Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Living as a Minority: Know Your Boundaries

One of the hardest realities of being a minority is that the majority has a thousand ways to hurt you, and you have but two or three ways to defend yourself. The most important defense that must be continually deployed is to know where your pain threshold is, and to withdraw when it gets hit. Minorities end up on the fringes of the majority because that is where there is enough freedom and enough space to be able to heal up from the wounds that are all too often mindlessly inflicted.

When we were in construction phase in 2004, one of the last subcontractors I had to deal with came to put in a condenser unit. He was no more than 25, with red hair and an aggressive attitude in dealing with people he didn't know. His conversational tic was that he called all men he ran into "young man" when he encountered them.

Now, at 40 years old, I wasn't wild about being called "young man." But I wanted the job done, so I just smiled and went on with showing him what he was dealing with. We were in the kitchen, looking at the main breaker panels in the storage room, and Crumpton walked in to tell me something. Our subcontractor looked at him and said, "Hello, young man--" and Crumpton spun around on his heel and walked very quickly out the door.

The only alternative was to tear that young man a new hole. There are a few boundaries you don't cross with my heroes, especially. Don't ever even get close to calling any of them "boy." It is too painful and angering to live with the memory of being diminished for so long, that anyone who gets near that wound will set off an explosion of anger that is not containable.

Crumpton not only left the kitchen, he left the building. He knew that he needed time and space to recover, because a boundary had been mindlessly violated. When he returned, no discussion was had; he just went on with what he had to do, and he stayed away from the real young man who was now outside the kitchen working.

Living as a minority means that self-care is the most essential component of self-control-- we have to know what we cannot tolerate, and push back from it before we explode. The majority is not responsible to care for us; they will not, human beings being what we are. We must care for ourselves enough to be able to set and keep boundaries that enable us to be constructive when we can, and absent when we cannot.

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