Friday, August 29, 2014

The Portrayal of Self

[Johnathan Clayborn]

There has been a lot of fallout and discussion over the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO a short time ago. To say that there are some strong, political and philosophical disagreements over the issue would be a gross understatement. People are quick to argue about their take on the militarization of police, abuse of power, the requirements for lethal force, and the overall social injustice of underprivileged minorities being discriminated against. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that these conversations shouldn't take place, because they should. They're very important conversations to be having as a nation and as individuals. But there was one bit of fallout from this that's not discussed very much, and when it is, it's often a one-sided discussion. So, rather than contribute my two cents to the plethora of opinions about the above topics I wanted to talk about the portrayal of self.

There are many people who are complaining because the media is showing picture a picture of Michael Brown that makes it hard to view him as a defenseless victim. His detractors are using this photo as justification that he deserved to be shot and was dangerous. His supporters are saying that the photo was taken out of context and was hand-picked by the media to deliberately portray him in a bad light. Take a look:

In an apparent show of support for Mr. Brown and as a backlash to the media many people, mostly young African Americans, are posting two photos of themselves, one respectable and the other questionable with the hashtag: IfTheyGunnedMeDown. You can see examples of some of the photos here and here and here and here.

There are two things that I want to point out. First, is that the media is not the paragon of impartial truth that they are sometimes considered to be. I've worked with enough reporters and been burned by them and seen them in action enough to have first hand knowledge of this. The news will always report the story with a slant. And if it's not the slant of whatever major political corporation pays the bills, then it's whatever slant will generate the most viewership. So, you should expect that the media will always use the worst photo of you that they can find.

The second thing that I want to point out is that you have total control over this. Many of the articles talk about these photos and throwing around the terms "alleged gang signs". No. These are gang signs. What other signs are they if they aren't gang signs? They aren't peace signs. They sure as hell aren't American Sign Language. They are gang signs. If you are a respectable person, would you want to associate yourself with a gang by flashing signs in photos? Gangs do nothing but perpetuate violence. Many gangs have a "blood in, blood out" policy that requires violence. You certainly don't see gangs helping old ladies across the street, covering up graffiti or feeding the homeless. Why would any person want to associate themselves with such organizations. If you post crap like that on your page, society will judge you as thuggish. If you are posting such photos as a joke, you need to revise your sense of humor. It would be akin to me posting a photo, as a horribly unfunny joke, of myself in a KKK hood and then being upset when the media circulates that picture calling me a racist. And I never understood the point of flipping off the camera either. I typically don't go around giving people the bird in my day-to-day life, so why would I pose a picture of that on my page? If I saw people walking down the street throwing signs or flipping people off, I would pay them closer attention and view them warily.

Society will judge you by whatever means that they can, and whatever means they have available to them. If you don't want to be viewed as a thug or a brute, or a no-good-doer, then stop posting pictures of gang signs, drugs, profanity, etc. If you want society to view you as a respectable person, then keep that stuff off of your page. It's really that simple. You have the power to control how you are viewed by society. You have the power to say to the world "this is who I am, and this is how I want you to see me". Make a smart choice.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Choosing your lessons

[Johnathan Clayborn]

Yesterday the intranet page at my work had an interesting poll. The question was:

If you can only be w/ one type of person for the rest of your life...Would it be..
1) Someone you settle for and are miserable with, but who is financially stable.
2) someone that you want to be with, but you both struggle financially barely making it paycheck to paycheck.

Not surprisingly, 3/4ths of the people who responded selected option 2, myself included. There were a lot of people who rationalized their choice with comments like "money doesn't buy happiness". One commenter suggested that "if you select option 2...You will argue w/ your significant other mainly over money. Its inevitable no matter how much you love your mate.". Others were quick to point out that If you agree on how/what to use your limited resources on then you will not argue about it. The arguments come because you have different goals/priorities, not because of lack of money. In some cases this is easier said than done, but the logic is highly accurate.

I responded to the thread with the same example I gave when I was in my undergrad degree and I discussed in my post back in December, 2011. The basic premise of argument is that without sufficient income you are sometimes presented with a Kobyashi Maru scenario where there is no right answer. No matter what choice you make you will emotionally distraught and psychologically distressed. These types of choices are made every day by the "working poor" of America, people who make more than minimum wage, but less than enough to have a comfortable living. Is money the end-all, be-all thing to have? Certainly not. Money is not everything. However, when you are struggling to make ends meet, not having enough money to pay for things will certainly lead to unhappiness. Anyone who's ever been in that situation can attest, it's no picnic.

Another commenter responded to my post by saying that he agreed with me and that it's our resilience that gets us through those hard times. He suggested that people who picked option 1 because they thought that it might bring financial peace of mind are forgetting what the other commenter posted about differing goals and priorities; just because you have money doesn't mean that you won't fight and argue about it. In some cases you may fight and argue more because there's more money to fight over.

I vociferously concur with that commenter's sentiment. What most people fail to realize is that life is about struggle. You will always struggle in your life. You will always have a problem, a dilemma, a challenge...something that needs to be overcome. Honestly, that's part of what makes life interesting.  The question is never about whether or not you want strife in your life, it's going to be there regardless. The question is really about what the nature of that strife should be. There you have some choice in the matter, that's why I picked option 2. It's better to struggle with someone that you actually like. Our whole lives are nothing more than a series of sequential challenges, it's how we handle those challenges and what lessons we take away from them that define us. I'm not at all ashamed to admit that at one point in my life, in my early 20's, I was basically homeless living in an RV in a KMart parking lot where I worked. I decided that I didn't like that condition, and I changed it. It was a series of stupid choices, the kind that young people often make, that lead me to that spot in the first place. Since I made choices that lead me to be there, I could make choices that would take me away from there. Now, 12 years later, you would not have guessed that I was basically homeless, and I'm approximately 18 months away from completing my PhD. I firmly believe that every situation and experience in our life can teach us valuable lessons. Since it's our struggles and strife that defines us, that teach us, the real question we should be asking is "what lessons would I like to learn today?"