The Reality Divide

This has been brought up by my friend Lisa, and I think I have to address it in depth, especially now. And this is something that I really don’t think I can avoid addressing.

Money, they say, is the root of all evil. I think that in light of the most recent events, we can bravely say that that’s the case. But what money also does is gives someone a peace of mind that people without it – or without a sense of financial stability – can never acquire. What that peace of mind does, in turn, is create a bubble that insulates from the very harsh and very demanding realities of the real world.

In other words… the richer they get, the less clue they have about the world outside their bubble as the money reinforces it. And then they try and “advise” people on how to get to where they are.

You know the tropes: “Work hard and you’ll get anywhere!” “I can do X and Y and so can anyone else!” And, my favorite, “Just start a business!”

But for one major, major flaw: all of them, to a T, ignore the simple fact that not everyone has the same opportunity as they have.

This is the first harsh reality that people of means either willfully disregard or are blithely unaware of. Equal opportunity is a nice idea, but ultimately, it’s not at all what reality is, and whether or not you like it, money is always, always the determining factor. If a person might come from any money at all – a house that’s owned and not rented is still equity and a financial foundation that people who rent just simply do not have – they already have a leg up. If they had a parent who used whatever savings they had in order to set up a college fund, there’s a major leg up, considering the rising costs of tuition. But these things do matter, and right now, in the era of rising costs and a growing chasm of inequality, they matter a whole lot more than the people who are better off even consider.

“You can just start a business!” sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Except the part where businesses require startup capital. As in, money you put out to vendors, suppliers, distributors, etc. up front, before you start making any actual income from your venture. And oh, need I remind you that landlords and utility companies really don’t like getting things like “exposure” or “I have to wait to make some money off my new business” in lieu of money.

This is why I have a huge problem with people who push entrepreneurship as a grand panacea to all financial ills. They don’t understand the very simple concept of entrepreneurship: you can’t make money without first spending money. And if someone, say, doesn’t really have any money to invest in a new venture – with no guarantees of it succeeding, no matter what the prosperity gospel might push – then what good, exactly, is entrepreneurship to them?

Again. Landlords need to be paid. Utility bills need paying. Tell me please, when was the last time that there was any bill paid with “exposure”?

I didn’t think so.

Those who do not have means are very keenly aware of these realities. Or, let’s call them what they really are: responsibilities. Because that’s what life is: it’s a connected chain of responsibilities. And money, or lack of it, definitely reorganizes those responsibilities.

And I’ll say it plainly: people who have any financial backing other than zero have very little grasp of the reality of these responsibilities, or of the real world. Sorry, but not sorry.

Imagine this scenario. You have a friend, and you know your friend’s parents are sending her money regularly. Her bills are always paid – that’s if she even has to write the checks herself. The friend doesn’t have to worry about how to make a living, and you two often have great outings, and great times. But – you have to work. Sometimes you get a project and you get long hours. “But can’t it wait?” your friend will ask when calling you for an impromptu night out midweek.

“No. I have a deadline.”

“But can’t you put off that deadline?”

“No, because I need this job.”

“But maybe you can start a business? It might take a while to get exposure, though, but you can start a business and then you wouldn’t need to work such long hours.”

“I have bills.”

This conversation, or something like it, takes place every day, and kids of parents who don’t have money have to actually explain to their peers, whose parents basically finance their lifestyle, that no, it’s not possible to start a business when one is 1) in debt with student loans, 2) without savings or any sort of capital to put into that new business and 2) with bills to pay.

Because – not joking – some people just do not understand just how severe those responsibilities are, simply because they don’t have them for themselves.

Seriously. We are in our thirties right now. I don’t think we should have to explain the concept of responsibilities and commitments to people, but because our more-moneyed peers can’t understand the very basic bit that responsibilities actually require time, effort, and commitment well before a good time does.

It’s a reality disconnect that we have so far seen play out in the past few months. Look at every. single. legislation that was aimed against people who are struggling. Student loan protections have been rolled back, because screw college grads whose first jobs barely pay a room’s rent. Wage debates are still ongoing because some people who are in legislature – nearly all of them people with serious money – just can’t grasp that a wage is supposed to be something that people can reasonably survive on. And let’s not forget the colossal waste of money that “drug testing for welfare” has turned out to be. Spend over three million dollars to catch one person, as what happened in FL. It does nothing at all to make people less poor, but gee, “they just need to work harder”.

