People are People Everywhere. I promise.
My journey of overcoming guilt by discovering humanity.
At the start of every great journey there is a tipping point. Sometimes, this tipping point is the loss of a loved one. Sometimes it is a quest for fame and fortune. Sometimes, the tipping point is the hope of self discovery and actualization. Sometimes, as it was for me, the tipping point is guilt.
I was raised as an average American. Born into a typical middle class family, I was a straight A students, and performed well in sports and the school band. I was brought up lovingly in the Christian faith. I surrounded myself with like minded friends, and always seemed to have some sort of fun get together planned.
But I never felt like I truly belonged.
This is not a fault of my family or my friends. This is something that came from within. I remember when I was 6, maybe 7 years old. I was laying in our backyard on the grass, staring up the clear blue sky. There were tears in my eyes as I wondered, why was I born here?
Why was this mind, this soul, born into this white American body? Why was I not living in poverty, as the majority of children are around the world?
As I grew older and started to enter into adulthood, this struggle of self identity became stronger. I began to focus my education on humanitarian engineering, wanting to use my skills and knowledge to create a more equal world for all. This ended up manifesting itself in a trip to Sierra Leone with the purpose of improving their water and sanitation infrastructure.
Instead of feeling like I found my calling and a way to contribute to the world’s poorest, I felt even more guilt there. I will forever remember the eyes of a small child, a baby really. As we were walking down a dirt path outside of Freetown, there he was, sitting naked in a pile of trash, playing with a bottle. But his eyes did not look like a child’s. They showed the pain, hardship, and suffering of a much older man. Once again I was questioning why I was born where I was. Why was my soul, my thoughts, my feelings not within this small body?
I felt guilt. And I couldn’t ignore that feeling.
A year later, I was back in Africa, this time living with a poor, smallholder farm family in Kenya. Instead of utilizing my engineering experience, here I was trying to teach my newfound entrepreneurial skills and grow a small business. For two months, we worked so incredibly hard on our venture. But it failed.
When I came home, I didn’t know how to process the experiences and emotions I had while living the life I used to imagine could have been. I covered them up. I dove into a year of laughter, friendship, and fun. With some of my best friends I started another small business. I lived in a house with 20 of my closest companions. Life was good.
And then the guilt came back.
How can I explain to someone this feeling of internal condemnation? Here I was, living the American dream, wondering why it was me that could live this life and not someone else. I knew that I couldn’t squash this feeling of guilt. That I needed to leave everything and once and for all embrace it with my whole heart.
Well I embraced that feeling, and took a path which I thought would lead me to some satisfaction by living and working among those that I internally suffered for. Almost immediately I was bumped from that path, and with it the sense of guilt.
I have been fortunate to have spent more than a year of my life now living with people from around the world. First I lived with Kzungu and his family in Kenya, and then spent time with Abdallah there as well. I went to Portugal and lived with Claudia, and her family took me in as an adopted son. In Switzerland I lived with Vera, in Colombia with Norma and Diana.
I don’t feel guilt anymore because I have come to truly realize that people are people everywhere. Before, I viewed this statement as a life calling, to ensure that all people have an equal opportunity at life. That is still how I try to move and interact with the world, but now that phrase means so much more.
People are people everywhere.
Its simple really. I was born in the US. My friends were born in Kenya, Portugal, Switzerland, Colombia. We still laugh at the same things. We still say goodbye with tears in our eyes. It doesn’t matter our nationality or language we speak. There were human moments I shared with each and every one of them. And I know that the more people I get to meet, whether they are in the USA or not, these shared experiences will only continue to shine through.
I no longer feel guilt because I realize that being a white American does not separate me from my black African friends. I no longer feel guilt because I realize that it is not us versus them.
No. We are the same. Flesh, blood, and bones. Emotions, feelings, soul.
I am writing this now because I am scared. I am scared that I am going to come home and that guilt will return. I am scared that a new chapter of my life is ahead, and I will want to run away from it.
I am scared not of the violence and hatred in our communities, but of the apathy that is coming with it.
I am scared of the hatred being spewed from our political system.
I am scared of how little we know or care about the wars destroying innocent lives around the world.
I am scared of how people blindly follow a 2,000 year old text and call it religion.
I am scared that others will not come to realize that people are people everywhere.
While my personal guilt has disappeared, I am heartbroken for our broken society. Instead of asking myself why was I lucky enough to win the genetic lottery, I am asking myself how I can help show others that people are people everywhere.
That the woman you just sexually assaulted laughs at the same jokes you do.
That the muslim you are scared of cries when his dog dies, just like you.
That the refugee from Syria is trying to improve his families life, just like you would for yours.
The guilt is gone, and in its place is the realization that we are all just humans. We all deserve an equal chance at life. But even more importantly, we all deserve to be looked at and treated like the person we are.
People really are people, everywhere. I promise.
Jared is a social entrepreneur that creates opportunities to facilitate connection and unleash human potential.
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