I’ve been noticing a specific scenario happening more and more lately. The further one is removed from “the struggle” the less likely they are able to empathize with those who are currently struggling. Whether it’s a Ben Carson, who was raised by a single mother receiving government assistance who now espouses the false Welfare Queen rhetoric. Or the abrasive woman who responded to the Yelp employee recently fired after taking to her blog to complain about the unlivable wages she received while working there (keyword:working). These aren’t the typical “trust fund baby” types that we are accustomed to hearing the “bootstrap” narrative come from. These are people who you would think would be the first to come to the defense of the downtrodden, but they instead take the opportunity to trample on them like the rest of society.
This way of thinking isn’t just relegated to those who are now well off. I see this same disdain for the working poor coming from people who are one unfortunate turn of events away from needing government assistance as well. The only conclusion I can come to for the reasoning behind this behavior is the need to distance ourselves from the “undesirables.” To fulfill the need to be able to say “all of my success is due to me and me alone,” conveniently leaving out the help they’ve received from others and just dumb luck. It’s similar to the reason many of the working poor consistently vote against their own best interest. There needs to be an “other” to scapegoat and feel superior to, whether they be poor, LGBTQA, a person of color, a woman, etc.
The selective memories and revisionist history of those who have once lived a not so fairy tale life, is a prime example of how well the propaganda against the poor and the young has and still is working. I hear from comment sections and peers, regarding the youth who are vocal about inequality, the same jabs their elders took at them. It’s always something about “paying your dues” and “well, I knew/did/ would have never.” They somehow forget that none of us were all that savvy of the ways of the world straight out of high school or college. Most of us weren’t aware of how to properly budget, or even understood what expenses we would face after we were thrust out into the world with nothing but a diploma and a shred of hope. We most certainly weren’t prepared for the difficulty we would have finding a job that didn’t pay poverty wages. Hindsight is always 20/20, but we cannot expect anyone, whether younger or older, to have had the same experiences or be living under the same circumstances. When you’ve been standing on top for so long, the bottom becomes a romanticized memory.
How selfish is it for anyone to say, “I struggled, so you must struggle as well” or “difficult times builds character.” Well if the character is builds turns you into a cold hearted, elitist, with no ability to feel empathy or sympathy, maybe that’s not such a good thing. When you see articles and blogs written by people younger than yourself lamenting how unachievable the American dream is, it is not because they aren’t working hard. It’s that it is almost impossible to attain it. By and large these are people who have worked hard to finish college and/ or graduate school, who are now swimming in debt because they’ve been assured that a degree is the only way to get ahead. Now they are forced to take jobs that not only don’t allow them to live comfortably, but are also putting them in further debt because if any major life events happen they need to finance it on a credit card or just go into collections over it. Our debt isn’t about bad spending habits anymore, it’s about not being paid wages that will get us out of debt.
No one is asking to be paid the salary of a CEO fresh out of college, but being paid enough to cover both living expenses and the cost of the degree that is a required for this entry level job would be a good start. As a society we need to stop punching down, and take the fight to those who actually hold the power. Stop criticising those in the #FightFor15 movement and start criticising the owners of these multi-million and billion dollar companies who will spend millions lobbying politicians to fight against minimum wage increases, but not pay their employees what they deserve. We may have the power to bring wage inequality into the spotlight, but we are not the ones who can change it.
This is why I and many others see so much possibility in the younger generations and have faith and hope that they will continue to be the “squeaky wheel.” They haven’t become so disconnected from the realities of how difficult the world is. Yes, some may be naively optimistic, but that is lightyears better than being cynical and apathetic. They are the pushers for change because they have the most to gain and the most to lose. They are seeing how people older than them, who have gotten past the worst of it and are now more financially stable, are so quick to “forget where they came from.” They see how their very real concerns of the present social and economic landscape is reduced to be dubbed as “whining” and “entitlement culture.” They are funneling their anger and frustration into actions and are using the technology at their hands to make changes.
I say all that to say this. Stop belittling and invalidating the obstacles that people are going through because you’ve become so jaded by the world that placing blame on the wrong people becomes second nature. In order for us to progress, not just as individuals, but as a society, we cannot forget our own paths and the obstacles we faced. We must also stop trying to negate others suffering, because we, by chance, made it out.
I leave you with a quote from Noam Chomsky:
“The public is not to see where power lies, how it shapes policy, and for what ends. Rather, people are to hate and fear one another.”