One of the most damaging misperceptions I have ever held to be true is that people have more respect for those that go from a low position in life to higher one than they do for those who are born into an advantageous position in life and remain there. This isn’t to say that there aren’t a lot of people who will respect you for overcoming obstacles in life, because there are many that will. It is to say that it is not advantageous to any person to advertise or let it be known that they did not come from an advantageous position in life because people are pre-disposed to respect those who were born into their positions.
When I first arrived at College this idea was like a cracked pipe waiting to rupture and cause devastation. For me it did not break all at once, instead it slowly leaked over time and led me from one embarrassing humiliation to another. It is not difficult to find the sources of this misperception. On one hand the lower classes tell each other these things ("you have something they can never buy" type statements) to convince themselves that they do in fact have something that people in economically superior positions not only do not have, but cannot attain. On the other, the middle and upper middle classes learned long ago to internalize all racist and class based sentiment to the point where the only evidence one can find of it is in their decision making – who they choose to be friends with and so on. A third way that this misperception is disseminated is through popular culture, for instance movies wherein two suitors are vying for a girls attention, and one of them, the bad one, seems to have had everything – good looks and money – handed to him (Meet the Parents is one that comes to mind).
The reality of the matter is that the poor kid has absolutely nothing to offer the rich kid. Rich kids are better at the things poor kids are supposedly better suited for such as handling adversity. One could argue that because one person has seen much more adversity than another, he is better at handling adversity, but the opposite is true. The rich (forgive my crude terms) or the pampered are better at handling adversity because they have a strong foundation. It is helpful to think about it in terms of flinching. A person who is hit frequently as a child is fully aware of what the pain of physical violence feels like. When they encounter what they think is physical violence, they will recoil. This is not always the case but I believe it is usual. For the kid who has never experienced great adversity, he does not all of these fear inducing concepts to hold him down. It translates into confidence, and as everyone knows, confidence is a self fulfilling prophecy. A friend of mine who visited Gettysburg made the revealing observation that the students at Gettysburg looked more robust than their working class counterparts. They are more robust, and the difference is not limited to physical appearance. They are like plants that have been raised in the most ideal conditions, perfectly suited, now that they are grown, for adversity of all types.
“And that is how our children – I mean, not yours but ours, sir, the children of the despised but noble poor learn the truth on earth when they are just nine years old. The rich ones – what do they know. In their whole lives they never sound such depths, and my Ilyushanka at that very moment went through the whole truth. This truth sir, entered into him and crushed him forever.”
“Brothers Karamazov” P.206
I cannot say that Ilyusha’s learning so much about life is worthless. There is an entire facet of this that I am ignoring, but what I am saying is that Ilyusha in most ways has no advantage over “the rich” ones. This truth, the truth of the harshness of life that the poor learn so young, almost always crushes them in one way or another. It is not something one can leave behind once they learn it. It is always there to harass. People who are unencumbered by this burden of truth have an advantage in almost every respect except one – producing meaningful art.
I understand that I have presented an unreal division between rich and poor, and that it is entirely possible for a poor kid to be more pampered than one who is rich. Officer, I did it to get my ideas across. I also understand that there is a lot of value in the “truths” poor kids learn, but as I have stated, my point is not to encourage people from “humble” backgrounds to turn their backs on their past, but to encourage them to not advertise their personal history, because there is no advantage to it. It is only advantageous in our closest relationships with friends and in the production of art. Aside from that, we are left only with vanity.
“Let me, if not by birth, have lands by wit
All with me’s meet that I can fashion fit.”
Edmund from “King Lear” (the villain)
“Now the rest had sat down, and were orderly in their places,
but one man, Thersites of the endless speech, still scolded,
who knew within his head many words, but disorderly;
vain, and without decency, to quarrel with the princes
with any word he thought might be amusing to the Argives.
... brilliant Odysseus swiftly
came beside him scowling and laid a harsh word upon him:
"Fluent orator though you be, Thersites, your words are
ill-considered. Stop, nor stand up alone against princes.
Of all of those who came beneath Ilion with Atreides
I assert there is no worse than you are. Therefore
you shall not lift up your mouth to argue with princes,
cast reproaches into their teeth, nor sustain the homegoing
So he spoke and dashed the sceptre against his back and
shoulders, and he doubled over, and a round tear dropped from him,
and a bloody welt stood up between his shoulders and under
the golden sceptres stroke, and he sat down again,
in pain, and looking helplessly about wiped off the tear drops
Sorry though the men were they laughed over him happily”
Iliad, Book II 211-270