What’s the story we tell ourselves?

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So I just finished Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover and I definitely recommend it. What I liked about it is not because her story is CRAZY, because it is, but because I saw it as an examination of what is real and true.

A part I really resonated with was when she brought up Isaiah Berlin’s concept of Positive Liberty. As defined from the book: “positive liberty is self-mastery—the rule of the self, by the self. To have positive liberty … is to take control of one’s own mind; to be liberated from irrational fears and beliefs, from addictions, superstitions and all other forms of self-coercion.” I thought one of the strongest themes within the book was Tara’s struggle for positive liberty.

Tara grew up with survivalist, Mormon, Doomsday parents where their distrust in government prevented her from setting foot in a classroom until she was 17. When she finally did, she committed, learned, excelled and got a PHD in intellectual history and political thought. Her story is not only about navigating between two polarizing worlds, but also the struggle in which she was forced to choose between them. Spoiler alert: she chooses the woke/educated path, a path that ultimately ostracized herself from her parents.

While reading her book, I found myself groaning out of frustration because judging from my lens, being educated and woke myself, I found it maddening when she would have these internal dialogues of affirming her crazy parents’ convictions while denying her own experience, even thinking herself to be crazy to the point of academic withdrawal and mental breakdowns.

They were gaslighting her about her brother’s violence toward her and other women. Her parents were protecting him and condemning her and yet she would question her reality. Why? Why did their voices, their versions of events weighed more than her own? Why were they right and she was wrong? Why was making the decision to choose between her parents and herself so hard?

And then after that initial snap judgement fades away and her story really sinks in do I have compassion for her. I cry as I read on. She does not have positive liberty due to the internal constraints formed by her childhood and upbringing. And then I’m reminded of my mom.

My mom is one of 9 children. Being a part of such a large family, it’s easy to be left out and forgotten and I definitely saw my mom as that black sheep, so desperately trying to fit in when she did not, even into adulthood. Countless times I have told her she is different, they are different, why must she please them all? That’s impossible! Just be yourself and who cares what they think?

She’s in her 60s. And as loud and as often as I scold her, she’s not going to change. And then I catch myself. That unconscious desire to please everyone, to fit in even when you’re not meant to fit, has bled onto me. But I’m half my mom’s age now. I went to therapy, got educated, talked it out and fought and won positive liberty.

And so did Tara. Her situation is so extreme that her success in achieving enlightenment and positive liberty is noteworthy. The story she was telling herself was somebody else’s story. The shackles that held her down were from birth. The reality she believed was corrupt. And yet she managed to rise above it and fly. Writing this book, she is taking her life into her own hands, controlling the narrative, the reality and setting forth HERstory.



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