It Begins with Me

Exchange and Change

Exchange. It means: “An act of giving one thing and receiving another (especially of the same type or value) in return.” (Google).  We are told that by taking one part of ourselves, and giving it up to do something similar, we’re being a grown up. After nearly 50 years in this life, I am ready to say with a fair amount of certainty that this practice is completely worthless and harmful and needs to stop.

When I was a child, my mother once said, “Everyone wants to be original, unique, and special. But, if everyone is special, no one is. Some people are just better than others.” I remember that clearly, mostly because my grandmother snorted and said, “The only people that say that want to be special.” This palpable rage hovered between them for a moment and then slithered away. It made an impression.


I spent most of my life pretending that who I was inside did not exist. It did irreparable damage to my body and mind, exerting stress where unnecessary and creating a sense of despair about my own personal truths. I struggled with depression and rage most of my life, so much so that I fought off my own suicide a great deal of the time I was growing up. My brother had these same struggles, ending in his death at a young age – which left our family in ruins.

All of this can be traced back to being able to be true to yourself. Life is hard. Struggle is real. None of this changes when you are true to yourself BUT the stress of being what you are not fades away, and there’s a peace and acceptance that makes the rest of things life throws at you a lot less stressful.

It was a hard lesson to learn, but I’m proud to say that I did learn it.

I spent the first 30 years of my life trying to “fit in” and the next 20 years struggling “be myself” with varying degrees of success. Labels, while most of us agree can be limiting, also give freedom when applied correctly. Sometimes, having a label helps you feel that who and what you are, how you are, is less odd and more “I’m not alone after all” and that in itself can be freeing.

No one wants to be alone in the dark as some weird aberration that has no place and no name. It’s dehumanizing all on its own.

I truly believe we are all individuals. No one is like anyone else, not really. We are unique in our own existence BUT we are also similar to others who struggle like we struggle, who see what we see, who feel what we feel, and as intense as we experience it. No one is ever truly alone. Mathematically, there is at least a few folks out there like you in every way and to me, that’s comforting. Go math.

We are all special. We are all unique but we are also the same. We are the human race. We are male. We are female. There’s a group of red-heads over there. There’s a group of blue eyed people. Over there are people who survived child abuse. In that other group are people who struggle with mental illness. The list goes on. We are unique but we are not alone.


So how does this effect change?

Exchanging ourselves, and parts of who we are to find what fits better and helps us fit in, is not the way to do it. Instead, we should simply be, and then seek out those that we feel comfortable with. It’s one thing to be surrounded by people just like you, but it’s a whole different concept when it becomes homogeneous (everyone is exactly alike). If you were unlucky enough to be born into a group where you are so different you stand out constantly, this lack of blending can leave lasting scars. It can also effect massive change.


If you were the first black person in your area, or the first Hispanic, or the first gay person, it can be dangerous for you but it can also be a uniquely challenging situation both for you to learn how to communicate effectively so that you can live in cohabitation in the same region they do, and for them to challenge themselves and learn how to live in cohabitation with someone so specifically different from them. You can teach each other – it’s all about how it is approached and handled.

If we all simply agree to disagree when things get heated, and struggle to see the other person as human (or a person worthy of equality), we will have less stress overall when learning to accept each other. We have to rise above religion, capitalism, concepts of gender, and concepts of race to see each other against the overreaching backdrop of reality.

A janitor and a lawyer are both doing an essential job. Payscale should be set on a wide range of difficulty matrices coupled with concepts of education, labor intensity, learning curves, and long-term ability. This idea that someone cleaning floors has a higher acceptability of poverty is completely wrong. Someone has to sweep and clean windows and pick up the trash. Why are they subject to such expectations of poverty and some kind of undeserving process to keep them poor and wanting?

I am 100% okay with a stockbroker making millions as long as the janitor picking up his trash and dusting his office makes enough to pay rent and live decently. That stockbroker has no more worth than the janitor. They are both human. They both have needs that must be met to survive. Why do we automatically feel justified giving the stockbroker millions and fuss at paying the janitor $15.00 per hour?

FYI: $15/hour = $30k/year before taxes and about $25k after. A cheap apartment runs about $900/mo or roughly $10-12k per year, so that’s already half their pay right off the top. $15/hour isn’t great and it really should be higher but we have to start somewhere.

