Before you wonder where I got this idea from, it is not a thing or a video that went viral. Neither did a particular post that got epic resonses prompt me to write this. From my corner of the world, I just got tired of hearing people’s concerns about the poor and unprivileged while the rest of us were told to be grateful we had things to complain about. Minimizing how others feel is an etiquette no-no.
As a member of the ever oppressed and overworked middle class, I am getting tired of being overlooked because I am not in a position to complain. Apparently, my life is supposed to be perfect and blissful and I shouldn’t get upset when my employer takes benefits away from me. Instead, I should be grateful that at least I have a job and that I am in good health. Not a very polite way to tell me to shut up mind you. I understand that my problems may seem inconsequential to you due to my position of privilege or because your problems are more important than mine to you but, as a kind gesture, I don’t tell you shut up and continue on my merry way.
This folks is what I consider as shaming: Asking me or anyone to fall in line by stating that our discomfort or pain doesn’t matter because you can’t relate to the person or their problems. Above all else, I see it as an attempt to put me in my place because my perceived hardships are less than your own, and that I should accept that my situation doesn’t concern anyone because it is above average. The irony is that all I keep hearing is that everyone would like to have the types of issues and problems I encounter since in theory they all aspire to the financial comforts and opportunities I have as a middle class professional. Working hard for the things I want, enjoy and deserve is a right I am not willing to give up so that others can feel comfortable about their perceived inferior existance. Or worse, their perceived superiority of mine.
Being continuously shamed is what stopped me from trying to discuss with my peers important subjects like unions and life insurance policies. To some, my opinion and experience didn’t matter because I didn’t have kids, or knew about sacrifice or didn’t fit into whatever box they needed me to fit in order to find me credible. I have been shamed for arguing, as a person who got a degree and paid it off in full upon graduation, that I don’t support pardoning student loan debt. Their counterpoint is that not all parents or students can afford higher education. True, but not all kids need to go to Harvard or Yale to get an education and community College works just fine. Work study, savings and scholarships can help lighten the burden and also does starting your own business or getting a degree that actually gains returns. Why should my tax money pay for other people’s mistakes? Grrr.
My parents weren’t rich yet they saved everything they could to invest in a college fund. They walked into an office that said “Financial Advisor” and paid to become educated on the subject. If more parents did this we wouldn’t have a financial crisis. Ever since I was 3 years old my mom would tell me “If you decide to go to college we are only paying for state universities and colleges”. Anything above and over what they saved would be on me. It didn’t take long for me to understand that the message my parents were sending me is that irresponsible and unnecessary debt is evil. Evil in the sense that it makes you give up your freedom, forcing you to work to pay for items and bad decisions for the rest of your life. I am proud that I didn’t wreck a car while driving drunk in my 20s or that I didn’t have to foreclose on my house because I got laid off because I didn’t save. Everyone else calls me a goody too shoes foe not living it up when in fact I was being a responsible adult. Why on Earth should I feel bad that my parents and I managed to save and do the right thing? Was there a valid reason you and yours couldn’t? The fact that you feel entitled to screw up and be bailed out is part of the reason we are in the cultural mess we are these days.
You see, when everyone goes bankrupt morally and financially, that doesn’t mean that it is okay for the rest of us to tolerate it or support it. Yes, it hurts the economy overall to an extent (broke people cannot buy houses or secure credit) but they did this to themselves. No one forced them to sign on the dotted line before reading all the terms and conditions. Where is the accountability? Why aren’t we tracking down these people and providing psychological and financial advice so they can recuperate? I’m all for using my tax money to educate people before they need the education and more so for providing certain services at little or subsidized costs as long as there is a quid pro quo. We should be working together to make life easier for ALL of society’s members, not just for a few.
While we are on the subject of education, I honestly wish there were more scholarships for middle class kids. That’s how a lot of them end up broke and living at home forever, because they didn’t qualify for any decent amount of financial aid. We focus so much on the have-nots that we forget the have-some. At one point in time the middle class started to give up their voice and allowed the shareholders to make bank for the possibility of becoming rich like them someday. We began to limit aid to those who exceeded certain financial criteria and forgot to create and promote programs for the people that had cleared the poverty line. There is a saying that goes something like from no shirt sleeves to no shirt sleeves in three generations. It is clear that once you overcome the poverty hurdle there is no further assistance for your kind. You are on your own with no compass or map to guide you; and there is no sympathy for your struggles either.
We shame people for having nice things, for being happy and oblivious to the plight of the less fortunate, blinded by a false sense of humility. If someone asks for a complicated Starbucks order we throw a fit. They worked hard for their money and they have a right to spend it as they please. Why do you feel so insulted about their life choices? We shame people that use proper grammar, and we shame people who praise their life’s work. We shame our soldiers and veterans by not providing them with proper healtcare and benefits. Did you know a vast majority of the homeless population are vet? Why aren’t we taking care of each other in the land of the free and the home of the brave? Shouldn’t we be applauding these people who enlisted instead of saying they asked for whatever incapacitated them during the war? All the other countries of the world force their young adults to serve at least one to two years in the armed forces before going to college and getting a free ride. Bet that if you tried that in the States, citizens would go ballistic. Everyone wants what the others have for free.
