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On Showing Up, Language, Being Offensive + Contrarian (90 in 90)

This long path has come to an end for me.

91 days ago, I challenged some of my students to write 90 posts in 90 days. To get up every day and write. Write when they didn’t have anything to say. Write when they did. Write when they were sick and couldn’t think. Write when they were excited to sit in front of the keyboard.

Showing up is 90 percent of the battle in life. When you don’t want to. When you think you can’t. When everything inside you is telling you to run away. If you can find a way to show up, you’ve oftentimes won already.

***

Too often we don’t show up. We keep our mouths shut. We allow the common, collective knowledge and wisdom to go un-challenged. We say nothing when we know we should. When we are un-comfortable.

It’s part of the Social Contract, after all.

For the most part, I try to avoid such thinking. Because of that, I have been described with many adjectives – contrarian, argumentative, just to name a few of the more polite ones.

I’m okay with that. Mostly. Although I certainly wish people saw it for what I mean it to be instead of what they perceive it to be.

We let things pass. Too easily. Too often. We let them pass and they become acceptable. Until somebody, at some point, makes a big deal about it.

Yesterday, for instance, I made it a point in my social media class to tell a visiting professor that I don’t believe in “audience analysis” and “audience segmenting” in the way I’ve seen it done at newspapers. The fact that the Cincinnati Enquirer, for instance, has a specific list of black sources and women sources is offensive to me. The fact that they work to create “women’s sections” is offensive to me.

Because I don’t like blacks and women? Certainly that is one way to look it at.

Here’s how I mean it: I don’t believe that we can easily segment people. I don’t believe in “native” populations or “communities” of people. I believe if you have to create “special” lists it means you aren’t doing your job right in the first place. I believe when you use a term like “under-served populations” you have immediately classified these “populations” as The Other and assume that, because you don’t know and write about them, that they are under-served.

I find the language we use to be patronizing and offensive.

But I understand why this language exists. I understand the intentions behind the language. I don’t wholly disagree with what people are trying to do with their lists.

I just don’t think we should give kudos to it. It’s important to remember: it’s still pretty screwed up.

This makes me a contrarian.

***

I voice these opinions, oftentimes in four-letter colorful language (or if I’m really going, multi-syllabic ones, which are my absolute favorite even though George Carlin called them redundant).

This is not an accident on my part. It’s not representative of a bad upbringing. It’s not because I don’t have better words.

I use the words I want to use. I use them specifically. I use them for a reason.

And if you get offended by a word, I suggest that says more about the power you’ve given a word than the actual word itself.

I am a writer and a storyteller. Words are my tools. I love them all. Even the “bad” ones.

***

I do all of these things, say all of these things, and encourage my students to do and say all of these things. I push them to find their voices. I push them to stand up to me, to others, to anyone.

I implore them to find their way in the world. Not the way of someone else. Not the way of their parents, their teachers, their preachers, their friends, their significant others.

I want them to become the people they want to become.

I want them to tell the stories they want to tell.

I want them to use the words they want to use.

I try to model that behavior for them. I try to give them freedom to reflect that back to me. Sometimes it comes out crass and low-brow and ridiculous. I’m okay with that.

Not everybody is.

That’s another lesson my students will learn. Being yourself comes with its own hazards.

***

What I really hope they take from showing up, from finding their own language, from being offensive, from being a contrarian is how to be human. Or the kind of human they want to be.

We get stuck in ruts. All of us. Maybe moreso me what with the weird head issues and all of that.

We need people in our lives who snap us out. Who push us beyond our safe walls. Who drag us into places we don’t normally go.

Those people come in all shapes and sizes. They use all kinds of different language. They fight about all manners of insignificant ideas.

What they look like, how they talk and what they fight about are usually not important.

That they exist is.

***

That last section may simply be cognitive dissonance though.

***

So my journey through the 90 in 90 is done. As if Tiffany’s. Megan, Kyle, Abraham and others continue. They continue to show up.

And write.

And search for their voice.

And realize they too are contrarians – because we are all contrarians to someone.

And find the language that is theirs.

And model that behavior for others.

Because that is writing.

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5 comments

  • srbane April 29, 2010   Reply →

    I didn't have any doubts that you would do it, but I'm happy to see that you did accomplish it! I'm glad to have seen it from start to finish. 🙂

  • Brad_King April 29, 2010   Reply →

    🙂 Glad to have you along for the ride. I can't wait to see what YOU do. That's really far more interesting to me. By the way: you're not a tomboy anymore. But you may be a crunchy Pacific Northwesterner.

  • Kyle Hovanec May 1, 2010   Reply →

    Beautiful. 🙂

  • k8helwig May 10, 2010   Reply →

    Nice. I love the term contrarian. I like it alot. I think sometimes for me it gets mislabeled as indecisive but I do feel as though we are constantly in flux searching for the right words to explain a complex world and complex feelings (to completely oversimplify it) whether in speech or writing. I use the term “under-served” alot. I have to because for now I can't find a better term. I've tried and I'm still trying. You can't call someone you are trying to help “low-income” or “under-served” for that matter to their face. It does segment them. “Folks” I use often and is ambiguous and indirect. Using the term “under-served” however can be interpreted as an acknowledgement, an affirmation that whatever you needed you haven't been able to get and how or why is unimportant but for now, I can help you get what you need or at least move in that direction. Yes, it is paternalistic which is why I struggle with it. In the work I do, I have found a good dose of humility helps and admitting you really have no idea how much it sucks when it has. But when I'm discussing with coworkers what we do or whatever even if they are a part of the under-served it gives purpose to what we do. Is that paternalistic? Maybe. But factoring in figuring out how to help people in a humble way so that they can maintain dignity offsets the paternalistic nature and language surrounding services. And it's something that I constantly wrestle with being in the non-profit world. This is part of the reason I made a move to work somewhere that was less charity and more strengths-based, that involved participation and contribution for services, that provided services and also empowered the people who need them by doing or giving in some way.

  • Brad_King May 10, 2010   Reply →

    well this was much easier to talk out on the phone, but for the sake of those who WEREN'T on the phone 🙂 The simple point is this: in casual conversation, we use short-hands like these to communication agreed-upon meanings. Between you and I, that means something. When it's used — as the media uses it — it takes on a meaning that is far from benign. It's a pat on the back for reaching out to The Other; when in reality, it's not something we should be proud of (me being part of the non-Other in the country).

    I get angry. Very angry. When I hear people talk of these things in my profession, I can't help but think: why do you think these populations are out there awaiting our arrival.

    This is less coherent because it's late. Trust me when I tell you, world, my point is really right on target 🙂 So is Katie's.

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