The Narratives that Shape Us

Before I begin, I would like to start off by thanking Alyssa for asking me to contribute to her blog, Over The Invisible Wall. We met a couple of months back through an entry that she posted to her personal website, and have talked about various topics since.

We do not have the same views on everything, but we did find a lot of common ground through our discussions and through choosing to hear what the other person had to say.

Since then, she has asked me to write about one of the subjects that we talked about in a guest post, and I have done my best consolidate my emails into one (hopefully) coherent blog post. Thank you again Alyssa for giving me the chance to write a guest post for your awesome blog!

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Our narratives are shaped by the lives of those who have gone before us.

Every experience and every piece of information that we take in has a direct impact on how we see ourselves, our lives, and the world around us. We are shaped by stories, and the narratives that we are given by our families, communities, and society at large—for better or for worse. And these stories play directly into how we see each and every person that we come in contact with, every single day.

For instance, if I told you that I’m a twenty-year-old Christian blogger, writer, youth leader, and college student, you’d probably already have some assumptions about me—filling in the blanks for things that I haven’t yet told you.

She probably likes Hillsong, you might assume (in which case, you’d be right).

She was probably a bookworm in high school (this is also true).

She’s probably reads C.S. Lewis (this one is definitely true).

However, if I told you other facts about myself, you might be surprised.

You might be surprised to find that I oppose the death penalty on moral and ethical grounds and cast my first vote to an independent candidate in the 2016 election. You might be surprised to find that I’m a big advocate of gender equality in the home, church, and workplace—and do not subscribe to patriarchy or strict gender roles. You might find it super surprising that I enjoy psychology—and have taken every personality test from the Myers Briggs to the Enneagram (type 2 ENFJ y’all!).

These facts may not coincide with the picture that you have already carefully constructed in your head. Whether you intended to or not, you’ve already prescribed a narrative for me for based on just a few simple facts—without even knowing me at all.

And we do this all the time, right? Name off any number of occupations or descriptors and we can immediately create a picture of that person in our minds: Teacher. Doctor. Librarian. Photographer. Dentist. Lawyer. Fashion Designer.

All of these people are subject to stereotypes and potentially false narratives. All because we’re conditioned from a young age to think of people in an extremely simplified and one-dimensional way. And in some cases, this can be more than problematic. It can be detrimental.

 

Specifically, to those who are LGBTQ in our churches, our schools, and our society.

Growing up in a mostly Christian context, I’ve heard basically every stereotype about gay people that you can think of. They’re promiscuous. They hate God. They live wild “lifestyles.” You name it, I’ve heard it. Multiple times.

However, the older I got, and the more I started trying to construct my own narrative of the world, the more I started to hear other things about gay people as well. You can’t help who you love. It’s not something you can change. It’s not a choice. And slowly I began to question my previous assumptions and the narratives that I’d heard about gay people for so long.

“What if they’re wrong?” I wondered. “What if it’s really not a choice?”

After all, wouldn’t someone who was actually gay know more about this than me—or the countless other voices around me who were speaking so authoritatively on this subject? And if it wasn’t a choice, then where did that leave me, as a Bible-believing Christian?

After all, if it wasn’t a choice, than it had major ramifications for both my assumptions and the lives of real, living, breathing people made in God’s image. It meant that there could even be Christians out there who were gay—Christians who grew up going to church and youth group, just like me. And if there were gay Christians out there, then where on earth did that leave them?

 

Eventually, after a lot of questioning and shifting back and forth between viewpoints, I finally got up the nerve to ask these kinds of questions, and not so much to my surprise, I was right. People didn’t choose to be gay and there were gay Christians out there. But, the picture also wasn’t as bleak as I once thought.

Over the course of my research, my reading, and my questions, I discovered some pretty interesting things—both about God, and about the lives of various, real people.

One, that all of those passages in the Bible that people always use to condemn people who are gay don’t speak about sexual orientation. Nowhere. Not once in the Bible does it ever speak of someone who has a gay orientation. Every verse that describes ‘being gay’ as a sin refers only to lust and sexual acts outside of a Biblically defined marriage ( sleeping around and lust is also considered a sin in Christianity for those of us who are straight).

Second, I learned that there were are a lot more gay Christians out there than one might think—and many of them, though facing struggles at various points in their lives, are genuinely happy. They’re pursuing celibacy and pouring into loving and healthy friendships. They’re in a mixed orientation marriage with the one person of the opposite sex that they’re attracted to. They’re teaching at colleges, leading churches, involved in mission work, and speaking for those who can’t speak. They’re redefining what ‘gay people’ look like to the Christian world and the broader world. And most of them simply want to be understood.

