Thursday, June 16, 2005

30 Days Worth of Thought on Differences

There is a way cool documentary done by Morgan Spurlock about the fast food obsession in our country. It's called Super Size Me. I recently bought the follow up book, called "Don't Eat This Book." When America loved Super Size Me, Morgan went on to start a television series called "30 days." The premise being, what else can you learn from putting yourself in another pair of shoes for 30 days? (What a great thought.) So Morgan plans to be a Muslim for 30 days, a gay man for 30 days, a binge drinking college student for 30 days, etc. The show debuted last night. The topic was minimum wage. It was fantastic. I hopped on Morgan's blog to read any updates on the show's success, and I saw there were an exhorborent amount of comments on his posting that announced the show's scheduled time. So I had to go read them...

One of them stuck out among the rest. Please open your mind wide and read what Tom says:

welcome to my reality Mr. Spurlock. I work two jobs that total $11.65 per hour. Working eighty hours a week means that you basically have no life. Any off time is spent cleaning the apartment or doing yardwork or sleeping. The thing is that you will make more money from this show than anyone working minimum wage will make in a year. It's kind of like Bruce Springsteen writing songs about us poor working stiffs, while he charges $75 to see him perform, and when it's over, he goes back to his mansion in Beverly Hills. As much as I applaud your effort for making this show, I feel it won't change a thing. Anyone who is in any position to do something about it, won't even watch it. Any American businessman won't have time to watch it, because they are too busy searching for third world countries to exploit the cheap labor. I think what your show failed to realize is this: minimum wage means, if the businessman could pay us any less, he would. And the politicians in this country are there to see that they get away with it. Unless I win the lottery, this is my reality until the day I die, becuase there is no pension for me. Tomorrow, when I'm enjoying the two hours I get every day to be entertained, I'll watch the second half of the NBA Finals, because I don't need to be reminded how bad my life is.

Posted by tom at 12:15PM on Jun 16, 2005

Here is what I must say to Tom: I hear you loud and clear. I respect your view point SO MUCH, as well as your taking the time to hop online and voice it. You are clearly a fluent expert on making a living working way too many hours for too little pay. I don't discount your assessment of your own life (and the tens of millions just like it.) However, I hear some clear statements mixed in there on how another class thinks and behaves. A class of people that I'm not sure you've spent much time entwined with. Experience being the best teacher, it's always best to walk barefoot on both sides of a fence before making any judgments.

I've spent the majority of my lifetime on your side of the fence. In fact, I had many periods of my life spent working 3 jobs just to make it. My least favorite of all was waiting tables. I am the biggest tipper around because I know how horrible that job can really be. I grew up in a very loving, very wonderful, blue collar family. I didn't see my father much growing up. I saw him for a matter of minutes each day between jobs when he came home to eat an early dinner at 3:45 and change clothes and head out again by 4:30. When he got a Friday evening off, we had some family time. But he was often exhausted. The oldest of four, I spend my junior high ahd high school days babysitting at night. (Until I was working two jobs myself on top of school.) Until very recently, I lived in such a modest abode that you could almost literally stand in the middle, stick out an arm, spin around, and manage to touch all four walls. I spent years praying I'd have no serious accidents because I had no health insurance at all. I spent those same years praying I'd have no accidents because PL/PD insurance wouldn't give me enough to get replacement transportation if mine got ruined. (I live in a place with NO public transportation. If you don't have a car, or a very good friend with a car, you aren't going to work around here. Job postings in this state will commonly mandate reliable trasportation as a requirement to be considered a candidate.) I always appreciated everything I've had, but there were times in years past that I was just as frustrated as you seem to be with the realities of the world we live in. My point is simply that I know how it feels to run barefoot through the grass on your side of the figurative fence that separates classes. I know that feeling better than any other.