The most common argument I hear about paying minimum wages of $15/hour is that current hard-working jobs are roughly at that level. They squawk that someone struggling to work in a manual labor job or flipping burgers is less deserving a “living wage” than they are, since they work harder, longer hours, or had to have a degree to get that job.

First of all, that’s incredibly short sighted and selfish, so let’s get that out there right now. You are not better than anyone else and no one deserves to live in poverty… and frankly if you think that we’re not going to agree at any part of this conversation so we’ll just stop there.

Secondly, we know from history and historical context that wages move up as the minimum wage moves up. It has happened every time wages have gone up. And the earth didn’t fall from orbit, the moon didn’t crash, the end of the world didn’t happen and we were all better off for it. Prices didn’t increase dramatically and even returned to it’s baseline after some adjustment time passed. The minimum wage isn’t responsible for cost of living increases and it will do nothing to our economy other than stimulate the discretionary income of MILLIONS of people who otherwise are living in abject poverty.

FYI: The majority of those working at or below minimum wages are: single parents, children/teens, elderly “retired” persons struggling to make ends meet, immigrants, migrant workers, and college age kids, and young adults with massive debt. NONE of these people would be hurt and all of them would be helped by the baseline wage going up.

Also, it bears to mention that raising the minimum wage would raise the wages for EVERYONE and thus create a HUGE wash of discretionary income to a large bulk of the American people as a whole. While an article in Forbes claimed the opposite, simple math debunked what they were claiming. No one deserves to be poor. No one deserves to work a full time job and still be unable to provide healthy food and a safe living condition. If you think they do, the issue is your morals, not economics.

It should be mentioned that Forbes also supports lower taxes for business and the “trickle down economics” that ruined our country in the first place. The rich want the poor to stay poor – it’s always better for business when you have a large bunk of slaves to do your work cheaply so you can make more money.

And that is why Capitalism is under siege, just like Communism was/is. They are two extremes that refuse to find middle ground for their suffering working poor. Something has to give. No one “deserves” to live in luxury while their workers starve. That mentality is why heads literally rolled in France and that time is coming again. People are sick and tired of being sick and tired while the “owners” and kings eat and live the very best on the bones and hard work of the suffering poor.

This all has a point, I promise.

Personal change comes at a price. Who we are inside must live, but it should not live at the expense of others. Happiness comes when you strive for it, choose to find it, and choose to live for it. Success isn’t about money, it’s about happiness and contentment. Being true to yourself is absolute, but it should never be gained by hurting others. The same can be said for riches, or any other “thing” we strive for. And that is where humanity has stumbled.


You cannot be happy if the people around you are miserable. If you reach riches through the suffering of others, there will be a cost much higher than you can truly pay. Enjoy your financial success, but remember to give back.

The same can be said for being yourself. Yes, we should all strive to be ourselves but not at the expense of others. If you are a jerk, and you’re happy being a jerk, then you must be prepared for others to react when you are a jerk. To whine that you are only being true to yourself doesn’t work, because you gained this contentment with yourself through the suffering of others.

It’s a pretty deep and involved concept, once you start delving into it.

I would love to be a full time artist and writer. That’s what I am, deep inside. However, I have to have a job. I have kids to support, a husband to work together with. We are a partnership, he and I. If I quit my job and become an artist, who puts food on the table? My own choices to support my “truth” will take my family apart. That isn’t okay, and it should never be encouraged.

It goes to also say that WHO you are, is not about your job, or your material worth, or what you DO or say. It’s a lot more complicated than that. WHO you are is HOW you respond to challenges. WHO do you hurt? HOW do you handle disappointment and depression? Do you lash out? Do you withdraw? Neither are acceptable. If you are a fat woman, where does the line sit between enabling an unhealthy lifestyle and loving yourself for who you are? It sits smack dab in the middle, between not hurting others and not destroying yourself.

Nothing worth striving for is easy.

I will not exchange who I am to fit in, but I will also not destroy, damage, abandon, or neglect my responsibilities, my children, my friends and family, and the who of who I am. It’s a delicate balance that I am not always perfect at, but strive to be.

Like everything in life it’s about balance.

Balance is hard.


Mythbusting Minimum Wages

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