I’ve tried bringing this up before, and I’ve heard some gems, most of which along the lines of “You’re just jealous! Work a little harder and you’ll have some money, so stop complaining.”

Bullshit. And few things are more offensive than anyone even remotely implying laziness on people who are already working. As a lot of people on public assistance actually are, because gee, you probably forgot that costs of living have more than doubled while wages remained stagnant, which makes for a very fun mathematic disparity when you add some things and subtract others.

I work two jobs, if you consider my photography venture is every bit as much work as my Day Job. You want to tell me to work harder, then I suggest you be the one to cut me a pretty hefty check. Please note that assholes are nearly always charged a fee on top of their usual fee for my services, and this is not negotiable. You want to act like a jerk? Open your wallet.

Here’s what a lot of people fail to understand too: no one is jealous of rich people.

I know, I know. Hard to believe, especially considering that there’s not a single poor person who hasn’t once wondered what they’d do with a little extra cash. But really… those of us who have managed to get to some sort of stability after coming up from nothing – or less than nothing, if student debt counts –  and even those of us who are not so fortunate are not at all jealous of people with money.

In fact, rich people, we feel very little towards you at all. Except for one thing, and it’ll surprise you:

Pity.

And here’s why: who are you and what will you do when the money runs out?

All that entrepreneurship won’t last forever – assuming there’s even capital or savings to start a business and/or keep it running. No one has the energy to keep a hustle going 24-7, with or without employees. Money always runs out, especially wealth you inherit, and double on top of that for money that someone other than you has earned that either you spent or someone else has been spending on you. What if your spouse decides that they had enough of supporting you and get up and leave? What if you have a health catastrophe that basically wipes out everything you’ve got? What if someone else’s entrepreneurship turns out to be a gigantic Ponzi scheme and all that money you put up, maybe even your whole life savings, for their business is gone with no hope of getting it back? Then what will you do with yourself?

My guess, if you’re wealthy, that’s your personal götterdämmerung. Look it up if you want to know what it means. But if you don’t want to look it up, I’ll tell you in plain English what it means: you’re finished.

Let’s be very frank about the realities of the world: at the end of the day, it’s all about the ways in which you are useful to other people. It’s about your real-life skills – be it knowing how to balance a checkbook, run an office, be a listener, or perform a surgery – and whether or not your skills are up to date. And maybe it’s just me, but I find that people who come from inherited wealth, who do nothing with themselves, and who voluntarily disconnected themselves from the reality of the world are pretty much useless.

When parents say that they want to “give their children everything we’ve never had”, I want to scream in frustration. Every time that this is done, the parents are robbing their own kids of the necessary skills of empathy, perseverance, and fully appreciating the value of what’s around them, whether a dollar or another person. Not a single one of these skills, which in this vile obstacle course that we call a world right now are pretty much essential for qualifying as a decent human being, ever come without the following three things: 1) struggle, 2) disappointment, and 3) pain.

Nothing positive can ever be fully appreciated without some seriously heavy negative to put it in perspective. That’s just a fact of life.

So when parents set their kids up to never have to struggle, they’re actually giving them a huge, massive handicap in the real world. By ensuring their kids won’t have to struggle, the parents are making sure that their kid never has to deal with reality. A losing proposition, because reality has a very, very funny away of catching up.

Ultimately, those of us who do have to struggle have very little mercy for those  who don’t. Simply because struggle teaches a certain set of survival skills that the wealthier side will never know, and when chips are thrown down and it’s down to what you’re capable of, money doesn’t really match skill. Never has and never will.

The only thing that is really apt to grind my gears is having to actually teach our peers – and too often, our elders – the very basic parts of life such as compassion, responsibilities, and priorities. The fact that these things have to be explained – is the real part that grinds on a lot of people. Not just me – anyone who’s ever had to struggle, anyone who’s ever had to work like a dog for any financial security, we are all sick and tired of having to explain to people how things are and what they are. This shouldn’t have to happen. If people’s money removes compassion from the equation, then I’m sorry, but what good is the person, overall, as a human being? Sorry, but not at all sorry to posit that question. If someone’s compassion, understanding, empathy, etc. are removed by a few thousands of dollars, what good is the person, on a basic human level? What use is a human being who can be easily bought into not being human on a basic level?

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you the answer to that.

K.G.

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