It sounds cliché, but my outlook changed when I became a mother. I had expected this, of course, parenting books and conventional wisdom heralded the changes that I would experience: from raging hormones to intense feelings ranging from absolute bliss to frustration and depression. To some degree, I was prepared for this: I am a clinical psychologist and in my private practice, I work with clients to explore the depths of their internal experiences and feelings – something I try to do within myself as well. What surprised me was the way that being a parent changed how I saw the world around me and shaped my interactions with my fellow human beings.
I’m a second-generation Chinese American feminist. To this end, issues of social justice resonate with me and I did much of my graduate work exploring how race and gender influence people’s perceptions of Asian Americans. Being immersed in this work engenders a certain amount of cynical realism, and I found myself often feeling disillusioned with the world, especially injustices based on socially constructed categories. I did not expect that my view of the world would change as life grew inside of me.
I recollect being pregnant and having women ask about my pregnancy or share personal information. Being an introvert by nature, this was a startling yet not wholly unpleasant experience. But more striking to me was what happened after my son was born. I remember being out shopping with him when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a large White man approaching us. He was wearing a leather jacket and a Harley Davidson shirt, and he made me nervous. Through years of conditioning, I braced myself internally for a possible racist or sexist encounter, when he smiled broadly at me and focused on my baby, cooing at him and saying that he was one of the cutest babies he’d seen. He then walked away, leaving me shocked and amazed. This was not the first time something like this would happen to me, and these experiences changed me. For the first time, I carefully considered my role in my interactions with others and recognized that my own expectations undoubtedly influenced how I was treated by others. To wit, if I expected people to be racist and avoided contact with them, I would never know whether my expectation would be met – or not.
I still hold that the world can be a cold place and that racism, sexism, and all the other isms that plague us undoubtedly exist. I would hardly claim to have shed all of my worldview; and, indeed, believe that it is psychologically safer and healthier to have this realistic view of the world around me. Yet now I feel that my view is tempered by a basic belief that people are good and there is goodness all around me, if I am willing to take a chance to see it and engage with it.