When I was in about fifth grade, I started to notice that something I was not like all the other boys. I went along with my friends as they discussed which girls they had crushes on, and even I picked girls to “have a crush” on, however I secretly preferred the boys, not the girls. When I first started realizing that I was attracted to men, I was terrified. I shut all thoughts of my true sexuality out of my mind and tried my hardest to fancy girls. I had been raised to believe that homosexuality was morally wrong, disgusting, and not God’s will. There was always a girl I had a “crush” on, just in case anyone, particularly my father, asked. I was living an act for years, lying to everyone including myself. The struggles I had with my sexuality started sparking some big life questions, questions about what was wrong and right, how to find happiness, and what I wanted my future to look like. After years of this confusion, I finally came to the conclusion that being gay would not hurt anyone. I decided to come out of the closet to first my family, and when they reacted in the negative way I anticipated, I looked for the support of my friends, who were there for me. I came out at the very end of my senior year, but right as summer started I was shipped off to work at Christian camp, where I was once again closeted.
I knew college would be different, it was a chance for me to restart, a chance to start fresh and a chance for me to finally be myself. I was nervous to see how my roommate would react, so I stayed below the radar for the first couple of weeks and participated in the stereotypical college life that had always been portrayed on television.
The typical college party life did not last too long until I realized that I was not happy. I could suppress my homesickness for about seven weeks before it boiled over out of my subconscious and made me depressed almost to the point of being bed ridden. Even worse than the homesickness were more deep life questions that somehow began to pop in my mind and start to change my view on the world. The questions that I started having when I was coming to terms with my sexuality once again surfaces as well as dozens of other questions. Questions that my parents used to always answer with the typical Sunday-School answers, the answers that never made sense to me, but I always rolled with. Leaving for college was different, these questions that were always in the back of my mind could no longer be answered with religion. It became absolutely imperative that I learn about the world for myself, and I draw from my own experiences and observations in order to start answering these questions for myself.
My Critical Thinking and Writing Professor asked us to participate in a project he had been working on, The American Happiness Project. He gave us a series of five questions to analyze our personal view on happiness. I particularly thought long and hard about the first two questions, “How do you seek happiness?” and “How can others live more happily?” To answer these questions I reflected on things that made me unhappy. After contemplating the things that detract from my happiness, I analyzed each individual frustration and noticed something that they all had in common—they all stemmed from selfishness. I realized that in order to live a happier life, I need to be more selfless. I need to think of how my actions affect others. By improving other people’s lives, I can improve my own.
As I started analyzing my other life questions revolving around my future—would I get married? would I have kids?—and I started thinking about these things with selfless perspective. Having children has always been something I wondered about, because my future husband and I will not particularly have the particular equipment to make a child, but we have two options—have a surrogate mother or adopt. My parents decided to adopt their eighth and ninth children, and so I already was semi-educated in adoption, however I chose to research ffurther into the foster care system. The facts that I uncovered were mind boggling. There are about 104,000 children with ages ranging from zero to twenty-one waiting to be adopted at any given moment in the United States. Each year, 20,000 of these kids become disqualified to be in the foster system because they become too old to be in the system (Meet). A wide range of factors can lead to the placement of a child in a foster home, not just the death of the parents. Imprisonment, diagnosis of mental illness, negligent and abusive behavior, abandonment, unable to provide safe living conditions, deficient funds due to chronic unemployment or other factors related to poverty, and inability to cope with a child’s mental or physical handicap are all examples of parental failures can lead to the government placement of a child in the foster care system (McDonald 22). To me, it was obvious. 21,000 individuals become parent-less, family-less, and hopeless each year. With these people in existence and the population increasing at exponential rates, it would be selfish of me to make another human when there are already so many others waiting for a home to call their own.
While this was an important decision on my part, it was not exactly relevant in my life at the moment of my research due to the absence of a fiancee or desire to start a family just yet. In the Critical Thinking and Writing course I mentioned we began to zoom in on our class topic, “food, self, and culture,” by reading “Eating Animals” by Johnathan Safran Foer. This book and class discussions opened my eyes to the inequalities of the food industry, major flaws in the system that are hidden from the public eye every day. The meat industry in particular is disgustingly brutal. Take chickens, for example. Chickens are never allowed to live in their natural habitat, nowadays. From the moment they are hatched they are kept inside windowless, warehouse type sheds. Each one of these buildings confine up to 20,000 chickens giving an average of 130 square inches of living space per chicken. Chickens do not experience the natural weather but instead feel the controlled temperatures regulated by forced-ventilation (Chickens). Instead of using natural sunlight, these buildings provide artificial light that turns on and off on a strict schedule. The false perception of night and day tricks the chickens into eating more, which allows them to grow larger faster (Factory).
