“Ruining America”: Classism

AP_16314381154389

I read an interesting blog article a few weeks ago, and I lost the URL. Sorry about that!

From what I understood, the author was essentially trying to make the case that the upper middle-class has protected itself from outsiders by creating a culture that makes those who are not familiar with it feel like they don’t measure up. To avoid shame and embarrassment, those who don’t “belong” to the upper middle-class retreat to safer, more familiar grounds.

I heard reference last April to the idea that we are living in a shame culture — a culture that bestows a sense of worth based on how well you are liked and accepted, or in other words, how well you conform to society’s norms.

I have felt this frequently in my life, and I am still struggling to embrace being an outlier. I grew up in farming country, and I feel most comfortable around “salt-of-the-earth” people. However, life has taken me on a journey that has led to a master’s degree and suburban living. I struggle with what appears to be an over-emphasis on appearance and owning “status symbols” in suburban culture. But, I have adopted many other habits and patterns found in suburban life. In the end, I don’t really fit in with either group.

In my opinion, the problem isn’t the upper middle-class.  This idea of culture and belonging to a group extend as far back as we can trace the history of people. The tendency to mistrust and exclude those who don’t belong goes back just as far.

So What Do We Do About It?

The serenity prayer mentions accepting the things we cannot change and courageously changing what we can. I doubt that we will ever change this quirk in human nature. We are wired to want the familiar.

We can, however, decide how we will react:

  1. Walk away. Sometimes, belonging isn’t worth the effort, and there is no shame in taking the time to evaluate whether or not you truly want to be part of a particular group. Every person has a right to choose their friends.
  2. Fake it until you make it. The truth about culture is that it is simply a set of learned behaviors. Go to places where you can read a book and people watch at the same time. Look up things on the internet that you don’t understand. Watch trends on social media. Show up at open social events, be friendly, and make new acquaintances. Learn what this particular culture values and why. Eventually, you will feel comfortable in your environment, and you will have the friends you seek.
  3. Embrace being an outlier. While this is the hardest route, this is the only way to be part of a group and stay true to your nature. It does mean that you will not be readily accepted and that some may never accept you at all. It also means that you need to show a little tact and “give in” on things like dress and grooming when it doesn’t violate a personal (or moral) code.

In the end, there are no easy answers to being human. It’s a nice idea that everybody loves everybody, but it’s not a realistic goal. Just trying to get everyone to agree on what it means to love everybody would be impossible.

So, in the end, let us accept with grace the things that we cannot change, and courageously change those things that are truly worth the effort.

Advertisements

Substance over Appearance

be-not-deceived-with-the-first-appearance-of-things-for-show-is-not-substance-quote-1

The first time it occurred to me that it “really sucks to be her,” there was a definite catty edge to it. I was licking my own wounds, elevating my own hurts, and the sense of superiority numbed the pain a bit. Later, it really hit me how much it might “really suck to be her,” and my heart broke with compassion. I wish I could say that I have always felt compassion for her since that moment, but I’m all too human.

You see, I know her secrets. I know that there is not a lot behind the front she puts out — that her existence is based mostly on appearances. It really looks like she fears me (and others like me) who could actually topple the house of cards that she’s built. If so, she’s living a life looking over her shoulder and waiting for everything to go wrong.

So, I really think she creates a social wall around herself and polarizes people by creating a sense that if they are her friends, they can’t be mine. It’s not something she would do overtly. She would question my character and my reputation with little pinprick comments that flow by unperceived by her social group.

My point in posting  this skeleton of a story (that really only exists in my mindfor certain) is not to put the other person down, but to give context. Whether this story I have conjured up in my mind about her is true or not, it has become a growth experience. That is the power of choosing to live by doing right to others and to hold to honor and integrity.

I have struggled through anger, resentment, and outrage. In a resurgance of codependent reactions, I wanted to force her to talk to me until she could see what was really going on. I wanted to confront those I believed were swallowing her version of me and show them who I really am. I wanted someone to “make it right for me.” It hasn’t happened. She still hates me, she still believes that I hate her, and her “inner circle” will have nothing to do with me unless there is absolutely no socially acceptable way to get out of it.

Thankfully, I am learning to overcome those feelings. I have learned that feelings are simply signals. Negative feelings are signals that something somewhere is out of line. I had to identify what was out of line and fix what I could.

