This is a charming essay from Aeon with resonating tidbits for those engaged in prison ministry.

In the second paragraph of this excerpt the author notes how she mispronounces words often because she learned primarily from books; exactly the case for me and many other criminals who read deeply in prison, and who are outsiders; the title of the essay being The Outsider.

An excerpt.

When I was in graduate school, a professor came upon me listening to music on my headphones. The piece had stunned me and it must have shown in my face, for he asked if something was wrong. I told him no, but explained that I’d just heard the ‘Ode to Joy’. I can’t recall exactly what I said next, but I enthused about what a wonderful ‘song’ it was, and asked if he had ever heard it. He had. And his response alerted me to the fact that it was unusual to call it a ‘song’. The professor’s manner was kind but it was impossible not to notice his shock: here was a creature seeking a PhD, who had never before heard the ‘Ode to Joy’. This was one of my earliest signals that I lacked the standard cultural and class equipage of academe.

Early in my career, I regularly mispronounced words. The vocabulary of academia was one I had encountered only in books – its language was emphatically not the stuff people I knew said out loud. I was once congratulated on my ‘bravery’ for not training out my ‘rustic accent’ – never mind that I didn’t know, until then, that I had one. More recently, I was asked to develop a seminar on class bias. I am a philosopher, and since I do not study class bias, the request surprised me. I later discovered that I was chosen for my ‘unique’ life experience, my perceived lower-class origins. Even now, people casually ask me at conferences where I am from, in a way that suggests they are struggling to place the unusual. A student once marvelled that I ‘talk like Faulkner’. Another, prompted by a course evaluation to ‘describe this instructor in one word’, recorded: ‘y’all’.

Before entering academia, I wasn’t terribly aware of my class. My family had made out pretty well, relative to many of our neighbours and even kin. But judgments of ‘doing pretty well’ depend, of course, on your point of comparison. At any rate, the cultural capital of my upbringing involved a very different currency to the one that’s spent in academe. In academia, people carry Beethoven in their pockets like so much loose change. My pockets weren’t empty, sure, but they were mostly stuffed with commercial jingles. So I often felt broke in a land of the wealthy, a cultural pauper among the aristocracy. To use the coin of the realm, you could say I had ‘impostor syndrome’ – that perception that one is not adapted for one’s role, that one does not really belong or pass muster.

I still lack the cultural stuff to pass in academic environments. Yet even as I often feel ill-fitted, using the archetype of an ‘impostor’ to explain myself to myself has never offered me much value. ‘Impostor syndrome’ is a conceptual construct rendered in the language and sensibility of the very thing I feel ill-fitted for. It is an academic term, after all, and seems like an affliction for the higher orders, a malady you have to come up a bit in the world to develop. Most importantly, I can imagine the withering look my grandmother would offer if someone dared to suggest that she suffered from ‘impostor syndrome’.

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