Msnowe's Blog

The Content of Character

Posted in Uncategorized by m.snowe on January 16, 2012

The  other day, the NYTimes published an article about the “nuance” of the  one percent titled, “Among the Wealthiest One Percent, Many Variations.” Ostensibly, this article was meant to show the large differences between various members of this now-notorious and somewhat arbitrarily delineated group. Yes, some are doctors, others business owners, and still others trust fund babies now fully grown out of their tiny, choking hazard silver spoons. And some of those interviewed “feel” wealthier or less-wealthy, relative to their neighbors. But the whole point of the arbitrary, percentage delineation is to signify wealth in dollars, nothing else. To say they are various is not only beside any crucial point–it was never really a question. Anyone with any power of imagination could craft a fictional population of millionaires–and some of them, maybe many, would be worthy protagonists.

One such nuanced one-percenter interviewed the article had the following to say:

Dr. Chandok, the Lake Success oncologist, said that her husband, also a doctor, was still paying off his student loans. The couple has a nanny, but Dr. Chandok’s father-in-law does the shopping and cooking.

Dr. Chandok said she had never heard the Occupy Wall Street slogan “We are the 99 percent.” Two children and 11-hour workdays, she said, do not leave much time for politics.

But when the slogan was explained as a complaint against the wealthy’s growing share of income, she shook her head. “I spent four years in undergraduate school, four years in medical school, three years as a resident and three years as a fellow,” she said. “You have to look at the people who are complaining.”

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You have to look at the people who are complaining.”

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“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

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Of course, Dr. King had it right. And, sadly, in many respects, his children, this nation’s children, will be judged by many things before the content of their character. We can see this in the brash, bold, ignorant statement above. In one sense, this no-longer anonymous doctor from the Hamptons is trying to say, “yes, judge these people by their character–and judge me by my character, I work hard and have achieved many of my life’s goals through time and study and toil and sacrifice.” Her input and output in many ways cannot be denied. But somehow, King’s message has been lost on her. She has chosen to see only success as an accurate measure of content of character. She tells the world at large: stop complaining unless you live in the expensive house next door, because only then could you have struggled to success like I have.

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Maybe she grew up in poverty. Maybe she learned her discipline for studiousness while surrounded by a phalanx of uncaring adults who did not encourage her, or actively undermined her accomplishments. Maybe she went to the library and studied on the weekends, because she found the public school system in her community lacking. Maybe, she took care of her younger siblings while her single mother was working two jobs just to support the family. Maybe she overcame sexual assault at home or at school. Maybe she was gay, and bullied. Maybe she was a victim of racism, but chose to persevere. And somehow, through all this, she is where she is now.

Maybe, just maybe all these things happened to her, because of the life she had no choice but to be born into. And yet, she overcame, overcame, overcame. She was a superhuman hero, and she got her degrees and accolades, despite all odds, and then her dream job. But, what if the economy had no more room for her? What if, straight out of college, her position was liquidated due to no fault of her own? What if many people just like her had the same fate befall them? And now, some other, older, financially successful woman, who by all appearances had an easier go of it so far, criticizes her and the movement she is now a part of?

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Just as there are lazy millionaires who inherited their fortunes and still feel no effects from the current economic situation, there are many more who were told to play by America’s rules, work hard and keep their head down. Maybe some of them never wanted mansions. Maybe some just wanted to do a tiny bit better than their parents–a dream that had been attainable for most Americans for about the last fifty years, but has now slipped through our collective grasp like the faintest of pillow time whispers.

It seems easy to call out the ignorance and lack of nuance that exists in opinions like the woman’s above. And it would be easy to get angry and stay angry. Getting angry seems right, but to act on anger instead of on principle and with conviction and a mission seems misguided. As much as the Occupy movement gained attention by alienating a very select few and being inclusive to a disparaged majority, perhaps the next step would be to try to unite under one purpose and hope that those with narrower views listen to the stories of the crowd. A crowd of diverse backgrounds, experiences, and abilities to hope for the type of future they might deserve. Because it’s not that people in the one percent didn’t deserve to succeed in some ways. It’s not that they should immediately forfeit all their sometimes hard-earned money every time they Pass Go. It’s about fostering a culture where every person has the right to pursue happiness, and have a fairly equal shot at it, regardless of their background, race, sex, orientation, religion, etc.  It’s not that one person’s triumph or prosperity should be scolded, but that we should live in a way that encourages as many people as possible to succeed, not just a miniscule few–who while possibly varied and talented, are surely not the only ones, and certainly aren’t as varied as they could be.

“With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.”

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