Brianna is a rising senior interning at Sanctuary for Families working on Special Events and Development.
Visualize images, phrases, and memories zooming past you in a chaotic whirlwind. It is your childhood, your struggles, your aha moments. It is that loss of innocence, that discovery of a new passion, the opening up of an undefended self. When your mind finally stops you are left with a collage of pictures, experiences, people, and voices – what is this patchwork that you are observing?
It is you.
Just a few days ago I was working on recruiting students within the Duke Community to join me in a new organization called the Duke Culture Initiative. In each email, I presented our mission with enthusiasm and excitement, I revealed goals that we were confident would be achieved, and a to-do list that emphasized our commitment and dedication. I was so caught up in building up this organization that I was so passionate about until my friend Frank said to me:
“I just have one quick question for you: Why did you choose to become so involved with this?”
It stopped me dead in my tracks…
I did not respond for days, not because I didn’t have a reason, but because it was not as simple as he thought. Reading his question again I felt a rush in the pit of my stomach, I felt the chaotic whirlwind approach and then I witnessed all of the pieces coming together. This was the same anxious but enthralling feeling that I had when I asked myself why Moxie? Why have I become so passionate and excited about entering into a program focusing on women, leadership, and social change?
Navigating through my life experiences I tried to pinpoint one event, one revelation that I made throughout the years that explained everything about me, my values, my motivators, my passions. But this was not going to cut it. I have had multiple light bulb moments where I think I have it all figured out, the point at which I understand everything. I think I have finally discovered all that there is to me and all that there is to know about changing the world!…But then I do some more digging, gain a little more knowledge and the moment repeats itself. Why does this happen? — well we are continually developing and discovering new things about the world and ourselves. It is the most validating experiences that make you feel whole, but at the same time you still feel as if there is something missing, that the entire puzzle is not there. So here it goes…here is what I have of my puzzle, here are my 21 years in a nut shell, my values, my passions, my motivators; me.
My mom reminds me to this day that from the time I was a year old I was stubborn and it always had to be my way. I knew what I wanted and most likely if I put my mind to it I was going to achieve it. From 7 years old on, running was my focus and it quickly became my passion. Training in elementary school through high school many of those years on my own, I had to learn to be self-driven, and confident in the path I had chosen and this individuality grew on me. I valued being independent, and I valued remaining true to yourself no matter what reaction or ridicule this evoked from others. Despite the consequence of being isolated and losing friends during my high school years because I had chosen not to follow the norm…I was extremely satisfied with who I was and what I was doing…because it was me. I had not allowed outside opinions, jokes, or jealousy to break me down and I was lucky. I was lucky to be brought up in a family with parents who never put a limit on what I was capable of, they were always supportive and enthusiastic explaining to me that nothing was impossible, and most of all they developed an environment where I felt comfortable and even proud of being unique. In our household, pursuing you was valued. I never really liked the “standard” or mediocre, it just didn’t align with who I was.
My American Culture Studies class my senior year of high school was the first “A-ha” moment; the summer after that class my big statement was “I am going to change the world, I am going to change values.” I had seen it ALL — destructive messages in the media, an understanding of a consumer culture that sexualized everything, commodifying women’s bodies to sell almost anything, and a superior corporate culture that bred self-interest. I could not understand the world I was living in…but at this point I did not know how to change it. Fast forward to freshmen year at Duke, plagued with injury, and having a difficult time understanding myself as anything other than a runner, led me to seek out new passions. Through volunteering, my Leadership and Narrative course, the writing of a 40-page paper about myself, and personal experiences that taught me the meaning of empowerment and self-respect, I could now identify what my new passion was. I wanted to provide anyone and everyone I connected with to experience the same discovery of the self, an understanding of their personal belief system and most importantly to be equip with the internal courage and confidence to pursue their dreams and passions as well as the external community that could foster this behavior.
It was, and still is, a struggle to “be you”. When we live in a culture that has restrictive expectations that shape behavior; highly influenced by ingrained gender constructions and social norms, and intolerance towards differences. I see it in my own life, and it hurts me to witness this in my younger siblings’ lives. But the oppressive nature of these elements in our society is not set in stone, they are not fact, they are not truth. I want to break this idea, and yes, I do want to change values. Many people accept that it is human nature to express characteristics of aggression, violence and self-interest, BUT we are entirely capable, and in fact soft wired, for affection, companionship and empathy. It may be some time until that day comes, when empathy is the norm and when differences are accepted; when you don’t feel insecure expressing the true you. But no matter when that day comes…
this is still me.
The Empathic Civilization