People are hard to hate close up—move in. ~ Brene Brown
Flyover states, plumber’s butt, white trash, redneck…
I grew up in the northeast, where my Polish immigrant grandfather and great uncle sold industrial work clothing and uniforms to working-class people. Their office was a retail store in downtown Boston in the 1930s. The neighborhood was Irish, Greek, and Italian. As generations passed, my father took over and I often visited the store, and felt the pulse of the people who came in—salt of the earth, loyal, and committed.
In high school, I worked in my father’s stores, interacting with union men who held laborious physical jobs. I packed up boxes of Carhartt pants, wool socks, leather workman gloves, and steel-tipped work boots. I learned how to communicate with customers. A snow storm meant business would boom because this clientele worked through storms. During blizzards, my dad had to get to the store whether the roads were plowed or not, to sell socks, cots to sleep on, jackets, and thermals.
Loyalty was reciprocal in those days. My dad was loyal to his employees; he took care of them, and they stayed with him for years. Saying hello to the janitor or the mailman and treating others with kindness and respect was always modeled for me. It wasn’t about what you did, but simply about providing for your family and the rest was real life.
I live in Silicon Valley now, and in many ways it is the opposite here. People’s careers are who they are to a large degree. Work-life balance is blurred, and people are held by the “golden handcuffs” promised to them by means of stock and bonuses.
In this day of instant technology, bosses are able to contact us 24/7 and the expectation often is to respond in a timely manner. Employment is woven into every moment and our minds are never far off from the work. The ability to be present with what is right in front of us is more and more challenging. Unwinding is quite difficult, and our immense work structure and pressure seeps into the rest of life. Here, Teslas are driven everywhere and the “haves” are much more evident.
I remembered my dad’s store this past summer, when my family and I drove through middle-America to some of the most beautiful National Parks: Bryce, Zion, Capitol Reef, and Grand Canyon. On our way, we drove through spacious, sprawling parts of Utah and Arizona. There were clear reminders everywhere of the haves and have-nots. Places where poverty and beauty co-exist.
What does the American dream look like to people living here?
It doesn’t pay to get a degree out in the middle of nowhere. There is no ladder to climb for monetary raises. Perhaps the American dream is different here, and politicians and folks living on each coast certainly have less to say to them. The cultural elite look down on these folks, and the “liberal agenda” has lost touch with working-class people.
According to Joan Williams, law professor at Hastings School of Law, the American dream is one of mobility.
“Mobility is working our way up the ladder, putting our stake in the American dream to earn what we deserve. When passing judgment on the working-class, elites regard their own values about home life (helicopter parenting, constant uprooting) and work life (creativity, innovation) as the norm—oblivious to the fact that others may hold different ones. Working-class families may not choose to relocate for a job, because they care more about their community ties. They may worry about tuition debt and see college as a risky investment.”
How is this representative of American values? Although our democracy seems to be changing into an oligarchy, there is constant polarization of class in America, preyed upon by our civil servants.
Does it really make us happy to have these big careers, climbing the ladder with the looming threat of being downsized or acquired? It is apparent in the area where I live. Children no longer have a concept that there are people who have less. It’s more about the next vacation destination or who has the latest iPhone.
While traveling with my family last summer, I thought about how trendy words can separate us into socio-economic classes as well as physical places. These words—flyover states, white trash, and redneck are polarizing. They plant seeds that spread dismissive disgust, divide communities and humanity, with almost no communication.
It infuriates me that politicians are choosing party over the good of the people. This is not the kind of loyalty I admire. Do these civil servants like it that some are kept without education so they can have voters?
My adolescence allowed me to have a strong work ethic and to value relationships. What makes America great is all of the people, no matter the socio-economic class or what we do for a living.
Dictators take over when people are marginalized.
The hungry and ignored could care less about scandals and sleazy behavior. They just want a job and opportunities to grow. When it comes down to it, we all want the same things: clean drinking water and air, good health, food on the table, a roof over our heads, and hopefully, true equality for all.
To me, that is the American dream.
In a world of political correctness, perhaps we should think about the words we use to describe others more carefully.
In these times when anger
Is turned into anxiety
And someone has stolen
The horizons and the mountains,
Our small emperors on parade
Never expect our indifference
To disturb their nakedness
They keep their heads down
And their eyes gleam with reflection
From Aluminum economic ground,
The media wraps everything
In a cellophane of sound,
And the ghost surface of the virtual
Overlays the breathing earth.
The industry of distraction
Makes us forget
That we live in a universe
We have become converts
To the religion of stress
And its deity of progress
That we may have courage
To turn aside from it all
And come to kneel down before the poor,
To discover what we must do,
How to turn anxiety
Back into anger,
How to find our way home
~ John O’Donohue
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