 

Through reading these articles, and listening to these voices, and hearing the stories of real people, I’ve grown to see how vital it is that those of us who are Christian get this right. There’s a very real chance that we already know someone who’s gay—whether it be a co-worker, a friend, a student, or the guy who sits next to us in church. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to add pain to someone who has likely already endured far too many sleepless nights thinking about this. I want to be a light and speak life into the lives of other people and the only way I can do that is by listening—both to those who share my convictions and to those who don’t.

As humans we will someday be remembered for how we chose to live our lives. I don’t know about you, but I want to be known for my love. In 1 Corinthians 13:2 (NIV), it says, “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”

 

Regardless of who you are or what you believe, I want to challenge you to love boldly. To listen to the stories around you and try to understand people right where they are. We do not have to add to the division that already permeates this world so forcefully. We can choose to listen, rather than shout. We can choose love over hate.

We can choose to create the culture that we want to live in.

 

We can choose to be a voice that impacts a generation.

 

We can choose to be a light—and make this world just a little bit better and more compassionate than it was before.

 

Courtney Whitaker is a writer, a reader, and a lover of all things cats, warm tea, and Hallmark. She is currently a youth leader at her church and pursuing a double major at Liberty University in Education and Theology. In the future, she would like to teach and write books geared towards teens and young adults. You can find more of her writing on 1timothy412girl.com, where she posts weekly about all things faith and life.

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“The Second Act Industry,” a Response

Recently I came across an article published by the New York Times titled “The Snake Oil of the Second Act Industry” by Alissa Quart. She details how middle-aged people, especially those who are stressed by their lack of retirement funds, attempt to pivot their career lives to make more money before they retire. She details some problems with the industry surrounding this phenomenon, termed the “second act” and the problems with the industry. Overall, she argues that the middle-aged are being taken advantage of by the second act industry and the government needs to provide more social support. In this piece, I have responded to specific portions that I felt deserved a response. The full article can be read here.

 

“I call the businesses propelling that promise of reinvention the “second-act industry,” and it includes for-profit universities, certificate programs and coaches getting in on the new trend — all of them helping, for a fee, people who are trying to get back into or ahead in the work force.”

Some of these programs may in fact take advantage of the middle-aged people they purport to help, as this article asserts. However, some of the blame may be on the people using these services and their blind trust in the programs or degrees being offered. Some investigation into the service, the promised results, and the actual results could help people weigh the pros and cons of such as products and services. That does not mean it would be easy, but if more people become aware of how careers are changing and how hiring practices are changing, it would become easier to adapt to the current job world and discern between scams and legitimate companies.

 

“The industry appeals to anxious and sometimes underqualified middle-aged students who are enticed by a constellation of websites, special programs, self-help books and gurus.”

People are drawn in by the promise of more earning power. The methods purported may be questionable and the price may be too high, but people are willing to pay for it. I agree with the later assertions that something needs to be done to help the middle aged people who fall into this trap, but I do not agree with the proposed solution. As more people test strategies for the current job market and given a larger body of proof, it will help the aging members of the work force adapt more effectively.

 

“To survive as workers, we have to deny, on some level, the realities of our bodies — bodies that age and give birth. While more people are working later in life because of happy things like longer life expectancy, they are also doing so because of very sad things, like a lack of Social Security benefits or retirement plans.”

It is unfortunate that so many people have planned their retirement with Social Security in mind. This places a burden on taxpayers and fuels emotionally charged arguments for why it must be kept, such as, “it cannot be repealed because people rely on it.” When people have the capacity to plan for retirement by saving money, they may partially have themselves to blame for their newfound poverty. However, a lot of people either do not have extra income, have relied on faulty retirement savings methods, or did not save enough to account for inflation and the increased living costs that come with being older. This is a problem, and it will take time and effort to “fix it” and to take care of the elderly people who are currently relying on Social Security benefits.

 

“The real problem is that middle-aged people are unlikely to have pensions or savings because of inadequate federal social support in this country. Unfortunately, individual ambition… doesn’t always do the trick.Yet we continue to believe. Perhaps it’s because the roots of our faith in second acts are long.”   

Federal social support comes from the money taxpayers make. The more the government forcibly takes from those working now, the less they have available to use for themselves and their families. Instead of solving the problem, this could just move more of it to younger people. In fact, based on this article and what I already know about this problem, it seems like federal social support enacted in the past helped cause this problem, not that further social support programs will fix it. I talk about this more in a later paragraph.

 

“So instead of putting the blame on people caught in this bind, what if we had better anti-ageist work policies? What if companies were incentivized to hire older workers? And what if middle-aged people who are casting about for a second act had real societal support while they did so, like free after-school programs for their children or a monthly basic income guarantee, like the one now being piloted in Ontario?”

