Monday, February 8, 2016

How our Excuses Define our Lives

I had a bit of a light bulb-moment today. I was reading an article online about a woman who had gone to jail for selling drugs. Her story was quite sad. She was a single mom, had a sick mother and worked a low-paying job in a restaurant. She felt like she did not have any other choice to support her family, so she started selling/distributing drugs and the court sentenced her to 25 years in prison.

For a first time offender, her sentence was harsh, and considering other aspects of her story, she may have been messed over by the courts. However, my light bulb-moment is more about the comments on the story than on her story, which, while tragic, shows the consequences of a bad decision.

Comments on this post varied from “we don’t jail people who sell alcohol when a drunk driver kills someone,” to “people who took the drugs made their own decisions,” to “well, she was poor … she didn’t have any other choice.”

The ignorance of all the comments drove me a bit nutters (alcohol is legal, heroine isn’t and yes, people who take drugs chose to do it, but she still committed a crime because selling drugs is illegal!) but I found myself most frustrated with those justifying her decision to sell drugs because she was poor.

I am not going to pretend that my life isn’t pretty good. I live in a comfortable apartment, drive a reliable car and my kids go to safe schools. However, my mother’s life was not “pretty good,” in fact, it was pretty terrible.

Abuse. Sexual assault. Poverty. And that’s all before she was a divorced mother of four living in a burnt out home. Literally. Our house caught fire before my parents were divorced and we lived in it during the last stages of fixing it up.

By all accounts, she had every excuse to turn to illegal activities. It would have been easier. She could have made more money. But she didn’t. She walked miles to work at a grocery store and then she walked to sell plasma so we could pay rent and buy groceries. She got help to put food on the table and then she worked until she could put herself through nursing school.

Was it hard? Hell yes. We didn’t get everything we wanted, but she did the best she could to make sure we had what we needed and even made sure we were involved in some activities. I have a good life because she chose to live a hard life. Was my childhood perfect? Nope. Is my mother perfect? No. But she made a perfect choice to work her ass off and do good by her kids so we didn’t have any excuses for failing when we grew up.

I listen to my mom telling me that she regrets missing holidays and having to work so much. I remember feeling guilty as a kid because we would spend most of our holidays away from her. But, I for one, am glad that she feels guilty for working because she doesn’t have to feel guilty for doing something illegal or desperate.

I empathize with people who think the only choice they have is to sell drugs, or worse. What I feel worse about though is that these people never believed they had another choice. Yes, society sucks sometimes, and yes, the government can be unfair, but, our own worst enemy is ourselves.

When we give up or settle for less because we tell ourselves, “we don’t have another choice,” we’re teaching our kids they don’t have another choice. People succeed. People in far worse circumstances than you (or I) will ever be in, succeed. They succeed without turning to illegal activities, and sometimes they overcome those things and still succeed.

It is far too easy to make excuses for why we are stuck. The hard work, which is often long and frustrating, comes from ignoring those excuses and choosing the “road less traveled” because it has a better view at the end.

I have my own excuses to kick over. I make excuses every day, but today it became clear that most of the reasons that my writing career is only so far and my weight loss is only so far, is because it’s easier to blame someone or something else than to find a way to make it work.  I don’t want to end up in a prison of my own making years from now and realize if I had worked harder or tried to find a different way, I could be free. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Stop Playing the Victim Card

I find myself frustrated with the inundation of articles entitled “Don’t say (insert something someone is sure to find offensive here). It’s annoying. In fact, I've talked about this before, in a slightly more jesty-sort of way.

Every time I see one of these articles, my blood boils because I think, “seriously, another person is telling me what I can or cannot say. Please.”

My biggest issue with the articles that tell us what we can’t say, is that they are reinforcing victimization. When we tell people “Oh, you can’t ask a mom why she isn’t nursing,” or “You can’t ask your friends if they plan to have kids,” or “Don’t call my girl a tomboy,” we are reinforcing the idea that being a victim is okay. We are saying that we are somehow incapable of choosing not to be offended or that we are incapable of just living our life without worrying about what other people think.

All of us know (or at least should know) basic etiquette. Wash your hands, be nice, smile and don’t be nosey. However, those black and white rules aren’t always black and white and not everyone is offended by what other people would call “nosiness.” Choosing to be offended because someone has fewer personal boundaries is a waste of time and energy.

It’s just as easy to smile and nod as it is to list the 40 things that might offend someone. Actually, it’s much faster and consumes far less energy to smile and nod than it does to get all grumpy-cat on your keyboard.  

This concept of choosing not to be a victim extends to even some of the biggest movements we are seeing in the world right now. Gender-equality, sexual- preference equality, racism etc. Yes, there is room for improvement in society and yes, we should work harder to ensure equal rights and fair treatment. However, people playing the victim hinders some of the progress that could be made in these areas.

For example, instead of showing our girls that women are just as capable at sports and tree climbing as boys by just letting them do it, we write lengthy posts ranting about how being called a “tomboy” is so offensive. 

When we become wrapped up in defeating “the man” we lose time we could be spending improving our own lives and improving our own communities through example and service.

Instead of creating a media circus every time a baker refuses to make a cake for a same-sex wedding, tell your friends to stop going there and choose to work with someone who respects you and your decisions. Don’t go whining to the news outlets and threaten to sue.

Instead of taking off your tops and marching in protest for women’s rights (I mean, really of all the women’s issues, that’s the one you’re going to fight for?) go to work and work your ass off. Develop the skills you need to become the next CEO and earn that pay raise.

There is a time and a place to speak up and I would never discourage anyone from taking a public stand for things that are truly important, but spending time on the insignificant ways we choose to be offended is a waste of energy. We cannot expect others to respect our sexuality, gender, race or other lifestyle choices as equal if we are constantly allowing ourselves to be a victim.

Stop telling other people what to say (or what not so say) and start living as if you really don’t care what they say, because you shouldn’t.