortunately, I had parents who cared enough to teach me. Unfortunately, literacy is still the largest deciding factor in whether or not children will be successful, so much so that local governments could reasonably project prison budgets from third-grade reading scores — it’s that important. I, then, attended public high school. Yes, you heard that right: public (boogie, boogie) high school where I was, as a white male, a minority for, most likely, one of the only times in my life.
From there, I had the fantastic opportunity to attend Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, the top school of its kind in the country. At Northwestern, I was surrounded by many very smart, driven, talented people who, for the most part, had one thing in common: they were decidedly well-off. It was a different world, for me — something I had, truly, never experienced before.
The thing that really impressed itself upon me is the gulf of experience between the rungs of society. First, there is the issue of expectations and how a parent’s station in life and their prodding can, almost singlehandedly, determine that child’s aspirations in terms of schooling and education. And, then, it was the general lack-of-understanding of what it is like to live a different life than the one you’re given. This fact was even further impressed after I left school. I realized that many people do not “know” the realities of the world — not only in terms of economic inequality but inequality, in general. Put bluntly, this inherent difference in people’s lives is something no one can really understand. But we can try…and experience is, I believe, the best lens through which to view those things we do not know, ourselves.
I believe that inequality and the dearth of empathy (or sympathy) is the great disease that plagues our world. When will we be rid of it? The answer is both encouraging and disheartening. We could be rid of it next year…or tomorrow…or in the next moment if we would only step back and say “I’m like everyone else and everyone else is like me”. Alright, alright, we’re not all the same but, as humans, we all have the same desires: to be loved, to be treated fairly and with kindness, to be able to determine what our life will be and to have that same hope for our children. Yes, we are all different but, in the end, we really aren’t that different.
Am I arrogant to think that my experiences can help people (or help people to change their minds)? Maybe. But, I also think that many of us have valuable experiences to share, that each and every one of us have experienced something our fellow human beings have not. These are the things we need to share because if they are not known they cannot be understood and I believe a little bit of understanding can go a long way. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: nothing that hasn’t been written down has ever changed the world. So, write. Tell us about you. Regardless of how you do it — through prose, through poety, through journalism or through journaling — just write. And, who knows, maybe you’ll change some minds; maybe you’ll change the world.
As a note, I’ll be blogging on the Huffington Post about many of the issues surrounding inequality. I will continue to write about and share my fiction here but if you would like to hear some of my more political commentary, please feel free to follow me there, as well.