A few posts ago, I was ranting on about a “mentality” that I believe that so many of us live with (perhaps without even realising it).
Since I’m clearly not doing a very good job at explaining what I mean by a middle-class-mentality (and, thus, reaping some online wrath)… I shall try to explain with a story. (I love stories).
A couple of years ago, Oprah (on her show) mentioned the story of a homeless man who had been deliberately given a suitcase containing $100,000 cash. A couple of producers were curious to understand whether the man was homeless – because he genuinely couldn’t find work… or had no way of escaping his sad life… OR… whether he was homeless because he was somehow self-sabotaging.
Here’s the first clip of the doccie:
Long story short: he was self-sabotaging. He very quickly blew all of that money on strange and superfluous stuff… and was soon as broke as ever – and living on the streets again (and, interestingly, blaming everyone else for his hard-knock life).
I found that story fascinating.
So many of us watching that documentary – were slapping our foreheads in frustration whenever the man blew yet another disproportionate sum of money on something that just didn’t make any sense!
“He’s wasting it!’, we’d yell at the TV screen.
“He could have used that money to buy a ____ which would, in turn, help him to _____. Why can’t he see or understand the error of his ways?”
“If I had $100,000 – I could have completely turned my life around!”
Fast forward to a few years later… when I had somebody working for me (let’s call her Betty).
Betty came from a very poverty-poor background. Poor as in: eating from dustbins as a kid. Poor as in: only having a single pair of worn-out, too-small shoes as a teenager. Poor as in: starvation. Poor as in: couldn’t afford to attend school.
Me… with my comfy middle-class life – cannot possibly appreciate or understand the kind of awful life Betty has had to endure.
But still… Betty was amazing!
All I saw in her was incredible potential… I saw talent… I saw strength… I saw somebody who had so much to offer the world.
Problem is – Betty didn’t see herself that way – at all.
She often told me that she was “doomed” to be poor all her life… that it was simply her destiny. That everyone in her family was dirt poor – so why should she think “higher” of herself – or imagine that she could escape the destiny of poverty and suffering that awaited her.
I cannot begin to tell you how much her words frustrated me.
I could see SO MUCH in Betty – why couldn’t she see it for herself?
A couple of years later, after Betty had expressed an interest in starting up her own business… we decided to do everything in our power to help her follow her dream. A long story short… she left our employ with a car we had given her… a large load of other household items & stuff that she needed for her family and her business… and a very significant amount of cash.
I was excited for her. I knew she had the capacity to run her own little food stall… I knew she was a hard-worker… I knew that she and her brother made great food…. I knew there was a gap in the market… I knew that – even if the food stall took a while to “lift off” – that she could use the car as a resource to earn money (a lot of people pay for lifts and for loads).
We waved Betty goodbye with a smile – and a strong belief in her capabilities.
Less than 3 months later, Betty was back at our door. Completely broke. She had even sold the car (for a piddly amount of money). When I asked her: “What happened with all the resources and the cash you had?” – she told me what she had done with it all… and – just like the Oprah documentary – I just cringed with frustration at her poor choices.
Betty was a walking self-fulfilling-prophecy. So convinced was she that “nothing in my life will ever succeed” – and “to suffer is my destiny”… that she had, in a sense, proven herself right.
It wasn’t Betty’s talent… intelligence… or abilities that failed her… it was her limiting mentality! SHE was her own worst enemy.
Again – I found myself pondering and puzzling and chewing on the whole frustrating course of events.
“Why can’t she just SEE?” I wondered.
And then the thought struck me: “I wonder how similar I am to Betty – perhaps in other ways? I wonder how much I am also self-sabotaging my own life? I wonder how much my own limiting mentality is damaging me – or my life? I wonder how much potential and opportunity is out there that I also don’t see or recognise”
Now – THAT was food for thought…
And then I began to wonder about all the conversations I had had with friends (from a similar “class” or background as me) – everyone grumbling about the same old things: Sucky jobs… poor salaries… too many bills at the end of the month… frustrating daily routines… not enough quality time with our loved ones… lots of struggle with seemingly little reward… and so on and so on…
And I thought: I wonder if other folk – who are living very different lives to us (i.e.: following their dreams, very fulfilled and happy – and financially well-off) – are perhaps looking at what we do… and how we live… and also slapping their foreheads in frustration and saying: “Why can’t they just SEE?”
Nick and I often used to lament about how we just can’t seem to “get ahead”…
There always seemed to be something tripping us up… holding us backing… pulling us down…
And now, I wonder whether that “something” was simply “us”… and that, much like Betty, we have ALSO been infected by this… limiting mentality… (thanks, in part, to our up-bringing, our class and the society we live in – and the messages we have been “taught” and “told” our whole lives).
Betty was “taught” to believe that she was nothing… that she was worthless… that she would always be poor… that – like her extended family – she would always suffer.
I was “taught” to believe that I shouldn’t dream TOO big… or get above my “station” in life. I was “taught” that I should be happy and content with a job (no matter how shitty), a house in the ‘burbs (no matter how much debt it got me in to), a marriage (no matter how miserable)… kids… a car… a retirement annuity and an annual holiday in Durban. And if you dream of more than this – or if you dream of a life completely different to this… then there’s something wrong with you, and you need to be brought down a notch-or-two.
I was “taught” that status, nice homes and new cars were things that I should ‘want’ and strive for. I was “taught” that debt wasn’t such a bad thing. I was “taught” that – as a woman – my appearance (and my weight) is vitally important – and that I should be constantly striving to better what I looked like.
And I was “taught” that people are different… that “we” don’t mix with “those” people (on the other side of the hill). I was “taught” about exclusivity… about cliques… about fear of the “other”.
Everything that I was “taught” came from – predominantly – the following: the society I was raised in (in my case, middle-class Benoni)… the schools I was taught in… the culture I was surrounded with… the churches I attended… and the people (family, friends and peers) that I spent the most time with.
Same was true, by the way, for Betty. She was “taught” her particular mentality from similar sources: society / culture / school / church / and the people she spent the most time with.
By the way – I’m not saying that everything I was “taught” is all bad and rotten to the core.
I learned a number of really GREAT lessons – from those very same sources! But I also absorbed a fair amount of crappy stuff… that has – annoyingly – *stuck*… like a piece of old chewing gum – in my hair – and, it seems like the only way to get it out is to actually cut the hair….
You hear what I’m saying?
Please say yes. I’m feeling a bit run-over and misunderstood today.
So – QUESTION to everyone out there: what have YOU been “taught” by your culture / religion / class / community / school and the people you spent the most time with? (Doesn’t have to be the negative stuff… I’d love to hear some positive stories too!). Reply to this post… facebook me… or e-mail me… with your thoughts.
*hugs to all*