On surviving trial by first impression, I just read an interesting post by Margaret Laureys on her experience at a Newark’s Juvenile Detention Center. And as a side note (since this seems to be a new blog), tags are very important! “Uncategorized” won’t get many readers ;)
It’s my turn to introduce myself. I begin by announcing that I am here as an academic tutor, not a Christian mentor. I explain that I teach at the College of Saint Elizabeth in nearby Morristown. I see the blank stares and realize that upscale Morristown, though indubitably nearby, might just as well be another planet.
“Our college actively recruits from Newark,” I say, “So I have a lot of students from this neighborhood.”
Faces still blank.
“But we get the lucky kids. I’ve always wondered if educators could do a better job reaching at-risk kids earlier.”
I get a slight response here. The rhetoric is hitting them with a bit more familiarity. But only a bit. I still have not struck a chord.
Then, without forethought or reason, I blurt out, “I am also a recovering alcoholic with two years’ sober.”
The room implodes. I get the same love as the Latino guy with the teardrop tattoos. Instinctively, I am gratified. Guilt ensues just as fast.
Did I pander? Did I fake a bond that I, a middle aged, middle class white woman could never truly have? It so happens I am an addict. It’s also true that addiction bequeaths terrible personal, professional and legal woes. But did saying so make me one of those dreadful Americans who tell folks ravaged by poverty, “I can relate. You see, my Irish great-grandpa also had nothing when he came here. I’m just like you”?
Yup, you pandered. But not to worry; it was your personal spacesuit to protect yourself in that precious, yet rarefied, air of kinship. Empathy is measured in the hydrometer of commonality and how deep you bob into the world of your audience will speak volumes of your specific gravity of trust in their eyes.
It’s the same reason I bow my head in silence when its time to pray at [insert event] when I have no interest, need, inclination or even conviction of faith that Jesus will somehow dive in to save my ass when he’s busy saving children in Africa, rescuing victims from the earthquake rubble and high-fiving Ethel on her way to buy the lottery ticket that will win… this time for sure.
The effort to blend in is sometimes less hazardous than the energy needed to maintain the Level-8 BS shield required from then until eternity for the silent-yet-obvious bollocking (if even implied) you’ll face from these people.
Also there’s something somehow cooler about the truly self-destructive vs. the ambiance of faux drama in the safe-mundane.
Reminds me of this bit from Patton Oswalt.