Shifting Perspective

At any given moment we stand somewhere.  We live, work, and play connected (or disconnected) from where we stand.  And we create the narratives about our lives.  I often wonder how often we stop in a moment and look around to actually see where we are, to understand the stories, connections, and shared stories being created in that moment.

I have been thinking about margins with personal lens shift.  What are the ways that being in the margins or of the margins or working in the margins impacts you?

In much of my adult work life I have tried to keep an eye on social justice, ways to be involved in initiatives that increase access and equity. My work started in the Jim Crow era, in Virginia in college in a town where the schools were not yet integrated.  We formed a student group to work with the NAACP and the town housing authority to begin discussing strategies to approach the housing discrimination. We worked with the African American schools to tutor kids in preparation for integration. Later as a social policy planner in California, working with the mayors within a county to forecast further employment growth, we defined fields where training programs could be intelligently planned and implemented. Subsequently as a physician I worked first in a community health center and then on a medical school faculty with programs to nurture students to make career choices serving the underserved.

Last fall I went to a conference called Grace in the Margins.  It was put on by the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center (, a group formed by a number of Roman Catholic religious communities with a mission to work for “justice in the church and world.”  I know individuals within these communities and of their peace work and their work for equity and justice in many areas:  housing, immigration, and health care.  My assumption was the conference would be about work we could do for people marginalized in our society to bring about more social justice.

This was definitely a focus.  However, and this blog is not about the Catholic Church, there were many subthemes that day. The several thousand of us were seated at round tables of about ten participants, mostly women.  At my table when we shared why we were there and our hopes for the conference, it became clear to me that all but a couple of us felt marginalized as women in their church.

This moment in history  coincided with a recent history where the roles of women within congregations were being restrained from expanding.   Most recently the Vatican sought to exert more control over and to modify the statements and activities of a number of women’s religious communities, including those of the IPJC. (  Hmm, that marginalization seems to me to true, just one with which I did not strongly identify as a personal issue and one I figured would not change.

My little table also had a friend who is African American who spoke to racial inequity. A keynote speaker, Valarie Kaur (, talked of a key moment in her life when a Sikh man was murdered in a hate crime in the aftermath of 9-11-01.  She left college to talk with and film Americans and what happened in their lives, who was “us” and who was “them,” producing Divided We Fall (

Those moments at that conference did not shift my views about my social responsibility, yet they did enlarge my understanding of margins.  When have I been in a margin?  What has it meant?  Does it matter whether I perceived those times as marginalized or not? Have I spoken from within the margin and to whom?  The center or the margins or both?  Which is more effective (that is if I am not just speaking into a non listening void for the sake of hearing my own voice).  What does it mean if I see  myself standing not in the margins, yet I speak to the margins?

What about you?

3 thoughts on “Shifting Perspective

  1. Wendy Rollins

    Sharon – I always love getting a peek inside your thoughts. I myself, have gained new insight into how folks are marginalized. In my world view, which admittedly is limited, marginalization was about the poor, those of different religions or sexual orientation and/or identification. In recent months, I have come to see the infirm, the elderly and even the terminally ill as being marginalized. My awareness has been raised and now I get to choose how to act.

    1. Elsa


      A friend of mine and I have talked about how we tend to relate most strongly to people for whom we used the term “displaced”. This is in essence the same as your term “in the margins”.

      What is particularly interesting to me in your piece is noticing that people whom I would not consider marginalized from my viewpoint see themselves that way. I’m guessing most people see themselves as marginalized in some way.

      Looking forward to your next post.


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