Thoughts from the Sukkah 2019/5780 Day 4

Last night I slept hard and today I woke up with a sense of relief that I wasn’t going to spend another whole day working on the suit. That is the relief of making the right choice about how to handle something. The effort and energy would have been very well spent if they were going to result in a beautiful suit finished in tine for the event. Since acknowledging that the deadline is unrealistic I’m choosing to enjoy my week off doing other things I enjoy.

I’m also thinking on the fact that sometimes I get stuck in something and don’t realise I’m stuck until it feels so uncomfortable that I have to acknowledge it. I think a lot of us are that way. One thing I’ve been working on is more accurately valuing the time it takes to do a project in the valuation of my work. It means I’ve been charging more appropriate prices for the work that I do for people. At first I felt shame – but I’ve cast that off too.

What’s been challenging has been struggling financially over the years and the shame that is heaped on you by society, strangers, and eventually yourself. The pervasive idea is that if you worked hard enough and were worthy you wouldn’t need help – you would be self sustaining. What this doesn’t address is that the increasing majority of our country is the “working poor.” Meaning . . . they have a job (at least one – more often multiple jobs) and are working hard and still not making enough money to survive.

So the blame game shifts – they should get educated and get a better job. But many have! The better jobs very often require some kind of a degree or certification and that doesn’t come cheap. For those coming out of families that don’t have wealth it’s very difficult to get through schooling without taking on student loans. My children have been paying, at community college, the amount for a semester that I paid for a YEAR at a state university when I was in college. And they are making at their jobs the same amount, or even a slight bit more, than I was making during my schooling. And if a young person complains about the burden of student loan debt they are told that it was their “choice” to take it on themselves. That’s because “choice” implies responsibility and guilt.

But is it really a choice?

If our society has created a structure wherein you need a higher education to get a better job

and the cost of education is set so that the average person not coming from generational wealth cannot afford it without assistance

and the only assistance that is available to the average person is in the form of student loans

then the only way for a person to pursue a higher education and change their circumstances is to take out student loans.

That’s basic logic there — it’s hardly a “choice” that one should feel guilt over. The choice to do whatever it takes to change your situation is the American Dream! So why has that dream become a nightmare for so many?

We are refusing, as a society, to look at the societal structures. We are refusing to acknowledge that more and more the structure we’ve created (or allowed to be created) is doing several things.

  1. Out of fear of “redistribution of (our) wealth” we have failed to understand that money’s purpose is to be redistributed and to move around and through society – the more hands it touches the more it accomplishes. We have allowed the redistribution of wealth to flow from the poor to the rich who hoard it and stop it from accomplishing it’s intended purpose.
  2. Because we don’t want to consider that “the other” might be more like us than we think, we have blamed people for their life circumstances and called “choices” things that were out of their control. No one chooses the family into which they are born. No one chooses disabilities, or failing school systems in their assigned school district, or medical emergencies when they don’t have insurance. The only people making choices in these areas of life are the people who hoard wealth and keep it from others, the politicians who draw up the school districts and decide their funding, the medical system that is allowed to function for profit and insurance companies that have driven up the cost. It seems those who are making the choices in this system should feel guilty – and those who are victims of their choices should be acknowledged as victims of abusers who do not deserve to be shamed for their circumstances. In reality, no matter how much homage we pay to our abusers, we are all at risk of being victimised by the current system.
  3. Because some people, by sheer determination, unexpected help, or a change in circumstance, are able to change their status in our society we praise them as what everyone should try and aspire to instead of acknowledging them as having achieved something more difficult than we want to admit. Everyone loves an underdog story. The kid from the inner-city who graduates Harvard is one we’ve all seen movies and heard stories about. But if they are a person of color there is always someone, even in the movie, yelling about them being “given” something they didn’t deserve or earn. Usually that person is someone who got there because they are a legacy child whose parent went there – even though their grades suck and the only reason they were accepted is that their family name is suddenly on the library. The reality is, people get ahead when others help them. We were created to exist in community and community includes others. If a teacher intervenes and suggests you can do and be more, you have been helped by someone, If a benefactor gives to a scholarship fund you qualify for, you have been helped. If quotas were put in place by politicians that required schools that would normally keep people out choose from among that population and allow at least some in, that some has been helped. But they still had to earn it! In fact, they worked a lot harder than the legacy kid to be chosen out of the many who applied. If we can acknowledge the need for help to change circumstances, instead of praising the one man who left his child in a bus station bathroom all day so that he could doggedly pursue an unpaid internship as though that’s what everyone should be willing to do to get a job that pays more than poverty salary, we would make different choices as a society and we would actually help people.

That’s a short list, but I need to save something for tomorrow. In closing let me leave you with this thought . . .

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