However, I managed to climb over the fence over the course of several years of no money, no social life, no sleep, a mounting heap of debt, more stress than any dozen people should have to endure, etc. Don't get me wrong. I am abhorred by what it takes to make it in this country and do something that you are interested in, satisfied with, yet still pays the bills in a chosen lifestyle. (Unless you are born with a silver spoon in your mouth.) Americans should be able to get a college education if society deems it necessary. And while I'm on that soapbox, let me also say that I think it's pure CRAP that a flaming idiot can become a lawyer before celebrating a 25th birthday, but there are so many bright people out there who end up answering phones or sweeping floors. I'll stop there. That's another rant for another day.

So given that I've had the strange and rare experience of living on both sides of the fence, so to speak, let me enlighten you on how things really are with "businessmen." (Though I much prefer the term businesspeople, since I'm a female and just as effective as the next "guy.") Here's the message... People don't simply turn a cheek and not care. Sure, that happens, but more times than not, I've found that people don't REALIZE these things are happening right in the 50 square mile radius from where we all work and live. I speak from experience when I say that folks around me who were born into privileged families and then went on to college and to live a prosperous life as an adult just don't really have a firm grasp. Some of them, limited only to what they hear and see in the media, are left thinking people who are hard pressed are simply LAZY. That couldn't be further from the truth!! I guarantee that you work your ass off, Tom, and you are NOT alone. There is nothing lazy about you. But if that's all these "businessmen" hear is that anyone can make it in this country and everything is about choice, that's all they'll ever believe. Until and unless something comes along like a coworker to organize speakers and charity events at the workplace to open eyes and make people see reality, or someone like Morgan to work hard enough to get it out on national television. Your assessment seems accurate in regards to politicians, but not at all in regards to the collective "businessmen." When you look at how these people grew up and the path that lead each of them to where he/she sits today, wearing Prada or Calvin Klein and sipping coffee over the latest WSJ with classical music playing via streaming Internet feed behind a mohogany door with a brass handle, you'll see that most of them have been aware of that lifestyle and walking toward it for years without even an inkling that there are other ways of life.

It's really no different than how you will see less fortunate children, say age 4, and not a single one of them have any grasp of the reality that they are poor. They have no idea. They live in poor areas, associate with other people of the same basic criteria, and their reality is presumed to be everyone's reality. I grew up thinking that everyone's father worked a gazillion hours, and so on. My reality was all I saw, and all I knew. Why is it that we tend to think that more affluent people should be smarter than that right off the bat? They aren't. Rich kids grow up thinking that everyone has a 6000 square foot house with a cleaning service and an in-ground pool. And remember, we don't have any control over where we are born, who our parents are, how much money is in their bank accounts, what our culture or race is, etc. Rich kids aren't stupid or wrong. They're exactly like poor kids.

Until they get a bit older. That's when it suddenly seems to be obvious, through travel, the media, movies, etc. that there really are other classes of people in the world. And right at that same age, they start learning prejudices. All kids do. Rich, poor, middle-of-the-road, and even the children of tycoons like Bill Gates. Poor kids start learning prejudices that rich people are snotty and selfish and greedy. Rich kids start learning that poor kids are stupid, uneducated, and lazy. Poor adults see a Jaguar drive by and say things like, "how ridiculous! That person has more money than sense. You could feed a third world country for what was paid for that car." Their children hear it, and believe it. Meanwhile, rich adults see poor people standing at the bus station smoking a cigarette and think, "how ridiculous! That person has a child! Yet spends money on tobacco! Look at that child wearing plastic sandals. What a disgraceful excuse for a human being." Their children hear it, and believe it.

Now in some cases, both might be right. My point is in most cases, they're dead wrong.

