Saturday, February 6, 2010

A Skewed Perspective and Clear Choice

Call me sentimental, call me soft or call me a liar (you may all be correct), but I find that more now than ever in my life, I really enjoy seeing the individuals who were written off "early in the race," so to speak, doing well in life and showing how flawed socioeconomic stereotypes are in our country.

For example, while I was growing up and even as I worked at the newspaper, the trailer park in Mahomet - Candlewood Estates - was considered to be the "bad side of town," and where "all the bad kids" came from.

Many of the families who lived there when I grew up in Mahomet and during the time I worked there (which is in the very recent past) were and are considered to be low-income families. In the same regard, their children are considered to be "high-risk" based on the environments in which they live.

I won't lie; I know Candlewood has certain aspects about it that would make some people reading this go "see - that's exactly why it's a bad place." It DOES have drugs; it DOES have abuse; it DOES have crime.

But that's not the point, because unfortunately for us (and those who are short-sighted enough to believe only "bad parts of town" have bad things happen in them) we live in a society surrounded by these things. These are not isolated incidents.

The point is, we can't see the forest for the trees. Because of the stigma we have allowed ourselves to associate with certain areas such as low-income qualified housing complexes, trailer parks and even slums, we are also allowing ourselves to be blind to potential, and this often robs those who need our caring and understanding the most of the experience and guidance we have to offer: The children.

As cliche as that may sound (lord knows I've mocked the 'will someone PLEASE think of the children' phrase), it has never been more true for our country. As much as we would like to write children from "troubled" areas off, as members of the society they live in and that we have created for the, it is our duty to do what we can IF we can.

The question then becomes, where do we start? Well, in my opinion, the best place to start such is with ourselves. How do our views affect how we see people? How do they affect how we treat people? Do we even notice?

These are questions I often ask myself when I encounter certain situations - many times in public places like stores or restaurants - in which one person obviously considers him or herself better than another (i.e. a wealthy diner acting rudely towards a waitress or a shopper showing an attitude towards the clerk at the counter or shoppers he/she feels to be of a lesser background).

Far too many of us seem to have the notion that based on our levels of education, our backgrounds, our current situations (often financial) or otherwise, we are better than others around us. Others such as the families who live in Candlewood.

We see trailers and think "they must not be smart enough to own a real house." Then we see their children and automatically assume "they're probably trouble makers," or "that kid is going nowhere fast."

We say these things not because we know, but because it's the easy thing to say based on how society has told us we should treat people: The wealthy get our respect and those who are not wealthy do not deserve it. In the same regard, the better off the family, the better off their children will be.

Well, here is a newsflash to those of you who believe this: You. Are. Naive.

I've said this before and I will say it again because I believe it so fervently: Rich does not mean smart and destined to be successful, nor does poor/middle class mean stupid and going nowhere. This is something that irritates me to no end.

I cannot tell you how many conversations I've heard or been part of in which someone says "well, those kids in the trailer park, they're just bad news." What an ignorant, self-righteous statement.

Yet people make them every day about children who can no more help their situations than we can help the growth of our own toenails. They make them with the expectations of being right and without the intention of stopping for a second and considering what they could do to help things turn out different.

In reality, all it takes for us to impact the lives of these children is to believe in them and act as the role models they may need or the ear they seek that will listen or the wisdom they seek when trying to make a decision. You could be that person. You could be the person who shows a child written off as a "never kid" - who will "never" do this or "never" do that - that he or she can do great things. You would be surprised how far that will go.

I'd like to list myself as an example. As a child, I was the son of a mechanic and a secretary in a town full of parents who were doctors, lawyers and business owners. I didn't wear a pair of Nike shoes until I was in sixth grade and even then, I shared them with my brother. I had mediocre grades due to ADHD and some of the worst acne a kid can have at that age. Needless to say, I was a target for the "socially superior" to tear me down.

I experienced first-hand what it's like to be tormented and teased because of what I didn't have and what people didn't think I was capable of. There came a point when I was in junior high that my parents received a note from the administrators stating I was "in danger of being a high school dropout."

However, I was fortunate enough, through all of this, to have wonderful people around me who believed in what I was capable of, even if they didn't know what it was yet. They lent me their ears when I had questions, offered me their wisdom when they saw I needed it and encouraged me when I didn't feel I had no potential.

Those are the kind of people we need to be, for the sake of not only their future, but our own. There is a reason our society progresses (if you ask me, anyway): Because we allow our perspectives and expectations to progress and our understanding to grow.

It's so easy to look at someone who is rich and affluent and think "they must really have it together." And that would be an appropriate thought if this were a perfect world. But it's not a perfect world and in this imperfect world, even the affluent have problems.

For example, Mahomet is considered to be a very wealthy area, full of professionals who have their act together and lead normal lives. For many people in Mahomet, Candlewood is the sore spot on an otherwise perfect apple.

However, despite this belief, members of the "affluent" part of the Mahomet community (i.e. everything that isn't the trailer park or the Lake of the Woods apartments) experience the same things as the people they judge without knowing.

Here are things that happen outside of Candlewood Estates that I know of for a FACT: Drug sales and use; infidelity; abuse; theft; cheating; alcoholism; underage drinking; vandalism; pornography; - the list could go on.

I'll admit it, for a long time, I believed I was better than the people of Candlewood because I didn't live there and they did. That's it. I believed this because it seemed to me - at the time anyway - as the way things were meant to go. My friends treated the kids who lived there poorly and because I didn't know any better (and never bothered to ask my parents), I followed suit. I try to regret very few things in life, but I do regret how I treated some of my fellow classmates.

Fortunately, I had the excuse of being young and dumb. As an adult, I know better. Others my age - and older - do not, and that saddens me.

It doesn't matter WHERE you live - in a million-dollar home or in a trailer - life happens and so do the bad things that come with it. Even the things we would rather deny than accept. And worst of all? The ones who suffer the most are the ones who have the most potential to change the outlook and build a stronger community.

So, the question still remains: Where do we start? Simple: You start with yourself. One person may not be able to change the entire world, but one person does have the potential to change the world for a child with the simple gift of encouragement.

I will always recall this from a conversation I had with a friend of mine, because it is so fitting for discussions like this, but we always remember two kinds of people from our past: Those who encouraged us and those who looked down on us.

Which one do you want to be remembered as? And are you willing to do what is necessary to be the right one?

1 comment:

  1. Interesting post. Grew up their, now I own my own $200k house. I do remember rich preppy kids looking down on me. Funny how my net worth is higher that most of them.