Saturday, March 13, 2021

Fueling Misperceptions

According to the U.S. Census, only 1.3% of Maine’s population is of Asian ethnicity. If these statistics are compared to the 1.3 million people who live in the state, that means that there’s only about 17,000 Asian people in Maine, which sounds large, but it really is not. Due to the large percentage of this group that reside in the inner cities, many people I know, who live more rurally, have met very few Asians in their lives.

To me, this poses a very startling realization. In the circle of people I know, which is admittedly small, I might be the only Asian person they’ve ever really known. And while this does not seem particularly profound in itself, I daresay it is. Because of my singularity, I hold a responsibility to represent my culture, and possibly, influence the way which it is perceived.

For example, I, a Chinese American teenager, have struggled with acne in the past. However, one might look at me, notice that I am of Asian descent, and assume that is a trait of the majority of Asians, without further knowledge or research. This particular assumption is for the most part harmless. It is a deduction based on unverified facts and what this person has observed. However, sometimes these assumptions are not just about acne. Sometimes these assumptions are spread to the entirety of an ethnic group, causing hurt and misunderstanding.

This is important for us to realize because the way we act has the ability to fuel or dispel such perceptions.

You see, when we interact with people, especially those who don’t know us as well, we are not just representing ourselves. In these situations, our behaviors are the representation of our cultural group, ethnicity, etc. Why is this? Each person, thing, or experience influences one’s perceptions of the world, and for us who are “minorities,” we not only affect how they view us, but also, how they see all of our ethnicity as a whole.

And while every person should live with a mindset of responsibility and hold themselves with integrity, I feel that for those belonging to a minority, this truth is even more so applicable.

Truthfully, whether people care to admit or not, we, as humans, group people together by any factor that can possibly be compartmentalized. This, for better or worse, applies heavily to aspects such as ethnicities, especially ones that are foreign to us.

Is this about forming unfair, unjust perceptions? Yes. Does prejudice play a major role? Also yes. However, this is not a matter of them, we cannot control them and trying to do so will only spark anger and division. Rather, this is a matter of you and me. Whether we like it not, our actions and behaviors can and will affect the perceptions of others.

The responsibility we hold has the power for radical change, in both us and others. In our actions, our speech, and our relationships, we can be the embodiment of millions before and around us, and this is a power both motivating and potentially dangerous.

My intention is not to intimidate but rather to inform and, hopefully, encourage change in each of you, regardless of your ethnicity. I urge you to reflect on yourself and ask, “Who do I represent? As a representative, how am I portraying them? Are my actions doing their part to positively present the bigger culture I belong to, or are my actions able to fuel misperceptions?”

Monday, January 4, 2021

Letting Go

Here’s the thing about death: there’s a certain amount of finality to it. But there’s also another type of grief, sometimes more complicated than the grief that death carries. This is the grief of a person who is still alive. And yet, this type of loss is something we can face multiple times in life. So why exactly is this experience, the act of letting go, so hard to bear? How do we get through this?

The first question is easier to answer than the second. Why is it so hard to let someone go who is still alive? Oftentimes, this is so hard because we have the knowledge that they are still alive. And we, as hopeful creatures, hold onto them because we know it’s still possible that they will return to us. Logic only goes so far, and when we are in an emotional state of turmoil, we have a higher chance of entertaining hopeful fantasies. These, however, can sometimes be the root of our inability to let go.

Now, I’d like to be clear. I do not mean that we should stop being hopeful. Instead, I would like to differentiate hope and hopeful fantasies, two very different ideas with drastically different effects.

Hope is gentle; it is warm. This is the feeling that envelops us in the dark and provides a light. Like an invisible companion, hope keeps us focused on the light in front of us instead of the dark.

On the other hand, hopeful fantasies are as simple as this: still fantasies. Made up by our idealistic minds, these daydreams immerse us. When we dive into these figments of reality, we play with emotional fire. With our minds as the ultimate author, we can create a world where the hurt didn't happen, where the darkness is convenient. And this is a dangerous state to be trapped in.

I’m writing this post because I’ve had a hard time with this lesson. In fact, I’ve been struggling with it for almost four years. In sixth grade, I had a friendship breakup, and I just recently was able to let go of the hurt, and subsequently, the person.

Why was I unable to let her go? There are two big reasons:

  • My identity was not strong at this point, and I allowed her to become part of my identity
  • I knew logically she was gone, but I comforted myself with an unhealthy coping mechanism of hopeful fantasizing.

These two factors largely played into my struggle. As I stated, my confidence was, well, in a word, not matured. Unlike today, I relied on my friend as my “friendship spine” instead of making my own definition of friendship. In doing this, I allowed myself to be morphed into something I couldn’t hold together without her. This dependency wasn't healthy and limited my growth.

The other factor was that of my fantasies. I got twisted into a world where we were still friends, where she was still a part of my life, and the fallout hadn’t happened. And this held me back a great deal.

I knew these were unhealthy, so why exactly did I keep coming back to them? The answer is simple: this fantasy world was very attractive to a lonely person. They submerged me into a tangle of webs, so deep down, that I could not find the end of the rope. Our minds, the most powerful part of who we are, then provides us with these fantastical escapes. And because of this, I continued to flirt with the unhealthy attachment.

So, I had to let go of these worlds. And I’m not going to lie; it wasn’t easy. Sometimes, I would fall back into these patterns. But today, I can look from the shore and see how far I’ve come. Because during this time of “letting go,” I have not only found closure but also a clearer definition of what is healthy in a friendship.