It’s been an interesting process, because the things that it seems would be a no-brainer to fix are completely out of my control. I can only fix me and change my perspective. That’s when I began applying the principle of “stop resisting” to this circumstance.

That’s when I really started learning:

  • Although I had not always been in the right in every circumstance, I had apologized for everything I should. I had also done everything I reasonably could to set things right. Because of my codependent history, this was an important step. I can’t expect myself to be perfect, so I have to accept honorable. It’s also reasonable to expect others to accept me as honorable and not try to hold me to the standard of perfection.
  • Reputation is appearance. It is fluff. While a good reputation can draw people to me initially, it is the substance of who I am that is going to keep them there. While there are those who will be kept away by negative stories and rumors, there are many who will want to see who I am. I can look forward to many rewarding friendships and such in my future. I can feel sad over the missed opportunities of those who stay away, but I don’t have to resist their choice or label them as evil.
  • I can continue to be a friend to someone who is definitely not my friend. While this isn’t always advisable (such as in a bullying or abuse situation), in my case it can work. I don’t have to expect anything friendly from this particular woman or her inner circle to still be a friend. I can still smile and be courteous, and I can still be willing to engage with them socially as far as they are comfortable. I can also be a friend by leaving them alone and allowing them to attend the same social event without creating awkward scenes. (Again, a realization that is essential to a recovering codependent.)

Yes, this course has definitely been the harder path. Many, many times it would have felt much more gratifying in the moment to cause a scene or launch a counter-attack by slowly and strategically leaking her secrets. In the end, I would have lost my substance, and I would have hated waking up and looking at the woman staring at me in the mirror each morning.

Choosing to be a person of substance will probably always be the harder path, and I think I sometimes am falling off the path more than I am actually walking it. I may always have to beat back the anger and frustration over the situation to refocus myself on what is really important in my life. But, just knowing that there is the possibility of living beyond all the negativity of this and other things in life makes trying to be a person of substance worth it to me.

Election Reflections: “Hate Won”?

hillary-clinton-donald-trump

In the United States, the election is over, but the rhetoric, the ugliness, and the bad behavior continues. Social media is still filled with barbed comments, and citizens are still protesting. It doesn’t help that, for the first time that I know of, the president-elect called his opponent so that she could congratulate him or that the runner-up gave a concession speech filled with code words to encourage her supporters to continue the fight because “America” had made a bad choice.

To me, it’s a no-brainer that we had an extremely low voitng turnout: this is not the way most Americans want their leaders to behave.

However, in the aftermath of such an spiteful election, I think it is the attitudes that I have seen reflected on social mediia that disturb me the most. Especially when I read someone telling the world, “Today, I had to tell my children that hate won.”

Really?

Who said you had to tell you children that? Did hate really win, and is it fair to paint fellow citizens who disagree with your world view in that matter? Have you polled people who voted for Mr. Trump to find out why they voted that way?

Perhaps you could have told your children that, even when things don’t go the way we think they should, the American election system still works. The people have a voice in who governs them.

You might also have told your children that, whether or not we disagree with those who are elected, we have a duty as citizens to work to build and maintain a country where everyone is encouraged and has an opportunity to be their best.

You could have said that a lot of the issues over which we have been divided are deep and complex, but that we adults are doing our best to solve them using the laws and processes provided by our country.

Understand, I am NOT denying that Mr. Trump said some extremely disturbing things throughout the duration of his campaign. I admit that I have misgivings about anyone leading that has to keep going back and “explaining away” what he or she has said previously.

But I think the larger issue is not who is running the big show, but what we are swallowing as truth and then regurgitating to others. The people still hold the power — each person has a lot of power to influence others. How we behave ourselves makes a huge impact on the world in which we live.

Do we really have to buy the black-and-white thinking that has been crammed down our throats? Is it really true that someone who disagrees with my point of view must disagree becuase they are vile and hateful?

Do we have to run around claiming that it’s all over and there’s nothing left for us to do because the government has to solve all of our problems? Do we have the fortitude to join volunteer groups that are making a difference and actually be involved in change?

Personally, my choice is to bury the hatchets we have wielded throughout the campaigns reach across the divide, and extend a hand of friendship and brotherhood/sisterhood that has defined our nations ideals from the beginning.