When I went to high school in the late 1980s, I lived in rural northern Virginia. High school is a miserable time for most people, and I was no exception. I experienced loneliness, depression, and academic pressure. However, looking back I realize that it was also a hugely formative time for me. It was there that I first became aware of politics. People started talking about liberals and conservatives, and I wondered what those two labels meant. I began to explore.
It was in high school when people started talking about their imagined lives as adults, and whom they wanted to marry. I started to think, “I don’t like the idea of the institution of marriage. I don’t think I’ll do it.”
During my high school years many of my peers started driving their first cars. At first I was envious of their mobility, but then as I learned about the environmental impacts of internal combustion engines, I realized I was developing a slow pride in the fact that I still took the school bus.
It was in high school that I grew tired of performing the beauty rituals of makeup, hairstyling, and shaving, and began to recognize the gendered societal expectations that underpinned them.
High school is where I learned about environmental problems, and began encouraging my family to recycle everything we could (although at that place and time, it was not much).
One day as I walked through my high school I noticed someone in the hall wearing a T-shirt about animal rights, and it opened my mind to begin thinking about vegetarianism.
Another day, during our morning announcements, I heard the Abraham Lincoln quote, “The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him your friend,” which struck me as both profoundly challenging and profoundly hopeful.
All these seeds of inquiry and growth were firmly planted in me during my pivotal high school years. Once I escaped that awkward social environment and started college in 1990, I began to put all of these beliefs into practice. I chose a school in Portland, Oregon, because I had heard that the culture there supported people with beliefs like mine. I was not disappointed, and Portland continues to be my adopted hometown, decades later.
When I arrived at college, I met vegetarians and even vegans (a new concept for me). I jumped right into volunteering on statewide initiative campaigns to promote recycling and defend abortion rights. I began learning the city’s transit system, and made a pledge to myself to remain car-free for as long as possible. Soon afterward, I began working in the newly formed recycling center at the campus physical plant, taking action to support my environmental beliefs. By the end of my first year, I chose to stop shaving my legs and underarms.
Fast-forward to 2014, as I write this. I’ve made it to my 40s. All those early beliefs are still guiding my choices, and life after a hippie-ish liberal-arts college has not always made it so easy. When we graduate to the “real world,” sometimes people expect that we needn’t stick so closely to our youthful beliefs; it’s time to “be realistic” or “be practical.” I’ve never been willing to do that.
While I do drive occasionally, I’ve still never owned a car. People sometimes find this extreme, and encourage me to consider getting one “just in case.” (Nope.) I have been vegetarian since 1992, and vegan since 1999. People sometimes wonder aloud if I ever miss eating animal products, or if I might consider reintroducing them for any of various reasons. (Nope.) I have never married, and I started self-identifying as polyamorous in my first college relationship, before I had ever heard the term. This has thwarted potential relationships at times. I haven’t shaved my underarms since 1991, and that choice has cost me relationships as well. I have always remembered the Lincoln quote, and it has spurred my passion for Nonviolent Communication and restorative justice, which are not always embraced in a culture filled with fear, anger, judgment, and desires for retribution.
I trust that when I live my beliefs sincerely—despite occasional inconveniences, despite occasional conflicts, despite living in a society where we are often encouraged to compromise our ideals—that I am truly happier, and that I can make an impact on those around me, simply by setting an example. My experience thus far has borne this out.
It is my passion to help others to know their true beliefs, and to live them sincerely. This is how we can transform ourselves and our culture. I am excited to be a part of the journey.