For most of my life, I have lived in the suburbs of Fort Lauderdale Florida, in the pristine, meticulously planned, “perfect” city of Eston. The streets are lined with plenty of foliage, in fact, the greenery is so abundant and orderly that one can easily get lost because it all looks the same. The schools, although overpopulated, are in premiere condition; senior year, the Miccosukee Indians were actually hired to build tiki huts around the school, flat screens were installed in the cafeteria, and beach chairs were added across campus. The elementary school that my brother attended tore down a perfectly good fence, and installed a brand new one, which was actually lower than the first (clearly someone got some kickbacks from this). “First world problems” are also very prevalent in Weston, as residents in the many gated communities complain about the home-owners association, and 15-year-olds throw tantrums if they don’t get a BMW after acquiring their permit from the DMV, because everyone needs a luxury car to practice with for their license. Eston is a place where mothers really do look like the sisters of their daughters, or at least attempt to, as Botox and plastic surgery is anything but uncommon. Everyone has to keep up with the newest trends; girls strut down the hallways with Louis Vuitton backpacks, students frequent Starbucks before the school day starts, and the student parking lot has nicer cars than the teacher’s. Clearly, the culture of my hometown is a prime example of our money obsessed society, and demonstrates Marxist theory, as money rules and so does masculine ideals of dominating and being the best out of everyone. Although surrounded by such social norms, I was admittedly a huge nerd in middle school. I always hated school, but I was good at it, academically anyway. Socially, not so much, as I had some trouble with alcoholism at home and I had very low self-esteem due to all of the “perfect” people around me. I was going through a hard time, and so I found salvation in this “perfect” and money hungry ideation that I was surrounded by. Freshman year of high school, I struggled with an eating disorder, and I constantly watched beauty and make-up tutorials on YouTube.One day, I went with my sister to my mother’s best friend’s house. We were sitting at the bar, everyone on their smartphones, and my sister showed us something on her Instagram feed. It was a picture of a small girl, no older than 3 or 4; she was wearing a stained, white dress, and huddled inside of a chalk drawing. The caption said that she was an orphan from a Southeast Asian country, and that every night, she would draw a picture of a mother and fall asleep in it. My mom’s friend joked about it, saying, “Um, wow, can’t someone give the girl a hug or something?” she then laughed with everyone else in the room. But that moment was the turning point for me, as my sociological empathy genuinely kicked into gear. Growing up, I was very sheltered, I wasn’t spoiled, but my siblings and I had more than what was required to live comfortably. We had a nanny, maids who would clean once a week, and a two story house overlooking the pool and canal outback. After seeing this girl, I thought about how I had more than enough clothing, how I had access to amenities, luxuries, and a future since my college was paid for (and my family had money in case something did go awry with school). I wondered how I could be complaining about my mom and her drinking problem, at least I had a mother, someone who, at the end of the day, loved me and could hold me. All of these thoughts flooded into my head at once, and I felt immensely guilty about my life-why was I so blessed? What did this little girl do to deserve such a miserable lifestyle, and how could she survive like that? After thinking about how unfair it was, I started crying.
For the past year, my only goal was being perfect; I lost weight, became a beauty expert, learned how to play the harp, started dressing in expensive clothing, and earned the position of varsity cheer captain at my school by using my 14 years of expensive ballet training and a few tips from YouTube. I took a complete 180 degree turn from the shy and geeky girl I was in middle school, I used to be bullied, and guys would ask me out as a joke in front of their buddies, but now I was popular, I had power, and I turned down the cute boys who didn’t realize that I was that same nerdy girl they once tormented in middle school. Everyone loved me, friends and acquaintances actually told me that they wished to be perfect like me; I won “prettiest hair” at the end of the year cheerleading awards (yes, that is unfortunately a thing). Don’t get me wrong, I was never mean to anyone because I knew how it felt to be put down, but I feel that many of the students at New College would probably hate my high school self, due to my lifestyle and contribution to the Marxist ideology.
Our capitalist American society in hungry, we want more, even if we can’t afford it, we are never satisfied, and I demonstrated this personally. Even after my transformation, I wasn’t satisfied. When people told me I was perfect, I would smile and say thank you, but I would secretly not believe it. I wanted more, I wanted to be prettier, to be thinner, and to have more stuff-that is, until I saw this picture, on a platform that this orphan girl could probably never even afford to buy. I realized how much of a sucker I was, how much I was contributing to society’s love of money, power, and domination. I was blind to the world around me; I lived in a gated community, my father was one of the first Tesla Model S owners, I just had to ask to get money to go out, and I had people who wanted to be like me. After seeing this picture, I took a moment to collect myself, and I decided that I wanted to make a difference. I joined my school’s UNICEF club and I helped raise money through harp and dance performances for the organization TECHO, which helps children in South America have a better quality of life. Knowing how one can be affected by bullying, I joined my school’s LGBTQ club as an ally, and I helped raise money for the feminism club to support a local woman’s shelter. I began performing at retirement homes, libraries, and nature centers, and my family began fostering litters of kittens and puppies from our local animal pound. I went from spending hours on my looks, to bottle feeding kittens every 3 hours and cleaning up after 8 puppies.
I am aware that not all Americans have a good quality of life, there is still homelessness and many impoverished areas, but as a whole, we are considered to be a very fortunate country. Although I am but one person, we are all interconnected, and so my desire for expensive goods, power, and longing to be perfect was perpetuating our capitalist culture. Sure, I ended up donating to a few organizations and performing in my community, but I wondered, was I really making much of a difference?
During the summer, I got an offer to help change the lives of impoverished people in an unfathomable way, but it would mean that I would have to make a major change in my life plan. This decision was probably the biggest one I have ever had to make, and being in this class actually played a key part in what I decided to choose. On September 11th, you instructed us to ask the question, “Why am I doing this?” We then learned how we are in this age of anxiety, and how society has constructed this set of steps you have to take throughout life. I realized that I was following this construct like a lemming, I never even took the time to consider a different path in life, until this opportunity to make a significant difference in the world came into my life. After this lesson in class, and talking with my family and a few close friends, I decided that, as of January 2015, I will take a few gap years and aid in the creation of 75,000 homes in Brazil, homes that will help families get out of favelas, of which are plagued with violence, drugs, and unmentionable poverty. This project will have the biggest impact out of any of my previous volunteer endeavors, and although it will be going against the order of society’s set path of life, I have decided to use my sociological empathy and contribute to this project instead, in order to make a difference that I can see with my own eyes.