Sunday, June 22, 2008

Money, class and respect

My girlfriend looked at my blog this morning, sniffed and looked at me slurping my first cup of coffee.

"Slacker" she said.

Who knew it would be such a demanding thing to maintain a blog?

I've been thinking a lot lately about class. I asked my friend J to write something about money and the division of wealth in Maine, and she did some, but of course what I really wanted was somebody else to write my opinion down and publish it so I could say "See! That's what I've been saying all along!"

Oh well.

Seems like this is one of those times when if I want someone to do my job, I'd better get me to do it. Damn.

I grew up blue-collar Irish. I was taught early to resent people with more advantages than me, to resent the wealthy and those for whom things seem to come easily. Never trust anyone who doesn't have calloused hands, I learned.

So here I am living in an island paradise. Years have come and gone since I was schooled in the fine art of hating the wealthy, and I have done some recovery and growth work, so I try not to compare my own internal insecurities to other people's external appearances, but there are times when it gets tough.

I pause here to catch my breath and so I don't sound like a raving nut-head. That and it is a small community where I live and it does not bode well to speak ill of anyone particularly those in a position to hire me to do things on their properties.

I guess what offends me is the attitude of some of the wealthy. Maybe it's just the nouveau riche, I don't know. I know people with lots of money who do not behave in a manner that screams "kiss my ring."

Attitude bothers me, and I guess the waste associated with excess bothers me. When some of the owners of big, fancy mansions and estates order $30,000 worth of shrubs, pay workers to for their labor to put them in, and then decide "no, I don't like them, take 'em out!" That's the stuff that makes me crazy. It offends me that people can simply throw away the labor and effort of craftsmen who take pride in their work, simply because somebody didn't think ahead far enough to know that 12-foot high shrubs would block the picture windows looking out over the harbor.

What was paid for those doomed shrubs could pay my rent and heat my home for a year, plus buy some groceries. And it was thrown out because it was bought by stupid people who can afford to waste things.

On the other hand, I know people with lots of money who use it carefully, not flinging it around in flashy ways. Investing soundly in real estate, spending wisely to maintain and protect that investment. They treat the hired help like humans, not like appliances; they understand that skilled workers have knowledge that is valuable to their investment and they listen to it.

Perhaps what this boils down to is which kinds of people value me and what I have to offer. I'm not an expert, but I do know some stuff about stuff. I know some stuff about building stuff, some stuff about politics, and some stuff about life. I haven't lived this long and not picked up a few things of value. I guess I just like to think that someone else values what I do, appreciates what I know and what I can do, and will not simply throw it away after I have worked hard to create a thing.

I wonder how much of the animosity within the discussion of class and wealth and socio-economic status has to do with our (my) own insecurities. The uber-wealthy may be as insecure internally as the working poor. How awful it must be to have to rely on others for everything! How vulnerable it must feel to have to rely on people to make the hard look good, the house look good, and the food to taste good. I cannot imagine not knowing how to take care of things. I learned how to change the oil in a truck when I was 12, and how to rotate the tires when I was 10. Spark plugs and wires had to wait until I was in my teens.

It is easy to look with jealousy at people who have comfortable things and few visible struggles. Honestly, though, I know how I hate being at the mercy of my mechanic. I cannot imagine that kind of vulnerability every day to people who make life work.

Does this mean I have turned around to the point of pitying the poor, helpless rich folks? No. Not hardly. I reserve the right to resent the hell out of anyone who does not treat me with respect. I owe no favor to anyone who demands preferential treatment because of their social status. I kiss no one's ring. I kneel before no man (or woman). If that makes me difficult to live with, well, I guess I am not surprised. Or disappointed. I'd rather die on my feet than live on my knees.

This has taken a very tangled path. This post has evolved over three (perhaps four) cups of coffee and several side trips around the web when my brain got stuck. What it boils down to, I guess, is a matter of respect. Don't demand what you have not earned. And respect is earned through competence, not through an inheritance or the stock market.

Money somehow seems to magnify the personality of the person who has it. A kind person who has money is seen in a saintly light. A jerk with money is seen as the consummate asshole. Arrogance is rooted in insecurity whether one has money or not, I think, and numbers in a bank account cannot make up for what is lacking in a person's insides. This has got to be frustrating to people whose only assets are in the bank.

I have no bankable assets, really, but I have more skills than many of the wealthy people I know. While money is appealing, I'd rather be able to rely on myself and my own skills to get through, I think. Having tools and knowing how to use them is more appealing to me than having money and having to rely on everyone else.

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