Now that I’m seeking it, I can talk about it.
This is the very beginning of my thinking about this, in terms of any organized presentation. This post will be a matter of brainstorming; I may say here things I’ve said before, and things I’m destined to say again.
The “Jacob’s Ladder” posts discuss certain obstacles anyone may face in seeking to improve one’s lot. I no longer fear turning my back on my current neighbors; I can love them as they are and still seek better for myself. I don’t need to look askance at men who aren’t seeking the same things in life I am.
Circa 2008, while I was living in Barclay and working at a dollar store that served a very Barclay-like population, a brother pulled a stunt to bring about an ad hoc family reunion, of my immediate family, at his house. It lasted two or three days. It was as if I’d been transported to heaven.
My brothers live in a world of beauty and harmony, not to mention material comforts, that my neighbors and customers absolutely cannot imagine. It is totally beyond their ken. Conversely, my brothers (and other mainstream people; we grew up in the mainstream) cannot possibly imagine the squalor my neighbors and customers took for granted.
This country is, or can be, a beautiful place. For anyone. There are all kinds of material comforts, all kinds of beauty, all kinds of opportunity available — if one is willing to, and knows how to, “go there.” Disadvantaged people don’t. I developed the ambition of equipping people like my neighbors and customers to “go there,” to gain access to everything America has to offer.
I drew up a long list of ways disadvantaged people can de-marginalize themselves. Arranging these into an organized presentation is a challenge. Some pertain to character traits, some to spirituality, some to wisdom, some to knowledge. There is a tremendous amount of sheer information mainstream folk know and take for granted, about how to succeed in the mainstream, that poor people have no clue about. First among these, to my mind, is the notion of a spending plan.
In the end, Get on Your Feet, a manual for upward mobility, may become a second book, after The Way of Peace.
Some folk face steeper hills than others.
Wildly disproportionate numbers of the poor are what I call “infantile;” they have never, in effect, been toilet-trained, nor weaned. Upward mobility poses a much greater challenge for them, than it does for others. As discussed in a previous post:
The first major transition from infantilism towards autonomy comes with weaning. Prior to this time, the child displays what psychologists call an “oral personality.” For an infant, “The world owes me” is a wholly appropriate worldview. He or she actually is entitled to immediate gratification. Everything must be given to him or her, and he or she takes greatest joy in taking things away from others. He or she can do nothing for oneself. The child has no responsibilities but to eat, poop and cry. There is as yet no need to clean up one’s own messes or wipe one’s own behind.
The next major obstacle a child confronts is toilet training. Normal learnings of this time include these:
– There is a designated time and place to deposit wastes, e.g. trash or feces.
– One is responsible to clean up one’s own messes; to wipe one’s own behind.
– Respect for others’ rights — the beginning of the end of self-centeredness.
– Respect for one’s own possessions — that is, one’s assets, one’s bootstraps.
– Justice, right and wrong don’t necessarily pertain to the immediate gratification of one’s infantile desires.
These are “takers,” not “makers.” From “Why do roses have thorns?“:
“Oral” people live in squalor. They take pleasure in what they ingest — drugs, for example — rather than in what they do or create. They value things people do with their mouths — eating (in inappropriate settings), chewing, talking, oratory (preaching), shouting. One loudmouth bully who attended the shelter for about a year normally kept candy and gum and a toothpick in his mouth.
The mission serves two populations. There are the “clients,” about 500 men enrolled in the 12-month residential drug treatment program; and the “guests,” us 60 homeless guys who are here only one day at a time. We are strictly not allowed to mix. But in the dining hall, sometimes both are present, them on their side, us on ours. The noise level can be deafening, but it all comes from them — the shouting, the yelling, the loud talk — from the oral people, the addicts, not from us homeless guys.
There are, in fact, men who don’t wipe their own behinds. It’s a common ghetto insult: “He has a shitty ass” — and there is, in fact, some probability that it’s so. These are the men who, at the homeless shelter, sit down buck naked on the shower bench and leave a stripe of stool behind when they stand up.
These folks’ attributes can be compared to those of psychopaths. They may lack the genetic endowment needed to do better.
Does it even happen?
In college, I took a mandatory course on Educational Sociology. I hated it, not because of the following. It relied heavily on the Coleman report, to the effect that upward mobility fundamentally doesn’t happen — for anyone. Rather, the American educational system is a vast sorting machine that functions to keep every child in the exact same socioeconomic status it was born into. The Wikipedia article, “Social mobility,” presents a cognitive dissonance, asserting with equal fervor both that education is key to upward mobility and that poor children are destined to fail.
The last report I remember that suggested upward mobility is possible was circa 1968. More on that shortly. Those were the days when everyone around me was giddy with anticipation that black folk — the only poor that liberals admit exist — would soon rise out of poverty en masse. It would be like the Israelites leaving Egypt.
Since then, no research on this subject has been reported; apparently, no research is being done — or none is being funded. I attribute this to the influence of political correctness on the media and academia; given its dogmatic contempt for work and for responsibility.
The profile of the upwardly mobile person that I read in 1968 displeased me. It may be that this person had an untoward desire for the acquisition of material things, valuing them more than relationships. What I wanted for myself in 1968 may not be what I want now; or, it may be that “upward mobility” doesn’t name what I really want.
Have I been using the wrong term?
Shalom is a Hebrew Bible word normally translated “peace.” Its actual meaning is much broader than a mere absence of war. It comprehends health, happiness and prosperity. All are in short supply among the poor, where lifespans are short, people destroy their own assets, and — in Barclay, on the street, perhaps four times a day I’d hear one person tell another, “I’m-a slap the shit out yo’ ass.”
Very similar to shalom is another concept better known in Britain than in the U.S.: “doing well” or “living well.” It’s mentioned in XTC’s “Scarecrow People” —
— and also somewhere by Elton John. In contrast to the American concept that “prosperity,” “wealth” and “success” all involve being rich, “doing well” pertains to having enough. It also, crucially, pertains to living harmoniously with others and with the law.
As the XTC lyric indicates, there is a moral aspect to it, too. That conflicts again with American political correctness, which despises morals.
One who “does well” both (1) works and (2) is responsible.
“Doing well” boils down to doing the best one can with what one’s got. The closest American term may be “to thrive.”
Maybe I should title my book not, Get on Your Feet, but Thrive.
I discussed spending plans in “Why racism no longer matters to me” —
For a time a couple years ago, I had patrons who equipped me with a total of $35 every Sunday. Two or three times a week, I sat down and counted my pennies — literally — and strategized my spending for the rest of the week. On Sunday morning, I might wind up with seven cents or seventeen cents; but I had made it. I had managed my life with the resources at hand.
This was tremendously empowering. My world was not broken. I had accomplished this. I could lift up my eyes to envision still better things to accomplish. I had hope.
— and in “For us:”
One of the greatest blessings God’s given poor people like me, is food stamps. Yet many people use their food stamps chaotically, so that they run out at mid-month every month, month after month, and one has no clue where one’s resources have gone. One can establish order in one’s spending, by making a spending plan. One may still run out, but at least one will know where it’s gone, and have some foresight as to what emergency resources one will need, and when.