Rowyn (rowyn) wrote,


There's a curious phenomenon where talking about certain advantages and disadvantages is associated with guilt. For example, if I say "I was lucky, my parents had a healthy marriage", no one thinks I should or do feel guilty for having been born to a good family. But if I say "I have the advantage of being born white", a subset of people will think that I mean "I feel guilty because I was born white".

But I don't.

I was born into a culture that, like every human culture that ever was, makes a whole bunch of assumptions about how to treat individuals and how individuals should/will behave based on factors that are largely out of the individual's control. We make assumptions about what people will be like based on race, ethnicity, genitalia, socio-economic class of parents, the language they grew up speaking, the accent they have, physical attractiveness, and many, many more. We make further assumptions based on things that are somewhat within individual control but still don't necessarily mean what we think they mean. Like "if you're interested in math, you can't like makeup" and "people with a lot of tattoos can't have a professional work ethic" and "if you like sports you can't like D&D" and many other things that might have some correlation across a population, but certainly aren't 1:1.

My culture -- and this is a little unusual among human cultures, across the whole of human history -- has started to think that maybe pigeonholing its members is silly and perhaps we should think about stopping. We haven't actually STOPPED, mind you. Slowed down some. In some areas. Not all of them. Pigeonholing saves ever so much time over evaluating an entire individual each time, after all. And there are so many things one can leap to judgement on! Most of them we don't even notice, or think are perfectly justified. ("Of course all liberals are naive!" "Of course all conservatives are narrow-minded!")

This is too big a topic, which is part of my point.

I don't feel responible for the prejudices of my culture. I don't blame myself for being born white, female, middle-class, with educated parents, etc. It is a happenstance that mostly worked to my benefit, but I don't feel guilty about it, because it wasn't something I did or something I could have changed.

What I am trying to be is aware of it.

This is partly in the hopes of doing a little bit to change the massive ocean that is my culture (I've got an eyedropper! HERE I AM.)

But it's mostly about unlearning the habit of judging by my own experience. When I wrote about frugality last week, I wanted in particular to let go of faulting other people for their spending habits. To stop thinking "I managed when I was poor, so why can't everyone?" Other people are not me, and the reasons for their struggles are many and varied and mostly invisible to me. And maybe I can't learn to see those reasons (sometimes they are deliberately hidden, for that matter), but I can learn to assume such reasons exist.

I might sometimes make the wrong assumption there, too, but when I assume humans are all doing their best the world feels like a better, brighter place. Maybe all I have is this eyedropper against the ocean, but other people will wield their eyedroppers too! Things can get better.
Tags: philosophy

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