This is not a solution I would back. In fact, if such a program were presented to people in my community, I would vote against it and encourage others to do the same. These “free after-school programs” will cost money, and who will pay for them? Taxpayers. Who pays for Social Security? Taxpayers. Instead of people voluntarily helping others who need it, either financially or in some other way, the government forcibly takes money from everyone in order to help them. This government welfare is often not the best way to help the person in need, or it is ineffective. Additionally, having more of these tax-funded programs will require higher taxes, thus decreasing the benefit for those who it is supposed to be helping. If instead private institutions or groups of people came together and either raised money to help people in this situation or volunteered their time to help them, that would be more effective and would not require the government to steal money from everyone.

 

“We should look to create fixes for middle-aged workers that are not solely reliant on private inspirations or pricey new degrees. We need public solutions for midlife career atrophy and joblessness so that people don’t get into even deeper debt and blame themselves for their failures.”

These public solutions will require increased taxes, which hurt everyone. The “pricey new degrees” are not effective, yes, that is true. In the changing job market, tangible skills are more valuable than a degree, because so many people have degrees. The value of the degree has decreased but the price has increased. While yes, the middle aged people facing this problem might be prone to blame themselves, it is not a social or societal problem for the most part. The government has lied about Social Security, presenting it as a form of “insurance,” and misleading people as to how it functions, contributing to the problem. Back when FDR enacted the New Deal and instituted Social Security, it was intended to be temporary. Instead, people protested attempts to repeal it after the economy had recovered from the Great Depression (not even because of the New Deal, as Tom Woods details well in 33 Questions About American History You’re Not Supposed to Ask). Now, it has been around long enough that people plan for Social Security to help supplement their retirement savings. Will it be hard for people when or if it is repealed? Yes, because they are dependent on this money that is taken from all the working people and handed to them. But it is not and should not be the government’s job to take care of people in this way. We should be caring for each other, not relying on the government to help people.

The Handsome Her: Flirting with Inequality

In August 2017 a vegan cafe was opened in Melbourne, Australia by Alex O’Brien that charges men more than women.1 There is some hypocrisy in how the cafe, called the Handsome Her, is operated. The goal of the cafe’s optional 18% “man tax” was to raise awareness for the gender pay gap and provoke a conversation about the issue, most likely with the ultimate goal of leading to equality.2

handsomeherimage

The goal of equality complicates things for the Handsome Her. Alex O’Brien is concerned about gender discrimination in the workplace, yet the cafe only hires female employees.3 When dining in the cafe, women receive priority seating. These practices by the Handsome Her are more problematic than the optional price increase for men, which is only for one week every month and used to collect money for various women’s charities.

Because most of the discussion about Handsome Her revolves around the price hike, the wage gap needs to be addressed. In America, the UK, and Australia, most of the wage gap is eliminated when men and women in the same position with the same credentials are compared.4 Studies have found that there is still a small percentage of the wage gap that is unaccounted for. However, it is illegal for employers to have discriminatory wages and pay either men more than women or vice versa in these countries. Therefore, it stands to reason that in most cases the rest of the gap is not due to discrimination in the workplace, though it could be due to lingering sexism in society.5 For example, women might be encouraged from a young age to pursue a career with a lower overall pay rate. Additionally, more women work part time, choose to not work overtime if they do work full time, or generally work less to spend more time with their families.6 The wage gap is not entirely a myth, but it is misused and misconstrued when people use it as a generality.

Interestingly, if single women in their thirties are compared to single men in their thirties with the same credentials and experience the women frequently make more money.7 The same is true of blacks compared to whites.8 The racial wage gap has the same stipulations and myths as the gender wage gap.

When I first encountered this story back in August I only read the headline, something along the lines of “Cafe Charges Men More Than Women to Address Gender Pay Gap.” I thought to myself that I would never eat there, because I disagree with the political stand that Alex O’Brien is taking. Because I can choose where and with who I do business, if I disagree with someone’s politics I can take my business elsewhere. I will say that it is admirable that they’re donating the proceeds from the pay hike to women’s charities, but there is a better way they could have done this. For example, instead of targeting the gender pay gap, they could have asked people to tip and donated the tips to their chosen charity.

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  1. Sam Duncan, “Cafe charges men more than women and gives female customers priority seating ‘to address the gender pay gap’” (Dailymail, August 4, 2017); Julla Jones, “Cafe charges men 18% ‘gender tax’ to highlight pay gap” (CNN, August 8, 2017).
  2. Ibid.
  3. Tyler Durden, “Cafe Brags That It Discriminates Against Men” (Zero Hedge, August 7, 2017); Jones, “Cafe charges men 18% ‘gender tax’ to highlight pay gap.”
  4. Steven Horwitz, “Truth and Myth on the Gender Pay Gap” (Fee, March 30, 2017).
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid; Thomas Sowell, “The Pay Gap Myth and Other Lies that Won’t Die” (National Review, August 9, 2016).
  7. Sowell, “The Pay Gap Myth and Other Lies that Won’t Die.”
  8. Ibid.