The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

You know, I balance uneasily on the issue of childhood deprivation. On the one hand, you can take any given problem: poverty, racism, single-parent families, abuse, etc., and demonstrate that, on average, such problems drop the curve—the average person, given one of these situations, will perform below the average of the person without such disadvantages.

On the other hand, a notable percentage of high-achievers came from such backgrounds. What to make of this?
1) It might be that a person with an extraordinary innate capacity will actually be motivated to higher accomplishment by childhood trauma.
2) It might be that most high-achievers come from healthy backgrounds, and we hear so much about those who come from damaged backgrounds BECAUSE they are so unusual. (This is pretty much what I think.)

It is interesting that there seem at least two completely different schools of response I hear when people talk about poverty or deprivation in relation to achievement. The “your past made you who you are” response is very in alignment with my own attitudes…but there is a problem with this.

My sense is that people who do NOT suffer problem “X” have a hidden belief that if THEY had problem “X” they would do better with it than the average “X”-er. Now, that may be true, and is probably a healthy way to think. This only becomes a problem when someone thinks that the average member of THEIR group, were they born into problem “X,” would perform better than the other group.

So…when I speak about being without a father, or the problems associated with race and my childhood, I get the same response from two entirely different groups. The “maybe you wouldn’t have accomplished what you have had your father been there…” response can be a truth relating to the fact that certain people, confronted with challenges, fight back twice as hard.

The average person doesn’t. The average person, confronted with a challenge, will suffer for it in comparison with a person without said challenge. When someone says: “perhaps growing up black actually motivated you to excel” my antennae tingle. Do they mean that they think I’m unusual, and respond to challenge by working twice as hard? Or are they saying that the average black person has below-average results because the intrinsic nature of their being is sub-standard?

(And those of you who think blacks actually have less intelligence are, in my mind, saying exactly this. Unless you were to say that there are multiple qualities which add up to a quality human being, and blacks have MORE of another of these qualities, so that the total is the same even though the distribution is different—which argument I’ve never heard convincingly expressed by anyone who believes in the Bell Curve. Lip service, yes. Actual convincing belief, no.)

So I watch this response. There have simply been too many times in my life when I’ve been encouraged to consider myself “different” from the average black person. Well, probably. But no less “different” than I am from the average white person, I promise you. I’m just me. I never had protective coloration, or the luxury of believing I was the same as anyone, or had any herd at all to belong to. Fandom was probably the first place I ever felt relatively invisible…and that was until I started realizing that fans, regardless of their protestations of color-blindness, were just as human and prejudiced as any other members of the species. Sigh.

There was just no where to hide, ever.
But…that led to an interesting series of actions and attitudes. If I couldn’t model myself after any man (no dad, no uncles or grandfathers, mother never re-married. All media models until about 1965 were white) then I began to dig deeper into myself, seeking whatever ultimate core to my personality I might find.

I think that the early disappointment and disillusionment set me up in a way I never anticipated: I knew that what I was being told about the world was bullshit, and I knew it from the age of seven or eight. That’s a horrible age to learn something like that. I knew that there was nothing I could rely on, nothing I could trust, no one who could tell me the truth. There was no security.

When I think back on it, I wonder how that poor kid survived, I really did. I could find no moral core. No absolute reality that related to this world. I stole from every job I ever had, and couldn’t stop myself based on any sense of right and wrong.

How did I stop myself? By taking the position that every time I stole, I diminished my belief in my ability to earn what I wanted without risking imprisonment. Honesty became the more efficient course.

I generally feel no guilt, no shame. I have to find other ways to motivate myself, because at some deep level I feel that every adult who should have given me an accurate view of who I was and what I was and what the world was…lied to me. Maybe not deliberately, but they did.

I couldn’t begin to tell you how much therapy, meditation, counseling, ceremony, psychoactive experimentation, prayer, biofeedback, and other stuff I went through trying to find the core of my reality.

And the deeper I went, the more I realized (or came to believe) that there was simply nothing there. No final reality, no solid core, no essence of “me” that is then expressed in its corporeal form. Nothingness…and Everything…two sides of the same coin.

But no “me.” And that realization (or belief) separated me from everyone, and everything, in some ways that were kinda odd for my age. It’s taken me quite a while to develop a theoretical model to even BEGIN to explain some of this stuff to others. Had to look far and wide. Truth be told, you can sense it in the Red Letters of the New Testament. I don’t see or feel it in much of what Christ’s followers wrote, though.

I think I became something of a Zen Christian—that is, any of the principles of the Bible that I can verify through the interaction of natural forces, or the behavior of animals, I will consider truth. The rest, to me, is politics.

All around Robin’s barn we’re going, this morning. Where does all this connect to what I was saying?

My ego-shell is definitely damaged, and may never heal. I spend time every day separating myself from it, but life slaps you upside the head and reminds you that you are human. Then, the crap about race, and gender, and career and so forth gets very real.

If I hadn’t been black. If I hadn’t been small and weak. If my father had been in the home…who would I be?

I have no idea. It is reasonable to posit that I might not have accomplished what I have. But then I might. Like I said, the average person, given a broken leg, will limp. The extraordinary person might rise to athletic supremacy. What motivates that? I don’t know, and I know I have an aversion to believing there is anything special about me…that road seems to offer little joy.

What road DOES offer joy? The road of service, the road of growth and evolution, the road of creativity. To take my attention off myself, and put it on the work that needs to be done, that I might be able to do if I can just rise beyond my wounds and stay there long enough to report back what that territory looks like.

That, of course, is what this blog is: an attempt to dump out the trash barrel in my soul, to lighten the load so that I can perform at the highest possible level for another day.

Look at the stuff that repeats in my online journal. I’ve spent hellaciously more time, energy and money on my inner work than the average person, and it still plagues me like a multi-headed hydra. Maybe it always will.

But every time I look at someone who is homeless, or broken, or lost, or lonely, I remember the endless string of teachers, mentors, therapists, courses, and peak experiences that have enriched my life, and been grateful that my mother set me on this path, even though she herself was not able to walk it.

There, truly, but for the grace of God, go I.

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