The key to all of this is opening people's eyes and educating them. I don't mean the academic type of education. I mean real life education. And we need to do it with some tolerance. It's not just class and levels of wealth that become sensitive issues in life. I happen to be a Caucasian person. One of my jobs at age 19 was working in an office. The majority of my colleages were African-American. I have never had an ounce of ill will toward anyone of any skin color. But I was also fairly ignorant to other cultures, too. One gal brought in her wedding pics one day. They were beautiful. She let me look at them too. I was a teensy bit jealous, as any 19 year old girl is. We all start running around with a pillow case on our heads at age 4 and don't stop dreaming of our perfect day until it happens. Or, at least until we have the grueling process of planning it. Anyhow, I got to the pics of the broom jumping ceremony. I'd never seen it before. I innocently asked her what they were doing in the pictures. She and another gal took huge offense to my question. They seemed to think that I should know exactly what goes on at an African-American wedding. It was a great injustice to them that I didn't know. I apologized, but it didn't do much good. Then, a fellow worker jumped in and gave a firm talk on tolerance and the value of experience and exposure. She asked this girl if there happened to be any Caucasian people invited to her wedding. The sheepish answer, "no," was whispered toward the floor. This person made the simple statement that until races become more accepting of one another, there will be a dividing gap. If Caucasian people don't attent African-American weddings, how should they know what goes on there? Now stick any words you want into that brilliant question. If rich people... If poor people...

Then I got an explanation of the broom ceremony. Which sparked interest, since of course I only knew of one type of wedding. I researched Jewish weddings, Muslim weddings, and any other I could think of. (My motivation was simply to not offend anyone again, but I got a nice culture education out of the deal too.)

And don't think my personal horse blinders of life stopped there. I've stuck my foot in my mouth plenty of times. Innocent, but still embarrassing beyond words. I was once driving through a town I'd never been before with a guy I was dating. I was around 17 or so. We were going to meet his mother. The town was primarily Jewish. It was Saturday, the Sabbath, so the orthodox Jewish folks were walking. I was shocked to see this, and asked this guy about the "Amish" people living in his hometown. Good Lord was I sheltered...

Tom, also has a FABULOUS point about exploiting third world countries. I could not possibly agree more. But why is this really happening? Sure, greed, as you've identified it, is certainly a factor. But there is another, possibly equal force at work. These "businessmen" are tasked with making money and staying competitive. If the common people in our society will walk past a t-shirt at Kohl’s or Mervyns or Marshall Fields that might be made locally with a price tag of $18, and head for Wal Mart to buy a similar shirt for only $4 because it came from a sweatshop in Bangladesh, how easy is it for the "businessmen" to keep making t-shirts locally? They can't do it. They come to the decision of either closing up shop and failing, or responding to the competition and local climate and moving the manufacturing to third world countries.

Yes, I KNOW that if you only make $11.65 per hour, it's difficult to justify the $18 shirt in lieu of the $4 shirt. This is the ruthless cycle of American economic crap. "Regular" people don't get paid enough to justify buying American made products. They don't get paid enough because Wal Mart, and other big importers of crap from sweat shops and places that exploit child labor, are only paying minimum wage, and apparently aren't even always paying for hours worked. Wal Mart can get away with paying miniscule wages for several reasons. We won't go there right now. It's a choice we make. If every American would suddenly decide to purchase American goods today, even if it meant buying less "stuff" overall, what would happen to the economy? Hmmm. Well, that t-shirt factory would have a major increase in orders. They'd need to employ more people. Their suppliers would get an increase in orders, too. Fabric, cloth, sewing machines, labels, shipping materials, paper goods like invoices, etc. There's six suppliers right there that all need to start working more. We're up to 7 separate entities that would be hiring more Americans, and/or promoting more Americans. Let's say each hired two people. 14 Americans are now living better. Then the places selling the American made t-shirts need a few more people, and they open three new stores. We continue buying American stuff. Wal Marts start closing, and people return to the privately owned and run places of business. People have better hours, better working conditions, and better wages. Fewer kids are working in sweat shops overseas. We buy more t-shirts, and the cycle continues.

