Saturday, May 12, 2012
What Did I Do to Deserve This? Part Two
Yesterday, I posted about how little I (and, presumably, many other white-male-Christian Americans--WMCAs) have to brag about. I mentioned that if life is a race (which it isn't--see below) we have had since Jamestown (1603) a grotesquely unfair head start. I also mentioned my nature-and-nurture advantages--advantages which further weaken my claim to "doing it all on my own."
I do not in the slightest want to diminish the efforts of WMCAs, however. I did work hard; I did pay my own way through grad school (with some help from the Aurora City Schools, who offered some grad-school tuition help). I did go to work every day, grade all the papers, prepare all the lessons, etc. Countless other WMCAs in other ways--in other careers--have done the same.
But we mustn't forget those advantages we've had since 1603.
I pled yesterday--and the day before--for humility. And for gratitude. I thanked my parents and those myriads of ancestors whose genes contributed to the person who is writing these words. I suggested some of us could use a bit more imagination--What if I had not had such advantages? What if I had been born in another place? Another time? What if I were not a WMCA?
But now I want to get into why I don't like to consider life as a race. It's obvious. In races, there are winners and losers. And, depending on the nature of the race, we can find ourselves in either category--usually in the latter.
Imagine this: Junior high school gym class. Your teacher decides he (I'm going on my own experience--all my gym teachers were men) will start each class with a fifty-yard dash. Every day, rain or shine. After the first race (and probably before it), everyone knows who will win, who will come close, who will not. Yet on and on and on the "races" go.
I had an actual teacher in eighth grade who had a spelling bee every Friday. Guess what? Same kid (or two) won every single week; same kids went out in the first round, every Friday. Some "race."
In "races" based on physical or intellectual prowess, the same folks "win," the same "lose." And so--when such "races" are forced, it is not really a competition, is it? It's a humiliation.
I can train all I want, try as hard as I want, I'm still going to lose in a sprint with Troy Bouts (the fastest kid in my class). I can study all I want, I'm still going to lose a spelling bee to Sally Benedict (the best speller in our class).
We fortunate ones can be arrogant about our fortune, attributing it to our, somehow, being "chosen" (we love that idea--being chosen), to our superior work ethic, to our overall awesomeness. We can look at those folks who live in the worst neighborhoods, who attend the worst schools in the country, who live in families under enormous stress, and we can convince ourselves that, you know, they just want a handout ... they don't want to work hard, not the way we do!
But, of course, that's cruel and ignorant, isn't it? Condemning them is no different than chastising the "losers" of the daily foot race, the weekly spelling bee.
I want to live in a country where we help, not devour, one another. Of course there are people who betray us, who cheat, who game the system, who do as little as they can, who look out only for themselves. Of course. And they are everywhere, from Main Street to Wall Street to Tobacco Road to Madison Avenue. But we can't base our policies of humaneness and generosity on those who will take advantage of us. We can be circumspect, realitistic--but we can't judge everyone by the worst example we can find. (It's no more true the other way, is it? It would be like, oh, looking at the most ethical car salesman (or whatever) in the country and then behaving as if all were like him/her.)
But I still want to live in a country where we help, not devour, one another.
In this country, I like to think that we have a contract with one another. We will help, not condemn. We will offer a hand, not the finger. We will share a bit of what we have so that others will have something. We will do our best to put hope in the hearts of our brothers and sisters. For hope is, well, all in all.
Anyway, early in the story, Scrooge is barking his humbugs about Christmas, and his nephew says that Christmas is "the only time, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys."
I wish we felt like this every day, not just on that one holiday. I wish we all could realize that we are all on the same train, bound for the same place. We are not in a race to get there, are we?
And, by the way, I want to live in a country where we help, not devour, one another ...