This is something I often hear from a wide variety of people to explain unfair life situations and to evade their personal responsibility. Many times it was my parents, who wanted to set limits for their children but didn't want to have to explain them. [side note: I really don't advocate for this parenting method]; I feel like there is nothing more limiting than this phrase.
I hear this most often from my working class relatives, immigrants and refugees, inmates, people of color, and those living below the poverty line in rural and urban areas, or to put it more simply: people who do not feel empowered by our society. I worry that it has become a kind of mantra, designed to evade the fear of disappointment one has when she has tried to change or do something and it's taking longer than expected. It's a kind of virus that has become ingrained in entire populations. It's a survival mechanism and understandably so. However, it's allowing those who believe it to survive, but not thrive; and I believe that challenging it, together, will help us grow.
My parents only used this phrase to cop out of explaining their injustices to us, in all other cases, my parents were empowering people, to a very certain extent. They had their eyes set on success in the social and financial sense; and in order to achieve that, they had to believe that it is absolutely not just like that. My mother had to believe that as a woman she could climb to the top, over the ignorant and sexist men holding her down with their golf clubs [she did!]. My father had to believe that starting his own law firm (a huge risk at the time) would be better than continuing to accept a lower quality of life in the large law firm he was working for - just because it was "good enough" [it was!].
She did and it was, but their decisions were not without pain, sacrifice, failure, panic, and trauma to their families and loved ones. Every moment was not a constant beautiful, breathtaking, climb to the top. There were many cliffs and valleys and thunderstorms and injuries and detours along the way.
For me, this journey nearly killed me. I suffered a lot as a young child from my parents desire to succeed. Though they were reaching towards their personal goals, they had a tendency to perceive their children as an extension of that and they gave the older ones, those who were young during their journey to the top, a lot of responsibility to help them get there. This felt like a lot of pressure.
In my case, this also meant sacrificing my own dreams in the interest of continuing to walk the path of my parents, to their vision of success (which was certainly a glamorous one). I didn't want it. I wanted to create. I didn't care if I lived in a big house or a log cabin that I built myself in the woods. I just wanted to write.
However, despite financial and in some ways emotional privilege, my parents still believed (in some ways rightly so) that society would not accept or support another artist and that I would have to accept that my art would make a 'great hobby, but nothing more.' In order to help me accept this, they said 'that's just the way it is.'
As a teenager, I sunk into a suicidal depression. The closer and closer I came to making a decision on which University I would attend, the harder and harder my parents pushed and massaged my thoughts into the idea that I would need to pursue a career in the law or science in order to survive in today's world. They supported my artistic ideas, as long as they remained on the side. At 18, I entered Reed College under the impression that I would study Green Chemistry, a sort of compromise where I could make my parents happy, while taking care of the environment.
However, Green Chemistry in practice was depressing me. I was a great student; I enjoy learning about the building blocks of life and I loved to take acid and tell you about the hydrogen and oxygen molecules in your glass of water - but I couldn't imagine the rest of my life as a chemist. I was surrounded by cool and interesting artists, but I had learned through years and years and years of brainwashing that being an artist was not an option, that's just the way it is.
I am writing about this today for a reason. Tomorrow is an important election day in America. I am writing to you from my parents house in Pittsburgh, where I am registered to vote. Many of those who have been disempowered are rallying together to try to bring order, anti-fascism, tolerance, and understanding back into the American system. However, I am still struck by the number of people simply saying they will 'vote Democrat' - without any idea of the platforms of the individual candidates, and sometimes even without knowing their names - in order to rebel against our current administration. When I ask if they have considered the Green or Libertarian party, they say that voting for them is not an option because it won't change anything, and 'that's just the way it is.'
This is a dangerous method, one that is not surprising considering the currently traumatized state of the American people, but nevertheless, dangerous. Concentrating all of the political power into two parties instead of four gives all the diverse political opinions and wishes less attention. Assuming that a candidate has your interests at heart simply because he aligns himself with one of the major political parties in America sets you up to be disappointed. Voters who vote over a single-issue is what got us into this situation in the first place and we, as American people in a participatory democracy, have an obligation to inform ourselves and afterwards, to make informed decisions. This is not just the way it is.
There are actually not only two parties in the United States. We have the Republicans, the Democrats, the Green party, and the Libertarian party and you can chose to be 'independent'. [These links go to the party platforms, but I still recommend looking up your individual candidates to see what they say!] Many people don't even know about the latter three. You can even write in a name on the ballot if no one running works for you. In Germany, they have 7 parties and the percentage of votes each party gets determines the number of seats they have in Parliament.
In this way, voting over a single issue is less common, though not entirely absent. We could potentially learn something from a country that survived a fascist regime and revised things politically. Perhaps we could even avoid the inevitable war and collapse that social tension, a lack of cohesion, and fascism bring?
