I was a fence straddler for years because I learned that in my family if I didn’t want to be judged unfavorably, then I could not verbally express how I really felt. I was the baby and I saw everything. There were some very opposing views on religion and culture and ethnicity, and how religion, culture and ethnicity was to be expressed. Even though I was born in America, I couldn’t take on too much of America’s ways either. I learned that by professing that I preferred one side, that I would be denouncing the other side of me…of my family. The truth was that I loved them all. Even though, no one ever told me to take sides, I believe that they secretly rooted for me to take their side. I felt powerless, but in a way, claimed my power by withholding my true feelings.
Sadly, this didn’t empower me. In fact, it crippled me because I went through life living to not commit, to not disappoint, and more specifically, to not disappoint other people. I really struggled in my teens to early 20’s with discovering who I was and what I wanted out of life. This alone was not unique to only me because lots of people struggle with this, but the complexities of religion and wanting to fit in with my judgmental, Haitian family was not easy.
Although I tried to ignore the fence, mostly through incessant daydreaming, and later on inaction, the fence became too large to ignore…too large to continue to straddle. As I think about this, I realize how brave I was in taking the risks that I did. There are risks to just about everything I can think of and I reached the point of not caring about what those risks would be. All I knew was that I had to find my voice and I could only find it through listening to God, not everybody else.
This has been a long road. I began practicing using my voice, which meant that people did get disappointed. But you know what, they eventually got over it and so did I. Using my voice has also allowed me to help a lot of people. Despite all my progress, it is interesting that every now and again, I feel the fence and I feel the impending judgement. For example, I felt the fence in a class I had in graduate school when a classmate called me out my views on politics. More recently, I noticed that I was withholding my view in a conversation at work. Now, I do tend to withhold strategically because negotiation is a part of my job. However, when I’m withholding for fear of judgment (doesn’t happen as often), that’s a different beast that I need to continue to work on.
There are many great things that came out of my upbringing, including but not limited to my ability to see and understand opposing views, to accept people as they are, to hear the unspoken words, and to appreciate other cultures, ethnicities, and religions. A huge lesson was that I could be my own greatest advocate and be loved regardless. And if someone walks away, as they have, that’s ok too. I simply show my appreciation even more to the ones that stick around.