waiting on the front porch

she just stood there on the front porch waiting for her will to come and get her she was packed she had a suitcase full of noble intentions she had a map and a straight face hell bent on reinvention she was learning about please and huge humilities then one day she looked around her and everything up til then was showing and she wondered how did i get here without even knowing where i was going? ~ani difranco

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Location: montreal, quebec, Canada


Wednesday, September 13, 2006

a week ago, i was sitting in a bar, drinking a catch-up beer (and a catch-up shot) with some old friends i hadn't seen all summer. true to form, i was one of the last to leave the table, so i was also privy to the last conversation of the evening.
the last conversations always tend to be the most interesting, in my books. it's when the gloves come off, in the most non-combative sense of the term - people have been talking for a few hours so the shyness has worn thin, the beer has flowed, and if you're an intellectual geek the way my friends tend to be, philosophy oozes from the pores.
i think it was my girl friend who sparked the debate. i can't remember the origins, but 'genderfication' (is that a word? did i just make that up?) came up. she said, and i agreed, that female students are treated differently. (i wish i hadn't been slightly intoxicated because i am searching for more specifics than that and they are not coming up.)
now, for the record, for once i'm not trying to open up the feminist debacle. i just honestly believe that teachers (both male and female) treat male and female students differently, and that it's impossible to fully understand what each person goes through if you haven't gone through it yourself.
i'm not saying you can't empathize with a certain person or situation, but if you haven't truly LIVED it, you can't really ever GO there.
i can speak for a white, female, (dis)abled perspective. i know intimately the challenges and privileges i deal with on a day to day basis. it seems somewhat (very) disrespectful to me to approach someone whose life i have NOT lived, and tell them i know exactly what they have gone through.

three of my best friends in the entire universe have markedly different world-views than i do.
my high-school best friend comes from a muslim, indian family. she is very progressive thinking,(as is her family, to a certain extent), and i have watched her grow up, toeing the line between traditional values and what she, a a modern canadian teenager, wanted for herself.
another good friend of mine is a young, white, gay american male. different influences, different country, different value system. we have spoken on a number of occasions about the discrimination he faced growing up, and being identified as 'gay' and 'other' before he was willing to self-identify as those things.
the last best friend identifies as black, and grew up as part of an immigrant family in urban montreal. he has dealt with issues of racism growing up that i wouldn't have been able to fathom ten years ago.

there are all places in which we intersect - where the growing pains we have endured as human beings are similar. but i would feel incredibly presumptious telling any of them i know what they are going through, never having experienced racial or sexually-oriented discrimination.

this particular viewpoint set off some firecrackers, especially among the men at our table. (we were evenly split for this 'last conversation' at 2 and 2.) the comment was made that we all bleed the same colour, and that it is this 'refusal to understand' that is behind the problems in the world. (i'm paraphrasing; it's been a week; i was intoxicated, so the quotes are not exact.)

in my psych class, we've talked a lot this week (ironically enough) about experiential differences. apparently, to the psych world, no ONE person experiences life or the world in the same way as another. even siblings, even monozygotic twins, can have markedly different viewpoints, temperaments, and opinions, due to the different cues they get from the people around them. this makes sense to me, only in my own case: i grew up with an even-tempered, athletic, extroverted sister. i was the passionate and stubborn, artsy and bookish, eccentric and shy one. of course our parents, and the world at large, treated us differently. of course we grew up differently. of course we have different world views now.

i've been simmering this question on the back burner of my mind since, wondering if i've been going about this the wrong way. i can't decide.


Blogger Sacred Suzie said...

In the contemporary feminist perspective, we do tend to narrow things down to our individual differences which makes it hard to see our similarities. I think we are all very different people but can care about humanity as a whole, even if we're completely different.

I love discussions like this too but sometimes I get way too involved and invested...and emotional!

9:39 a.m.  
Blogger Superhero Activist said...

I think our lives interssect and dissect at various points in our "experential" backgrounds. Sometimes we are converging, at others, diverging - but always in motion.

I think we feel an affinity towards a person based on where we are in that perpetual motion.

I think we have the unique ability to seek out what we need to feel fufillment, to feel happy in the places we are. Sometimes we need to be someone's emotional rock, other times we are someone else's emotional rock. It is a matter of degrees. In what place can we enrich ourselves the most?

As such, we create connections with people who have diverse backgrounds because there is something distinct about them, as a person, as a background, as a perspective that we need in our lives.

Yes, we come from different worlds, we're placed into separate boxes which ultimately colour our exchanges, but I think the part of us that is essentially, human, the raw nerves of feeling, that remains the same.

I want you to come to my Philosophy class with me so much now, haha. We're discussing the Nature of Man. That "motion" analogy was courtesy of Hobbes.

10:53 a.m.  
Blogger j said...

(High-school) best friend here.

I take the middle ground, as I usually do:

no, I don't think we can "know" what other people go through in their lives - whether their backrounds are similar or not - in part because I agree that our experiences, even if we're from similar backrounds, will be processed in different ways because, well, to put it tritely, we're different people and see/experience things... differently. oh, man, this is badly articulated, I'm just taking a quick break from a pile of work, I'm sorry. I mean, because we've been raised differently and taught to process things differently; because our neurons work slightly differently, or faster or slower; because we have different points of reference; because we have different associations and emotions, etc. becausebecausebecause etc.

Anyway, I do, however, think we can empathize with each other - some more than others, and all more with one person than another - but, you know, yay empathy.

This is not a 'refusal to understand'. This is a refusal to presume that I know how someone else feels.

1:05 p.m.  
Blogger Scott said...

I think that experience shades our lives in so many ways. You can not take a person out of the context in which they were raised. It happens and thus makes everything that they experience unique to them.

So of course males and females are treated differently. When a statement like that is said, I automatically assume that it is worse for the women, but that is not neccessarily the case, they are just different.


1:07 p.m.  
Blogger Egan said...

Completely unrelated to your post, sorry to hear about the school shooting today. I hope things cool down in your fair city. Bon courage Montréal!

1:36 p.m.  

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