Personally, I will vote for Conor Lamb, a democrat running for congress in Pennsylvania because there are no Green or Libertarian members running for Congress in my district and all other votes of mine will go to the Green party. In my district, that means Neal Gale, Paul Glover, and Jocolyn Bowser-Bostick.
This is because the Green party is the only party who values the environment to the extent that I am satisfied. Furthermore, they speak about a more humanitarian immigration reform, gun use reform, health care, living wage, fair taxation, election reform, criminal justice reform, governmental transparency, organic farming, and many other things that I value.
In my opinion, the Democrats are playing the same game as the Republicans, they just speak the tune in a manner that is a bit more 'acceptable.' However, as we all saw with Bill, Barack, and Hilary: the more information that is available, the more we come to see that they are all answering to their lobbyists, they are all making the same decisions, they are just significantly less transparent about it.
For example, Barack Obama stood in front of the people protesting against the Dakota pipeline, managed to temporarily block it, while at the same time agreeing to allow two others in Texas, under the radar. " Within a two-week span in May 2016, as the Sacred Stone Camp was getting off the ground as the center of protests, the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued presidential permits for the Trans-Pecos and Comanche Trail Pipelines. Together, the pipelines will take natural gas obtained from fracking in Texas' Permian Basin and ship it in different directions across the U.S.-Mexico border, with both starting at the Waha Oil Field." More info here. This is just one example, not including the troops he continued to authorize in the Middle East and the immigrants he deported, under the radar.
And because of things like this, we have unhappy democrats and unhappy republicans fighting over single-issues because 'that's just the way it is.' No, it's not! Today, there's no excuse anymore. Everyone has the internet at their fingertips. Take some time and inform yourself and take action, today, to ask yourself what could be different.
This phrase is not just disempowering during election time. As I said, for me, I tried to kill myself over a 10-year period to varying degrees of success. I still have physical damage and trauma (7 years from the last attempt) that I'm not sure will ever fully heal. However, after that last attempt, I made a commitment to myself never again to listen to someone who tells me that it's just the way it is - and to fight to change those things that don't make me happy.
I started writing everyday and produced my first album of inspirational hip-hop over the year of 2013. I wrote, produced, and recorded one track a month with help from Mystere Jones in Stroudsburg, PA and Garageband and released it as Conspiratorial Whispers in 2014. It's not meant to be the best album of hip-hop ever. It's meant to inspire you to start somewhere. I toured around, opened a sober performance space in my basement, The Blueberry Shire, and began working for Kathy Moser and her program Music for Recovery. Then, we started my current band, The Wichts and I even got to film a music video.
I met others who had broken away from their programming and had decided to take personal responsibility for the things in life that aren't working - and to take action to change them. I volunteered at the George St Co-Op and the Garden of Healing Yoga and Wellness Center in New Brunswick, NJ and began working with CoLAB Arts, to combine my passion for performance and social justice. I went to the New Brunswick Arts Council meeting to see what the government was doing for the arts. I started an internship sponsored by Johnson&Johnson and quit because it was really corporate. Just because something looks good on the outside or on the resume, didn't mean I needed to go with it.
I continued to grow, to work, to inspire. Today, I only take decisions that make me happy - not those that are going to give me a nice 401-K (much to my parents' chagrin in some ways, but in others, I think they are starting to see the worth of happiness and contentment as compared to that of financial success). This means that sometimes I am crashing on couches rather than in a mansion. I don't have my own pool or even my own house. That being said, I am taking action to be more financially responsible in the interest of being able to remain 'in business'.
I haven't bought new clothes for myself in years [though I have received presents :D] and I am much more likely to go to the 'cinema' with Netflix (that I borrow from my brother) in my basement than to pay $15 for a ticket. I rarely go out to restaurants because I like to eat vegan and organic and it's cheaper (and often, better) to do that at home. I haven't had a drink of alcohol of a drug in 7 years and I quit smoking to save money and my health (and yours!). Making these decisions allows me to travel and eat well, to buy the occasional present for my friends and loves, and to enjoy life with a relatively low level of stress about money.
This year, I official made this project into CP4P LLC. I am officially a small businesswoman. I toured several countries and have done poetry workshops in multiple languages. I spoke in a jail in Oroquieta City, Mindanao, Philippines. I've done so many cool things and it's not because I have money. It's because I refused to accept that 'that's just the way it is' and I chose to see the world through a lens of possibilities, rather than limits.
It's not always glamorous to be me, but it's glorious. There are many who prefer the creature comforts and luxuries of life - and that's fine for you. However, if there's something bothering you about the way you're living and you aren't doing anything to change it - ask yourself - have you fallen into the trap of seeing it as 'just the way things are' or have you asked yourself yet what you could do to make it different?