The point here is that if we continue to purchase the junk from Bangladesh, we are choosing to encourage the very cycle that we are pissed off about. Americans need to have principles. I love that Tom mentioned Springsteen shows. I'm a fan too. U2 came to town not too long ago. I didn't go. Sure, I had the money, but couldn't justify the price. I thought it was ludicrous. I got online to see if the proceeds did anything important for the world, and they didn't. Then went into greedy pockets. So I stayed home, and had no regrets. If you visit many European countries, you find people that are more full of principles and personal convictions than they are hunger and thirst. Check out the French people. Let their economy take a nose dive with crap from Bangladesh. They wouldn't welcome it. America is a special place of sheep-like folks who grow up not understanding what their neighbors do at weddings or why the guy down the street wears a beanie hat with tendrils sticking out the sides. How do we fix it? Each person makes a difference. You can argue all you want. One person can't change everything, but it always starts with just one. Both good and bad - things start with the efforts of one. If based on principle, you feel it's unfair to pay the Boss $75 per ticket to spend 2 hours on stage, then leave in his custom touring bus to return to his mansion in the hills, then DON'T DO IT. EVER AGAIN. If you want things to change about what people are paid and how hard people have to work just to eat, first educate yourself on who makes these decisions. (Hint: they are called politicians.) Second, get involved and make a difference. You'll be shocked to learn how many others feel just like you do. Stand up and be heard. Tom - you are a smart guy who knows the value of a dollar and the value of an honest day's work. You are more equipped to stand up and be counted than you think. But don't sit back and just say it won't change, or sit back and think that it's the "rich" folks who would need to change it. Power is found in numbers. There are far more people living life as you are than people sitting at a desk wearing Prada or Calvin Klein and sipping coffee over the latest WSJ with classical music playing via streaming Internet feed behind a mohogany door with a brass handle. Find them. I work on that same task often. I write letters to politicians CONSTANTLY. About everything I think is an incredible injustice in our society. If the politicians don't hear from us, how should they be expected to have a conscience and make decision based on our best interests if we aren't standing up to be counted?

Yeah, Tom, I know you are busy. Really honestly busy. You are one of the many who has "two hours of entertainment" each night. I feel that pain. Imagine if you spent that time writing papers and reading textbooks. Ugh. I get hives just thinking about those years. But we make time for what we think is important. You are a smart guy. Very articulate. It would not take you any more time to shoot an e-mail in to your local governor or even the President himsorryself than it did for you to read and post on Spurlock's blog. And while you are at it, shoot one to the Boss and tell him his ticket prices suck. I will too.

God gave us all 24 hours in each day. What we do with them defines us. Tom, you said regarding the 30 Days episode last night that "anyone who is in a position to do something about it, won't even watch it." Being in a "position" to do something about it includes having a motivation and a reason to do something about it. Do you really think men and women in suits commonly have that motivation? Or how 'bout politicians? Nope. They all seem quite content from my perspective. The people who have the motivation to do something about it are people like YOU and ME who know how hard people have to work in this world. We are the people who are in a "position" to do something. I'm sorry you missed the show. I hope the NBA finals were exciting.

Last of all, let's think about the view that "this" is your life until you die unless you win the lottery. Make no mistake. Some options are harder than others. Some may even be perceived as nearly impossible. But you are chuck full of choices. From the cradle to the grave, you have choices. You make each one yourself and you live with each one yourself. I'm here as living proof that if you are willing to make the appropriate sacrifices, winning the lottery is not the only option to change your lifestyle. I could have stayed where I was making $11.65 or less per hour too. You can. But you don't have to. It's all your choice.

My father finished his associate's degree. He changed careers in his mid to late thirties. It wasn't easy, but it was his choice. My fiance's stepmother went back to school at 35. She has a couple letters after her name now and she's been in a private practice for several years. Sure, she's got student loan payments bigger than her mortgage payments, but her lifestyle has done a 180 and she's happy. It wasn't easy, but it was her choice. We choose. And the best part is, we can change our mind at will. But please believe me when I tell you that your assessment of life mandating 80 hours of work per week with any off time spent cleaining up and getting things done does NOT necessarily change if you wear a tie to work. It might, but there's no guarantee. I work more hours now than ever. But it's different work for different pay. I still don't have much of a "life" the way you are referring to it. So please don't think that a tie becoming part of a work uniform automatically brings football tickets, black tie parties, and Saturdays spent on someone's yacht five times a year. I will be home from work by around 8:30 this evening. I started at 7 this morning. When I get home I will make dinner, clean up, and do laundry. Just like you, probably.

All the very best to you, Tom. Life will always be what you make of it.


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