How Preparing for TEDxRoseburg Was a Lot Like a Nickelback Song

I have many identities. Some feel truer than others. I used to think I was weird because of this, but my studies and my experiences with a wide variety of people lead me to believe I am nowhere near alone. In fact, I might be weird if I was the same person everywhere, all the time.

We have selves: creative selves, spiritual selves, emotional selves, work selves, academic selves, secret selves and more. Don’t believe me? Think about how much a couple (romantic selves) change when their child walks into the room (to parenting selves). Think about how you answer the phone. It depends on where you are, who is calling, what time of day it is, who is with you, and a host of other factors.

Preparing for my talk, The Other Statistic, at TEDxRoseburg was a journey through past selves and a big question mark for the future self.

I think most people who break the poverty cycle experience the in-between feeling. Your family talks down about educated people and outsider ideas without realizing they’re talking about you. Your friends talk down about uneducated rednecks who vote against their own interests without realizing they’re talking about you. Some of your friends and colleagues might be active volunteers for poverty causes and it’s clear they don’t really understand what poverty is or means. Some of your old friends and family might be writing letters and signing petitions to end entitlement programs they’re currently receiving or have received in the past. You walk into a room of colleagues one day and they’re talking about some stupid thing someone did in an interview and remember doing that same thing, not because you were stupid, but because you simply didn’t know. People call you brave and don’t realize that most of your successes resulted from not knowing any better. People say you think you’re better than them and don’t realize that you just talk this way now out of habit. Values clash in every direction and you’re in a state of near-constant cognitive dissonance.

You never, ever get out of poverty.

I don’t want to sound like working on my TEDx talk has been bad. It’s been emotionally difficult. It has reminded me of selves I’d locked away as unworthy–and being distant from those selves for so long has allowed me to see that old me from a different perspective. I’ve had “This is How You Remind Me” by Nickelback stuck in my head for weeks.

A long time ago, a teacher told me that I had a responsibility to go to college. I always thought she said it because I was good at school. Now, I think she said it because some of us have to share the story. We have to bring a shift to a system that insists success is a finite resource that groups of people have to fight over. We have to show people that poverty is not the same for everyone and shouldn’t be approached in the same way for everyone. We have to remember who we are so that we can truthfully, honestly, accurately add to the conversation about how to end poverty.

My talk will, hopefully, add to the conversation and give people a tool to help guide them along the fine line between empowerment and enabling. Our system isn’t working in part because we have been silent about how to change it. I am ending my silence. I am honoring the many identities that wove together to become who I am.

Introducing Future SEDEs.


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