Thursday, February 11, 2010

You don't get it

There are two students in the department where I work from Iran. They have been contacted by the FBI who would like to interview them. Some of my coworkers have been interviewed as a part of this situation, and have offered glowing references for these students (who I really like and would also review very positively), and have been assured that this is a part of standard operating procedure.

One of the students contacted is, understandably, very freaked out. I would probably be pretty spooked if the FBI contacted me, even though I am a law-abiding citizen with nothing to hide, etc. However, if I were one of these students, I'd be bordering on petrified.

I've never lived in Iran. I have a few Iranian friends and am fascinated by the history and culture of the Persian people. I love to read books to learn more about it, and Persepolis is one of my favorite movies ever. In fact, I should watch it again this weekend.

The thing is this: we Americans just cannot understand the plight of the Iranian people. I am not going to pretend like I do, even though from what I read it has to be incredibly rough. The Persians I know are intelligent, rational, compassionate and even progressive people. They're nothing like the caricature you'd see on the news of people strapping bombs to themselves and dying (in vain) for their corrupt theocratic government. The Iranians I know despise their government more than I ever could -- but they love their country.

The reality is this:
  • I say whatever I want, and I would not be able to function somewhere where I had to live in fear of expressing my opinion.
  • It is very rare that my opinion/vantage point is completely dismissed because I am female. In Iran, this seems to happen all the time.
  • I have never been "questioned" - aka interrogated - by the government and wondered if I would come back ok, or whether my answers would deny me future opportunities.
  • I do not live in fear of the government, although I sometimes (often?) think they are inept. I don't believe they are actively out to get me.
These things and more seem to be the reality in Iran. Understandably, if I had grown up in an environment, I would be freaking out too if someone from the FBI wanted to talk to me!

This brings me to my point. It really pisses me off to hear people tell this student "You have nothing to worry about" in reference to her impending interview. I am sure that it, truly, is not a big deal assuming she has nothing to hide (which I honestly believe). However, given the environment she has known for all except 4-5% of her life, I in no way fault her for being freaked out!! I feel my coworkers are minimizing her concerns and feelings. It makes my blood boil, although I think my anger is directed towards the crappy Iranian government and not towards my coworkers and their ignorance and misguided attempts to reassure the student.

All this makes me want to scream to my coworkers "YOU DON'T GET IT!!!" Now, I am not trying to sound self-righteous here. I am sure that I don't get it either. Truly I don't. But I would not want to minimize this student's feelings, and I feel like that is what my coworkers are doing. That having been said, though, I am not sure what the right thing to do is. I would not want to encourage the student to be scared, because I really do think the situation will be fine and work itself out. However, I would not want to invalidate her feelings. The truth is, I really have no idea what to do with this situation, or how I would handle it if I were involved. Certainly, I would want to be empathetic, but that is the most I could probably say with certainty I'd do.

This all makes me think about my weight, which is why I wrote this blog post. I think that I feel like the student in the story feels. I feel like my weight and attempts to get healthy something huge in my life. I feel like most "normal" people don't really get it. I don't think that they have the history or emotion attached to food like I do. Very few of them have been a breath away from 300 lbs. I have. This is my life. It is something that I work very hard on, and the headgames involved are just too much sometimes. Ugh.

I feel like people don't get it when I talk to them about issues involving food. I guess it is unfair to expect them to see things from my perspective having never walked in my shoes. They probably haven't ever dug food out of the trash and then eaten it. They probably don't eat entire bags of chips at a time without breathing hard. I have done all of these shameful things and more. They just don't get it.

Now, being on the other side -- being the person who doesn't get it but at least knows enough to realize I don't get it -- I feel helpless. I am not sure what I can do to help, but I do know enough to realize that assuring someone that it will all be ok is not an effective solution. I would want this student to know, though, that my heart hurts for her. I hate that she is being characterized on something she cannot control (e.g., her nationality and the fact that her country has been hijacked by an extremist government). The awesome news is that I can control my weight, and I'm working to do just that. I do not have to be the victim in this situation.

1 comment:

  1. Maybe you can't tell her "it'll all be okay" but maybe just showing her that you are there for support. That you know it must be difficult and you believe in her. If she needed someone to talk to that you'd be there. You may not be able to re-assure her, but at least showing your support might help.

    I sort of see what you're saying with the "you don't get it". I mean people look at me and think I'm tiny. I know I am far from obese or fat or whatever you want to classify the self image I have in my head. But growing up being told you're fat 5 times a day every day makes a person have self image issues. My closest friends who are supposed to be my support laugh at me and brush it off when I feel self conscious. All I would want is their support, listening and attempted understanding. So for this reason, my advice to you is to show your support. It's the most you can do unless asked for more.


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