Truth - Money only has value because we have made it that way. Think about it just like we covet dirty green pieces of paper with dead white men's faces on them we could just as easily be doing the same with q-tips, buttons, or pebbles. The object is arbitrary but the way we idolize it is where it gets all it's power from. Some say does not bring happiness, and while that may be true, it most definitely gives you access to obtaining it. More money more problems, but are some of those self-induced? This is unrestricted.
"Wealth is the ability to fully experience life" Henry David Thoreau
In this day and age where the vast majority of people are seriously struggling to make ends meet, it has almost become taboo to speak on the topic of wealth. Who has it? What is it? Why does it matter? There has always been this shroud of secrecy and pretending when it comes to socioeconomic status. People put on a show to act as if they have more (and sometimes less) than they actually have. Is there such thing as too much money? We know for a fact that there is such a thing as having too little. How my do we need to survive? What are necessities versus luxuries? Whether we have money or not, there is this strong social pressure to portray yourself as if you do. Keep up appearances, fake it until you make it, and struggle in silence. No one wants to stray from the norm. When we are homogenous environments dissent on either extreme can be problematic for others. Have too much and you've caused a hierarchy, have too little and you are no longer keeping up with the Joneses. This phenomenon of balling on a budget - those who in reality are barely meeting basic needs but still have the latest accessories (phones, cars, clothes) - is truly fascinating. How has our materialistic society epitomized a certain lifestyle attainment to the point that those that cannot actually afford it sacrifice more pressing matters to appear to be making it. Add another layer with health both physical and mental/emotional and the divide grows. Those vices of smoking, alcohol consumption, and gambling among others seem to be so prevalent in low-income communities versus a health-obsessed mindful, clean-eating, wholistic wellness lifestyle of middle-upper class communities. It's not about blame but rather all about access to not just education but support, environments, and choices. Social class can make you (relatively) unrestricted.
I mentioned those with more than enough sometimes downplaying the true extent of their affluence. It's quite common. There is a misplaced shame the comes with wealth especially when in the vicinity of people of low SES. It's almost an embarrassment that you live a certain way while others do not have the same opportunities. It's that realization that you may be highly capable in so many ways but you've had help along the way. Barriers were removed, aid was given, and access was somewhat unrestricted. Are you who you are because of what you were given? What do you feel when others say that you do not deserve what you have, your lifestyle was unearned, or that you do not know the value of hard work? In some ways the question are justified. What have I done other than be child of people who came well-off and decided to share the wealth? What makes me special? On another hand you have nothing to apologize for. It is the reality of your life. Whether you talk about it or not, it's still true. Regardless of what others think of your financial situation, it still remains. Those uneasy feelings are insignificant because you could actually have real plight like people you know endure. It comes out in some of the flippant ways we may spend money. Buying new instead new of used or recycled, getting the highest quality when cheaper will do, food we eat, brands we wear, cars we drive, etc. It's the absence of panic when you get a ticket, never using public transportation, or not looking at prices. Class privilege is not having to worry if you have enough and that if you don't, people won't think less of you because of that.
Lately, I've been problematizing the ways in which I move through the world, and challenging some of those unspeakable thoughts that dance through my head. I think there are so many that we like to pretend don't dart across the confines of our minds but confronting them is part of subduing them. I think it is a very real possibility to remain in the isolation of classist elitism, in other words, bypass interacting with people of different means. That to me sounds like a life less lived and one that sacrifices the profound human connection over a substantively meaningless amalgamation of frivolous extravagance. The experience though can be jarring moving from world to world. College campuses appear externally to be havens of those with class privilege and at first glance, that may look to be true, but take a closer look and the reality is quite different. Depending on the institution the range in financial situations can range drastically. While some may be easily paying full price out of pocket there are even more that rely solely on financial aid to be able to persist in their educational pursuits. I won't even mention the blatant lack of resources and awareness about students living below the poverty line, food waste, or homeless students. Undocumented students, first generation students, and so many issues we turn a cheek away from. I'll save the diatribe for another time. Bottom line - why am I okay in knowing people are not okay?
No matter how much I tell myself I am not a superhero; I am not a fixer; I am not a savior; I don't quite believe it. Blunt truth - I am only "good" because I can afford to be. The profession I aspire to work in, that is higher education and college student personnel, is notorious for it's hyper-vexing omnipotent emancipator mentality. At most I am a connector but the harsh truth is that with or without me many a student would figure out how to navigate the complicated system of post-secondary education. While many require some sort of help, guidance, or advising it is worth self-examining why we do what we do. I am only here because I was able to get the education that qualified me to be here. I myself am not extraordinary. I am not saving anyone. I am not some omniscient being that makes or breaks someone's college career - hell, the rest of their lives. Who am I really helping in my work or my volunteering? I think there is part of me that likes to believe it's all those that I get to work with, but the unmentionable perspective is that I am actually just helping myself. I think it can be argued that both are always true. Do I get to sleep better at night because I know I have made a difference's someone's life? Do I get a Nobel Peace prize for humanitarianism? What about those pats on the backs I give myself - what is up with those? Do I get to venture out from the ivory towers of hypothetical academia, wielding the sword of social justice, into the impoverished badlands of surrounding communities only to return to the safety and excessive comfort of my life? Do I only help because I feel obligated to do something for those I relegate as "less fortunate" than myself? What kind of disturbing absolution am I striving for? What sins am I atoning for by opening my wallet, dedicating my time to making others feel like they matter, and pretending I am not perfectly fine with what I have? I think I might be problematizing my entire existence right now, but it needs to happen.
There are lies we tell ourselves. There are lies I tell myself that allow me to do what I need to do. My work has to have meaning or else I am wasting my time, and that of others. It's the things that I speak to my inner self that justify my actions, my words, and my beliefs. I get to live my life because my parents worked hard for the unrestricted access they gave me to the world. I am me because I work my ass off. I am worth it all. I deserve the best. But am I though? Am I really? I give back, doesn't that count for something? I think my only saving grace is that each and every day I get to be changed by the people I look to make an impact on. That reciprocation is of the utmost importance. It's what makes difference between those who charge into communities clumsily promising deliverance only to wreak havoc in the most unsustainable of ways. It removes the pretentiousness and the demeaning belittling that comes with classism. It breaks down the walls and the language barrier to let people connect on a soul to soul level with one another. It's digging in. It's doing the hard work. It's remaining in place, teaching others to help themselves, and most of all learning from them in return. I have not arrived. I have not made it. I am not finished learning. The day I believe that is the day I become the thing I am most afraid of. I may have unrestricted access but true giving means it costs me something. I believe I am willing to give all that I have for others - no strings attached. X