Stereotypes and New Perspectives

So in Mid-August, I began volunteering a couple days a week at an outpatient rehab facility whose target population is women on Welfare and men and women who are currently going through the criminal justice system. The issues run the gamut from drug court to DYFS involvement, to being self-referred for a variety of different drug/alcohol addictions. The first couple of days I went to this place, I was a little nervous, mostly because of where it is located. It is located in a town that borders Camden, NJ and half the clientele come from Camden, the other half from surrounding areas. I was told by people who knew I was going, that I should be more concerned about the people than the location. Perhaps I should be. But I figured I needed to go into this with an open mind. They’re just people, right?

What I have realized since I began this is how quick I am to judge and stereotype. I like to think of myself as above doing that, but it came rushing back to slap me in the face the first day or two I was there. But I have realized that I have made judgments based on what clothes are worn, how a woman does her hair, and how they speak (I am known for being a grammar freak). It wasn’t until I sat in on both a men’s group session and then a women’s group session that context was put in place. The stories that were told were in some ways appalling to me because the background that fosters certain behaviors is just so foreign to me. But mostly, they were sad, heartbreaking stories that make you wonder at the humanity of people. And how people live through such shit for so long and are still here. They may be worse for wear and they may be “coping” (or drowning themselves) with various substances, but for many people, they would have completely given up on life itself long before.

Of course, there are always the individuals who come in fighting, and want to battle the entire time. Who think they are entitled to something because they have stopped using. They don’t always follow the rules (as in – don’t bring in urine from someone else and think you won’t get caught), and don’t like to be told something that doesn’t jive with what they think should happen.  But those people are everywhere, in every walk of life.

It is easy to dismiss this sub-population of people as unworthy of such substance abuse treatment, or that they are not contributing members of society. And perhaps some of them are not contributing. But hearing their stories help shift that mentality. Because really, who chooses these lives? If they had the option to get out, and were educated about their prospects and their opportunities and their self—worth were above the level of the gutter, don’t you think they would choose something else?


Perspective is everything…

 Currently listening to : The One I Love – David Gray

I, like most people, have a tendency to get sucked into the drib-drab misery that can sometimes be the day to day routine of living. Take Mondays, for example. How much bitchery is associated with that word; that day? When technically the week begins on Sunday! I suppose perhaps that is how I got to thinking about this today. Because it is Monday. Because so many find reason to complain about the beginning of the work week. I am not saying I never have. Sometimes I want the weekend to last a little bit longer. But at what point do we all stop complaining and seeing the negative in everything, and instead recognize the beauty in those same moments and thoughts?

I suppose everything is about perspective. And a lot of people are unable, unwilling, or completely ignorant of the possibility, of changing their perspective, even on the most mundane of situations and topics. To me, the person who bitches every Sunday and Monday that Monday is a horrible day (and really, these people get on my nerves because every seven days, the rest of us have to hear the same old complaint. Perhaps if it weren’t on such a frequent basis it wouldn’t bug me as much…) are the same ones who usually find something to nitpick about it being a rainy day, or about getting stuck in traffic. Or any of the things that happen a million times in a lifetime. Some things we have no control over. Like traffic. The only control you have is to try and avoid it – and to change your attitude about it. What is the point in getting pissed off and negative about something you can’t do anything about? Why not take the moments you find yourself wanting to yell or scream or punch a wall (may I then suggest Anger Management?), or even just complaining about it – why not take those moments and find something positive? It sounds trite, perhaps, but really, it is possible. And it is a good stress reliever. If not that, it at least puts life in a little bit clearer view. When I am stuck in traffic, even if there isn’t an accident, I usually assume that there is. And there are so many accidents that happen on a daily basis, that it’s not a stretch to make that assumption. And then I realize that me sitting in traffic, perhaps now running late to class or work or wherever I am headed, is in no way a reason to complain if someone else was injured or killed in an accident.

And on the topic of the Monday blues or whatever they are referred to as – even if the morning is dark and cloudy or rainy, as it was today – I force myself to find something positive to think about. Driving to work today, the sky wasn’t yet completely overcast in all places, and the sun was peeking through. I am a sucker for sunrise and sunsets anyways, but the redish sky and the clouds made a beautiful site to my left as I drove. That was all it took. The rest of the day was great. A little tiny miracle, all by itself, for about ten minutes before the sun disappeared for the rest of the day. But I’ve carried that around with me all day today. Even the rain couldn’t ruin it.

This has become long and rambling, and while I should apologize, I will not, because when I write on this blog, I write how it comes at me. I don’t often get the time to sit and blog the way I would like to. Not for lack of inspiration – but formal paper-writing and classwork has kept me busy. But tonight, I needed to let my fingers fly on the keyboard. The inspiration comes from me always seeing beauty in life. It’s everywhere. We barely need to look for it. But we have become so blind to it that it could smack most of us in the face and we wouldn’t know what hit us. We’re always rushing to the next thing, constantly complaining about not having enough, not moving fast enough, not being happy enough. Did anyone ever consider that if we stop once in a while – we don’t even need to stop, just slow down the speed from catapulting through space and time oblivious to what we’re passing – and witness life, that there are miracles everywhere?


People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child — our own two eyes. All is a miracle.” 

– Thich Nhat Hanh