A thought on stigma

I’ve encountered a few conversations regarding stigma in the last few days. Some of which left me troubled and some of which left me hopeful. In response, I write down my thoughts in this journal entry ~

I go back to the idea of my “Us against them,” and the “Me against the world,” mentality. I think about the line we see between us and how we separate each other in different classes. I think about the distinction between the so-called righteous or the so-called fallen from grace and how they view each other. I go back to the ideas of our social separation and the way our society splits off in different categories of race, gender, orientation, finance, and creed.

I can say I have stood amongst different crowds. I can say I’ve been in rooms with the wealthy and I’ve been in rooms with the poor. And while different in appearance and different in the social and economic spectrum, when stripped to a personal core, the similarities are astounding.

I have held conversations about the depth of emotion, life and its pitfalls, divorce, fears and insecurity with law enforcement. As well, I have spoken with political officials about the same relatable aspects of life and how it applies to them. I have spoken with men and women that run boardroom meetings and work high paying jobs in high-end companies. As well, I have been gratefully honored to speak with those in attendance of my empowerment class at the homeless shelter. Each category of mankind (or womankind) may appear differently when compared by a social standard. But when stripped to the basic core of a man or woman’s being, —truth is we are all relatable. Truth is we tell ourselves “We’re different” because we give in to fears and insecurity and we tell ourselves “We’re different” because we’re afraid of being judged. (I know I am)

The fact remains, however, the we see others in different frames of life. The fact remains that we see each other as separate entities. And we hold a barrier between us. It goes back to the idea of our own self-centered uniqueness.
Truth is we are not so different. We all feel. We all have fears and whatever it may be, everyone is recovering from something. Life happens to us all. And life happens without any concern for our opinion.

In a recent interview, I was quoted, “There is no common face anymore. There is only a common problem.” But the truth is whether I see it this way or not and whether I would like to destroy stigma and create a stigma free environment is irrelevant. The fact remains that there is a stigma.

There will always be the ignorance of inaccurate opinion. There will always be judgement and there will always be the stereotypical smart ass who thinks they can lock everyone in a categorical file.

A young man came to one of my groups at the homeless shelter. He stayed quiet, mostly. He listened and shared minimally. I noticed the way his eyes scanned the others in the room. I noticed the way he looked at each person, curiously trying to figure them out. Or so it seemed. Afterwards, the young man approached me in the parking lot. He admitted to scanning the room. He admitted to noticing each individual, but more importantly, he admitted to his ignorance.

“This place didn’t look like what I expected,” he said.

“None of them looked the way I expected them to look,” he told me.

“What did you expect,” I asked.

“I don’t know,” said the young man.

“I guess . . .” he paused with a smile and appeared somewhat embarrassed. “I guess I thought they would look . . . homeless, is all I can say.”

I explained I have met some of the most beautiful, brilliant, and some of the most talented, and wonderfully warm people in this shelter. As I see it, we are all one wrong decision away from a bad financial outcome. A few years back, I nearly lost it all. I had to file for bankruptcy. I remember not being able to fill my car with gas. I couldn’t pay my bills. My refrigerator was empty and I recall digging through change jars to scrape together enough money to buy dinner for my family.

My young friend asked, “You filed for bankruptcy?”

I answered, “Yes, I did.”

“Wow,” he said. I didn’t know that.”

“You mean you couldn’t tell by looking at me?”

“No,” he said. “How would I be able to tell by looking at you?”

To which, I answered, “See how stigma works?”

He was quiet . . .

Life happens without regard. Good things happen and bad things happen to everyone. However, no matter who we are, what we look like, or where we live, when stripped down to the basic core, we are all the same inside.
We all feel. We all have the common need to be wanted, to be accepted, and we all have the need to be right.

If I am to call this out, I needed to learn more about my own internal ignorance. I had to learn about my programmed mind. I had to unlearn the lessons of bigotry, which I had been taught long ago. I had to unlearn the lessons of social, educational, and economical snobbery. I had to let go of my past complaints and my past misgivings. In order for me to become stigma free in my own mind, —I had to see myself in all honesty and call out my shortcomings. I called out the mistakes of my past and made myself aware of my inaccurate mindset.
With regards to my work with addiction, I can say I have been in some of the wealthiest homes and neighborhoods I might ever see in my lifetime. I have also been in jails. I have been in precincts. I have spoken with people at street level and penthouse level, and in all, the addiction, the emotion, and the behavior is the same. Ever reminding me that we are not as different as our circumstances say we are.  It’s not an, “Us against them” thing. It’s not a society, or a race, or gender specific problem. It’s a life problem.

Maybe someday, we will all learn how to put our differences aside and learn to work together. After all, isn’t that what humanity is?

Humanity . . .

I wonder if that word still applies

Or is that just me giving in to stigma?

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