I wonder who taught people that privilege and entitlement are the same thing. I’ve met people that feel entitled to things that are not accessible to them due to their means. Privilege means you have certain commodities or benefits because you belong to a particular group. That’s not necessarily a bad thing although it can create problems if not managed well. Unless we abolish entitlement and broaden the standards of privilege, we will keep falling into the trap of shaming people. When will we learn that even in a socialist or communist political panorama not everyone is created equal? No one is going to want to work hard for the sole benefit of others; no person I know is that magnanimous and altruistic even if they are a religious leader or in the clergy. We all have to generate the means to acquire food and shelter. Sadly very few people sow their own seeds and run their own gardens or farms. Humans are the only species that pay to use the natural resources available on mother Gaia. Unless this changes, we will have to deal with social class disparity.
My biggest concern is that we see empty classrooms on parent-teacher conference nights but instead of figuring out how to help parents succeed we resort to shaming them into submission. Offering fines and penalties to encourage families to participate in their children’s education is a financial burden and nothing more. Back in the day, parents would have done anything to avoid getting a scarlet letter such as a fine on their record but nowadays everyone wears their shame proudly.
A lot of my friends shared a meme where parents were shamed because they bought too many electronics for their children on Christmas without taking into consideration that the less fortunate classmates that won’t get one from Santa. Although this is a clear attempt, in passive-aggressive format, to tell affluent parents that they are doing it wrong, to me it is proof that those who do things the “right way” are starting to get shamed too. Yes, there are parents that get into debt and are irresponsible financially to please their spoiled children but not all PS4s go to kids that don’t deserve them from parents that didn’t work hard to save and afford it. I do not expect you to get your family into monetary problems to get your kid any gift for that matter. If I choose to make Santa the stuff of legends who is there to say I am spoiling it for the rest of us? From my pigeon hole you need to be honest with your child and yourself and let them know what items are beyond your reach and which ones could be attainable with a little discipline, hard work and a savings pool. Criticizing those who have the means to spoil their children just shows how well conditioned you are in the art of hypocrisy. If you can’t have nice things, no one can. Pfft. Envy is a double edged sword because it can make us seem righteous when we are actually being petty, especially when we are shaming others to feel better about our life choices. Trust me when I say this, no one cares about your hapiness or comfort. They only care about their own. If you don’t like how I spend my hard earned cash, though luck.
We body shame those who are fortunate to have square meals, we mommy shame those with the means or drive to raise kids, and we shame those who wear make-up or love their Pumas because we assume they don’t value the same things we do. Apparently aspiring to have material things is a bad thing, then again we can be spiritually content and own a Ferrari. These things aren’t mutually exclusive. We shame those who we think contribute too much or too little, the ones who have actual food intolerances and those who fake them, before validating if they have a reason to behave this way. We pretty much shame everyone for anything even for the good stuff they do. Not sure if we are jealous of what others preach and post online or if we are so cynical we lost our ability to be kind to other humans. Drives me crazy to read people destroy each other in irreverent discussions about preferences or opinions. I don’t need that kind of negativity in my life.
In a world with so much information, we are all quick to judge without informed opinions. We don’t offer compassion or assistance either to those who ask for it because they should be ashamed of needing help. Unfortunately, we don’t shame those who abuse the system, the ones in power or those who lie and cheat because frankly we do not know who they are and in a way they are not accesible to us, therefore we shame everyone else. There is however a way to stop shaming people but that requires that we change the way we think about privilege and social change. Not every privilege is bad or causes inequities. Not every idea to bring opportunity to those seeking it works well. I for one would like to live in a world where no one is suspicious of what the neighbor has or covets it. Yes, it may take decades to fix our reality to facilitate faster and more stable improvements in the quality of life and aspirations for all humans but it all boils down to the attitude we undertake. If we keep giving away stuff for free without an expectation of gratitude and reciprocity we won’t teach people to value their efforts and the effort of those who worked hard and leant a helping hand. After all, there needs to be a sense of community and ownership to make people feel proud enough to take care of their legacy, of what they collectively achieved.
I’m ready to stop shaming people into doing the perceived right thing to do, of telling others how they should live their lives or feel about a particular subject. I respectfully decline having to explain myself to anyone that thinks I can’t complain about what I have lost because I still have more than many. I’m willing to stop complaining about what my peers decide to do or not do. Are you?
I know it is hard to not shame people while writing about shaming but the intention is to educate on a perspective, and give the reader a chance to internalize and discuss the subject matter. Let us not confuse humor with bullying either. Some of these memes and complaints are plain rude and mean, and that’s the behavior that I critique and should be discontinued. As always, be courteous and open minded when engaging people who shame or are passive aggressive. It’s not you, it’s them.