Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Marginal Life

The title of this post is not to suggest that some lives are "almost insufficient" as Webster's defines marginal. Rather, I mean it in a sociological context. Sociologically, a marginal life is one that is "marked by contact with disparate cultures, and acquiring some but not all the traits and values common to any one of them."

So, a marginal life consists of experiencing different cultures, groups, peoples, and ideas and incorporating some of those experiences into who you are as an person. In a way, it's like the pie chart above; hopefully, with a few more divisions.

Mark Twain once wrote, "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."

The power in interaction is found in the fact that we become more of a person with each successive interaction. The experience I had working in the heart of Kansas City, Kansas have shaped my attitudes and beliefs on issues like poverty and education inequality. It taught me to value living life in the most basic, essential form. None of this extravagance or frivolous spending. Working with Nepalese, Indian, Burmese, and Thai refugees instilled within me the value of hospitality. These incredibly humble people open their homes willingly and offer ever amenity as their disposal. Experience in Utah has strengthened my political and social conception of the way the world should be. Idaho created the part of my soul that loves the outdoors, farms, and simplicity. My family has shaped part of my pie chart, as have my friends and teachers. Each interaction adds a piece to our puzzle that is us and the purpose or meaning we ascribe to our life and the ideals we cherish.

Living a marginal life leads us to question who we are as a person and where we belong in the scheme of things. Currently, I feel in a state of limbo because of this marginalization. I don't feel a sense of belonging in Idaho or Utah. Missouri calls back to me. Romania calls me forward. The values I have absorbed as one who lives a marginal life have attributed -- at least in part -- to my nomadic nature.

Who am I? This isn't a quaint existential exercise in self-examination or evaluation. This is a serious question, one that a marginal life begs to have answered. It's not an easy question to answer, I think. I've got some thinking to do about it myself. I invite you to do the same. Live a marginal life. See what good it does for you. Who are you?