So I just finished reading tons of posts on Ludo Stories: Tales of Triumph and Tragedy after Law School. Then I penned a long letter to Ludo, which I traditionally never do, because his blog has been a big source of inspiration to me, and I like telling people that they have a positive impact on my life. After I hit send on the letter with at least three postscripts (!!), I thought of yet another thing that I wanted to tell him. And I realized that while I could send him yet another comment, it was probably worth actually updating my blog instead. This post is for Ludo and for all my loyal readers who have not abandoned me after two months of silence. Thank you.
As you may recall, I am now a part-time instructor. I teach history at a local university, and I love it! It has been extremely time-consuming and also emotionally fulfilling, so I haven’t had the need or the time to devote to this blog. Anyhow, as I was writing this evening, it suddenly dawned on me why I was so invested in my lecture content today. Allow me to invite you into my classroom:
…the Gilded Age, which spans roughly from 1870 to 1890. This time period is known for its corruption in business and politics, which resulted, among other things, in a very stark wealth inequality. As intellectuals tend to do, many intellectuals debated this social dilemma at the time and came up with several theories about the present social stratification: (1) “Survival of the fittest”. Deserving people are rich. Undeserving people are poor. To help the poor is to fight nature. (2) The rich have a responsibility to help the poor but only in the way that they see fit. This often means providing resources to the poor from a distance. (3) Good people should improve society by launching campaigns to remove vices like drinking to excess and illiteracy in order to providing the opportunity for deserving people to have a chance to rise above their circumstances.
Back to the soapbox: So the thing is that I firmly believe that not working hard and not being educated and not following the rules sets you up for failure (or at least trouble), but I don’t believe that the inverse is true. I see at my retail job good people who are stuck for working minimum wage because they have a criminal record or they don’t have a high school diploma and they feel stuck where they are. And I want (most) of these people to have the opportunity to do better because they’re good people who are my friends (at least at work.) But the rough part for me is that I work very hard, I’m very well educated, and I followed most of the rules. And it’s hard to figure out how I got to the place that I am.
One customer told me the other day that I was lying when I said that I had a degree from the neighboring university because anyone who did would not be working a job like I was. And I was floored. I just laughed at him and said, Good one! because I didn’t know what else to say. But it’s hard sometimes. Because the reality hurts. It really does. And I feel like the lion is roaring and winning all over again. Why can’t I have a job that I can be proud of and post on FB, etc?
There is a reason why I choose this particular point to emphasize to my students. It’s definitely only a part of the Gilded Age, but I think it’s important to understand the assumptions that society makes about certain outcomes and how ingrained they are in our perceptions of the world. These assumptions are not new, but looking at them from a distance can sometimes be a light-bulb moment. As hilarious as Social Darwinism sounds today, an awful lot of the time I find myself sliding into that presumption. And I want my students to pause and think about it. Because life doesn’t always turn out the way you think. And you might wind up on the receiving end of these presumptions.
The thing that I have to remind myself is that I know exactly why I’m working the retail job and I know what’s in it for me. I need to be there because I need the cash but also the somewhat flexible hours. I need the human interaction to keep me from going crazy. I need the opportunity to constantly practice interacting with people and working with panic attacks and facing tough situations with other people. This particular job is a safe space for me to do that and provides a means for me to talk through situations with management so that I can actually improve and become a better person. I’m lucky to have the manager I do who understands this. But every time someone gets promoted over me or a guest tells me that I’m not smart enough or I’m better than this or whatever, I try to remind myself that it makes sense for me right now in this particular moment. And that’s all that matters. But that personal confidence has taken a long time to come to, and it sure would be nice if more people were on board with a broader view of life and the curveballs it throws us. In the mean time, it’s nice to know that I’m not alone. Thanks Ludo!
P.S. A followup on my last post: I wound up with over 80% participation in Operation Gratitude!! I mailed a huge box of over 100 letters and felt very accomplished. Definitely a highlight of that semester. (I tried to write at least one letter every day of the challenge and penned at least 20. If you haven’t figured it out already, I like writing letters!)