Save Yourself.

September 18, 2018

The sun moves into Libra later this week, and as this Virgo season draws to a close, I am concentrating on how serving myself is service to the world. (For more on this, sign up for our lunar newsletters which arrive in your inbox on each new and full moon.)

Specifically, I’m thinking about the lessons around service I learned as a white girl child. I learned these lessons partially from the books I loved from eras past (Louisa May Alcott was a fave), partially from my Catholic upbringing and the mission work abroad it encouraged, and partially from popular cultural narratives (think Dangerous Minds, Freedom Writers, Grand Torino; click on the link to see a thorough critique of a handful more). The overarching and overwhelming idea: it was my role to help impoverished, beleaguered people. Among these, I should aim to help the most vulnerable (read: least culpable). Children, for example hadn’t “done anything” to “deserve” their poverty. (Their parents, on the other hand, probably took a wrong turn or two from the supremely fair playbook and ought to figure it out or sleep in the bed they made.)

My career as a teacher helped me to better understand the fallacy of saving. The premise is that the youth need help. Despite their apparent satisfaction (aside from all the teenage angst), they are lacking in just-that-very-thing that I have to offer. Which leads us to the sub-premise: the youth need my help. I have something superior to share, I can guide the youth toward my values and my behaviors, thereby improving their lives.

To perpetuate this fallacy and to cement my usefulness (and part of my identity as a kind white adult), I need to prove how much they need my help, often by noticing ways in which their lives don’t mimic mine and naming that difference a detriment. Your parents won’t let you out alone after dark? They are too controlling, and you deserve the same curfew I had. Your parents expect you to pick up your little siblings from school? You are but a child yourself; that’s too much responsibility.

Naming difference as detriment is a fallacy in itself. It supports the claim that our way is the right way, and it prevents us from considering different ways.

I remember listening in shock as a former teacher told me about her work with elementary school students in a nature program. She gushed with eyes dripping with pity, “You know, these children, they were from places like…well, they had never seen a tree. I remember one little boy saying [and here, inexplicably, but actually very explicably, she adopted a drawl], ‘I’ve never seen eyes like yours before. They’re blue!’”

Given the omnipresence of whiteness in all forms of media, even if you could find a child in the US who has “never seen” blue eyes, I’m going to go ahead and say that that child is not to be pitied. It’s not an inherent lack to have never seen blue eyes. (The tree, on the other hand…did this happen??)

What I was privileged to begin to learn as a white adult among mostly white adults serving mostly black and brown youth is that the kids are all right. Just because some parents have earlier curfews doesn’t mean I need to bring in my decades-old experience with curfews. Just because I didn’t grow up picking up my little siblings from elementary school doesn’t mean I need to intervene. In fact, my opinions about their lives are not only irrelevant but unwelcome. Possibly my favorite Nikki Giovanni poem, “Nikki Rosa” reminds me to hold my tongue when the topic is someone else’s life.

Part of noticing the joy in other people’s lives is trusting them to define joy for themselves. Part of building that trust in others is learning to trust ourselves to define our own joy rather than relying on someone else’s definition.

This week, as Virgo season wraps up, take note of what brings you joy in your daily life. Try to tap into sources of joy that might be hard to explain to someone who isn’t you. Affirm yourself by saying, “I know what makes me happy; I am the expert in living my own life.”

Advanced practice: take note when someone surprises you and you notice judgement flaring up. Offer this person (even if it is a stranger behind the wheel of a poorly-driven vehicle) the affirmation, “You know what makes you happy; you are the expert in living your own life.”

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