In everyone’s heart there is an ugliness. The ugly sleeps deep, where some of us might not know it exists. More often than not, we know of the ugliness and we keep it hidden, secret. The ugly is a part of us many are not proud of, or try to convince ourselves is not true. Sadly, some embrace the ugly, making life harder for everyone around them.
The ugly comes down to a simple mindset: US and THEM.
We all do it. With everyone we meet, with those we hear about. We divide people into teams. Team US are people like us: They drive the same class of car, they work the same kinds of job, they live in the same neighborhoods as we do. In most ways they probably look like us too. Team THEM, though, makes us uncomfortable. They are different than we are. They live in neighborhoods we deem unsavory or unsafe. We judge them for how they raise their kids, how they dress, the car they drive. We call them lazy for being unemployed, for using government assistance.
I used to place people in pretty little boxes just like this. I sized people up and with just a few facts, I assumed I knew everything about their life.
Then I became a caseworker.
And had me some humble pie.
Because what Team US doesn’t see is that those Team THEM players are brave. Maybe they use government assistance. But do you know how much courage it takes to go into a grocery store and try to use food stamps? To face the stares, the judgement? The humiliation of itemizing a cart and paying in three different transactions? Do you know the mountains of complicated paperwork one has to fill out to obtain said assistance?
What Team US doesn’t know is that Team THEM players are patient. We condemn the so-called tenements they live in. But do you know that for some, Section 8 and Subsidized Housing are long-term dreams? To have a secure roof over their head, a home to raise their family in? Did you know that to get into Government Housing, there are waiting lists that some wait on for upwards of 8 years to be approved?
What Team US doesn’t know is that Team THEM players are families. Do you know they participate in WIC and the Food Stamps programs so their kids will have food to eat? Despite the judgement and stigma placed upon them, they work two minimum wage jobs a piece to assure there will be heat to keep their kids warm? They wait upon Section 8 housing so they have a home to tuck their kids into at night, to put up a tree in at Christmas, to make memories that will last forever?
What Team US doesn’t want to believe is that deep down, there is very little separating US and THEM. We all want what is best for our children. We all have the same basic needs of food, water and shelter. We are all entitled to the same life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. We all bleed when cut. And above everything, we all need to be loved.
As a caseworker, I learned that we cannot begin to pretend we understand another human until we’ve walked a mile in their shoes. I thought I knew everything about THEM because of a few facts on an intake sheet. But then I was welcomed into their homes. I worked with their children. I helped them get the assistance they needed to be fed, to be warm, to be sheltered. I facilitated interviews so they could gain employment. I heard their stories firsthand. I watched as they made memories together as a family. I stood by as they endured and overcame despite US.
I will never see life the same way again.
I hope we will all get to try on different shoes, to walk a few different miles. Over time I hope we’ll throw away the boxes we place people into. Because I long for a world where there is no US or THEM, but WE.
WE are Americans.
WE are people.
WE stand together.
About the guest blogger: Steph loves ice cream, her husband, TV and bringing sexy back – but not necessarily in that order. You can find her sharing recipes, encouragement and random thoughts on life at Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Mom and on Twitter at @donnareedsteph.