That Makes Me Tick

I'd like to get all my cards on the table. I'm Scottish. That ethnic background will explain why I wish to do things by myself rather than paying others to do it for me. Case in point. I have spent much of my life trying to figure out myself psychologically. I wrote an article about Jack and Owen, my two grandchildren, entitled The Wondrous World of Why. It was about Jack's wonder at the world he started exploring as a toddler. Owen was only a half year old and needed more time before he starts to wonder about everything. In hindsight, that essay was as much about me and my wondrous world of why as it was about Jack. I just realized that.

For example, I wonder what makes me tick. I am always attempting to explain why I do or think things. When I am not psychoanalyzing myself, I ask family and friends to do the psychoanalysis of me. After being asked too many times over the years, they will tell me to go talk to a psychiatrist. I guess that I should. However, that would cost a frugal Scot too much money. So I go back to wondering...why.

Several weeks ago, I had an important meeting with a very important person about something very important to me. Knowing that this person would talk with me about that issue, I decided to outline my points to get them all out in an orderly fashion. I started to write down my issues and concerns. I wrote about my empathy at all levels both personal and global. I am left of center on all major social issues. Name one, and I'll be left of where you are. In addition, I know that I'm not liberal enough.

Think about a major social issue in America. Try racism. I've fought for that issue since I was a teenager. I took groups to the South or have gone to marches and meetings in the South. This began in the early 60s when the civil rights movement was well underway. While in college, I drove a group to high school students to a work camp in Ozone, TN. I rented a station wagon in Pittsburgh, PA where I lived at the time and drove it to Tennessee.

One evening, I was driving in the hills near Ozone with the high school students in the station wagon late at night. We were returning to where we had lodging. There I was with a bunch of kids driving in the hills late at night in a station wagon with a Pennsylvania license plate...and a car was following me. I was scared for the lives to those for whom I was taking care of and for myself. I was afraid of getting killed. It wasn't the time in America to be on the back hills in the South as a white from the North.

That trip to Ozone was the beginning of a long road on which I have journeyed a good part of my life working for racial equality. However, racism isn't the only issue. Sexism is another problem. I am more liberal than most women on the issue of sexuality equality. I had tried a couple of times to interview Gloria Steinem, who is the archetype to which I think women should aspire. Sitting down with her would be a true learning experience for me.

Still another issue for which I will fight is for equality for the gays. As with race and sex, being gay isn't a choice. We are born with those realities. Gays don't at 18-years of age sit down to determine their sexuality. That is true for blacks and women as well as it is for gays. However, many diss another human for being born black, female, or gay. That makes absolutely no sense, but many still discriminate against those groups.

Therefore, I sat down at my computer and outlined all these social movements and my reaction so that I could explain why I am the way I am when I went to talk about some of my concerns the next day. I saved a copy to my computer and went to bed. The next morning found me at the computer proofing my notes. I tweaked them and printed the two-pages of notes. Later that day, I was in the office of the person to whom I wanted to talk. The notes would avoid a tendency of mind of drifting off message. I can start at A with the intention of going to B, but I will often not go directly to B. I might get from A to B, but I will often circumnavigate a handful of other letters before arriving at B.

I got to his/her office and thanked the person for that person's time. In addition, I promised that I wouldn't take more than 15-minutes out that person's busy schedule. I began by saying that I am as empathic as that person and gave briefly some examples like those that I mentioned in this article...issues of race, sex, and sexual orientation.

There I was explaining who I was and what made me tick... And all of a sudden, it dawned on me. There I was a white male who was straight talking about racism, sexism, and homophobia. To even a casual observer that would seem a strange intellectual disconnect. Why would I be concerned about those people? My group of white, males who are straight males are the primarily cause for the suffering that blacks, women, and gays have endured in America and throughout the world.

Part of the reason for me working to avoid suffering of others had to do with my father's sacrifice so that his children got a good education and went to college. When he was transferred, we moved from Pennsauken, NJ to Pittsburgh, PA. Because of WWII, he wasn't able to go to college but was determined that his children would go.

Al as a child with his parents

Therefore, when he moved, he chose the best school district in Pittsburgh. Indeed, it was the 19th best in the country. This also resulted in us moving into an extremely wealthy community in Pittsburgh. He could not afford to live in Mt. Lebanon without great sacrifice for his family. His sacrifice ultimately was in part responsible for his death in his late 60s. While my father's choice of Mt. Lebanon made perfect sense to him including his sacrifices he made, the very negative effects especially on me and my next younger brother weren't something of which he was even aware.

My father's sacrifice cost him, and it cost me and my next younger brother a great deal. I don't know what my brother thought, but I knew what I thought. I thought that I was poor or dumb. That was a painful lesson that I endured during the first half of my life. It wasn't pleasant to live thinking you were both poor and dumb. However, it paid off in the second half of my life. I can readily identify with those who felt disadvantaged in life...especially educationally and financially.

Nonetheless, it took me until a couple of weeks ago to realize that my empathy on all the major social issues is tied to that move to Mt. Lebanon and the resultant pain. Granted, I am not black, female, or gay. However, while not feeling those particular pains...I have felt pain. Pain is pain. Once I realized that living in Mt. Lebanon didn't make me dumb and poor. Then I could address the pain.

Now, many other white, males who are straight have often addressed pain negatively by dumping on one or more of those three groups: blacks, women, and/or gays. That merely adds to the problem. However, I stumbled into addressing the pain positively. When I see someone suffering, it resonates within me, because I have felt pain before. My pain of feeling dumb has made me a good teacher. I've been there...I have felt that pain for half my life. I don't want any student to suffer needlessly.

Things happen in life over which we have no control...that is reality. The only issue for us is to address the issue. Interestingly, there is a strange quirk in life when we deal positively with pain. In doing so, it will make us great. In addition, we will motivate others to help still others on their journey through life.

Some of us can luck out in life...merely by chance. We can be at the right place at the right time and benefit from that coincidence. However, unless we act once we luck out, the luck will fade, and we will lose whatever luck provided for a moment. No pain, no gain.

However, if you are a black in America, seize that reality. If you don't feel that society is treating you as an equal, go out and be more equal than whites by going the extra mile. Pain produces within us the drive to deal with the pain. If you are black, you are lucky. You have a readily identifiable pain. If you address the pain, the sky is the limit to what you can accomplish in life.

And what is true for blacks is true for women. Men have and still cause pain for women. If you are a woman and don't like being treated that way, act. Look at any of the women in the feminist movement over the past century. None of them had a great and happy life devoid of sexism.

Now, learn that lesson. Your greatness is based upon how you address that pain. And what is true for blacks and women is equally true for gays. All three groups need to identify the pain and allow the pain to motivate them to move ahead in life. The alternative is to sit in the pain and complain about the oppression. Hint: no one will listen and/or respond if you just feel sorry for yourself.

I have traveled to more than 40-countries in the world. In each country, there is some sort of pain that people endure. I have been to Tibet twice...they are oppressed by the Chinese. I have been to South Africa where the apartheid government abused the blacks. I just got back from Scotland where many want to secede from the UK due to feeling unequal with England. At the end of this year, I will be going to Burma and hopefully interview Aung San Suu Kyi.

I went to a meeting a couple weeks ago attempting to address my concerns. I told the empathic person that I'd take but 15-minutes of his/her time. As I thanked the person for the time, I realized that 15-minutes had turned into 45-minutes. However, more importantly, I learned something about myself at a deeper level. Pain is a blessing...

The following is another article about celebrating pain...

Burma flag

Burmese independence flag

Visit the Burma Independence page to read more about this topic.