The buildings are void of any terrain that would occur in a natural chicken habitat. Apart from the tall, windowless walls there is not much else. Water tubes are webbed above the floor to provide the chickens with their water and antibiotics. Underneath these sprinklers is vast amounts of chicken poop. The chicken waste is never cleaned out in their lifetimes, so they spend every day walking around in their own feces. Every inch of the floor is covered in their waste. There is nowhere to go, so the chickens are forced to lay and sleep in their own shit. As time passes and the chicken’s legs start to fail, the chickens spend the rest of their lives lying in their own feces. The artificial habitat that Factory Farms have created look nothing like a natural chicken setting. These buildings cram as many birds as possible into one space, making it impossible for a chicken to even stretch their wings. In addition to depriving the chickens of a comfortable and natural life, corporations end the chicken’s life a mere 47 days after they are hatched (Garces).
When discovering these facts about the chickens and other animals used for meat, I was appalled and distraught. The severe mistreatment of animals was not the only crime the food industry is partaking in. Extreme pollution and driving their workers to the point of insanity are just a couple things that have been hidden from our knowledge. Debates about the ethics of eating meat now that we had been exposed to this information were often discussed in class time. For me, it was tough. There was the selfish part of me that kept eating meat, even though I was fully aware of the process the meat on my plate went through to get to me, all the suffering these animals had to endure just to satisfy my hunger. But eventually, enough was enough. I had to answer another big life question once and for all—am I being selfish by eating meat? With all the information I had learned, the answer came almost instantaneously. Yes. Of course I was being selfish by eating meat. It was selfish to eat the meat that had come from animals that had been tortured every day of their life up until the point of slaughter. It was selfish of me to support an industry that is doing so much to guarantee the destruction of our planet. And it was selfish of me to just sit on the sidelines and put up with how the food industry treats its workers. In order to rid myself of this selfishness, I gave up eating meat all together.
As I mentioned before one thing I was quite nervous about when entering college was my roommate’s reaction to my sexuality. I started telling some of my friends a few weeks into school, but never felt the right time to discuss it with John. I did start to notice something though. John, like many youth across the country, would use words such as “gay” and “faggot” as derogatory terms. While this obviously made me uncomfortable, I did not say anything at first. But as the weeks went by, I started to realize that John was using these terms less and less, and when he did slip up he would awkwardly try to cover up his mistake and make sure that I did not notice. I found out that he asked one of my friends if I was gay, and when they confirmed, he started going out of his way not to offend me. One night we had a drunken reunion back in our room, and he took that moment to express his feelings towards my sexuality. He apologized for using any language that would offend me, and that he did not mind that I was gay at all. A couple weeks later he soberly told me that he was so glad that he was placed in a room with me, because I opened his eyes to things he had never truly understood before. Unfortunately we live in a selfish society that programs people into having this false idea about that gay community, that we are wrong, that we are disgusting, that we are different. These selfish heterosexual ideas are not fair or just, and John decided for himself that he would stop conforming to these preconceived ideas about homosexuality. I am ecstatic that I could be a part of this change in my friend’s life, and I believe that his selfless decision has made him a happier person.
It may not seem easy to become selfless because it is so easy to be selfish. We are imperfect beings who often seek to please ourselves in the most direct way possible, which often leads to selfish behavior. However, if we remove ourselves from the picture and we start behaving in ways that will benefit others, we will be able to please ourselves even more. If I had to give any incoming freshmen advice on how to survive in college, I would tell them that their expectations would probably be met, however they need to be prepared to face big life questions head on. While these questions might be overwhelming and scary at some points, it is imperative to answer these questions for yourself and not let someone tell you the answers. We all try to find happiness in different ways, but I believe the best way to a life of happiness is facing life in a selfless manner.
“Chickens on the Factory Farm.” MSCPA.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Dec. 2013.
Garces, Leah. “Why We Haven’t Seen Inside a Broiler Chicken Factory Farm in a Decade.” Food Safety News. N.p., 24 Jan. 2013. Web. 1 Dec. 2013.
“Factory Farming: Mechanized Madness.” Peta2.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Dec. 2013.
McDonald, Thomas, Reva Allen, Alex Westerfelt, and Irving Piliavin. “What We Know about the Effects of Foster Care.” Irp.wisc.edu. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Oct. 2013.