I am not a wealthy man. I never have been. Never really wanted to be. Without boring you with the details of my life, I can tell you that I have been all over the social strata of the US. I have shoveled shit with…well some people that I wouldn’t have otherwise even known. I have even taken a few meetings with the CEO’s of some of the largest companies in the world.
I guess I have one of those faces. One that has opened some odd doors in my time. I have been told that I “look rich”. I must. I have found myself thrust into some very wealthy company in which I felt extremely uncomfortable. But enough about me.
A few years ago, the wife and I went to pick our son up from school. It was a sunny warm spring day,and we had something planned for the family, formal enough so that I wasn’t in my signature holy t-shirt and jeans. We were driving a newish car that like most Amerikans, put us into a few years of servitude to a local bank. Nothing really fancy…just of the “shiny-shit” variety. We were a bit late and finally found the last parking spot outside the school and rolled down the windows to enjoy the spring breeze and a small wait for our son.
I heard raised voices from the next car…a kind of beater car…and looked over into the eyes of a VERY angry man. His voice kept raising in volume and it became clear that although he was ostensibly talking to his wife in the seat next to him, he was directing the intention of his rant toward us. He did not appear to be drunk…just very upset.
I couldn’t hear every word of his tirade at first, but it was clear that he was referring to my wife and I in unmistakeably hostile terms. This man’s wife who was closer to me said “keep your voice down! They will hear you!” That caused him to raise his voice even more as he answered “I don’t care if they DO hear me…the rich bastards”.
That hit me like a baseball bat to the knees. Me? A rich bastard? Then the strangest thing of all hit me. It was kind of a feeling of “yeah, I’m rich and you aren’t, you hill-jack asshole”. It was just a fleeting feeling but for the life of me, I could NOT fathom where that feeling came from. It didn’t come from ME. Not the guy that is plagued with a social conscience…that tries in all instances to “see” things from the other guy’s perspective before judging. But there it was. Running through my brain as a kind of primal defense mechanism. Almost something I would act upon. We all have that kind of “muttering to ourselves-roadrage” thing that we mentally run through every time someone doesn’t drive in a fashion that pleases us, but this was different. Deeper and more personal. An emotion that was truly frightening. It pushed me in the back.
That little episode impressed me to no end. I wasn’t in the least upset with the guy…after that little wisp of an emotion passed through my head. Hell, he had probably just had enough of the world that day. He no doubt felt that everyone was doing better than he, at that moment that we drove up and rubbed our shiny car and nice clothes in his face. I understood. Been there.
What gave me that prickly embarrassed feeling, and lasted, well…until even now, was not the misjudgment that he directed at me, but how I responded in my mind and how we are all vulnerable to that kind of idiocy.
It was so easy, and inexpensive. It was easy to dismiss this man as something less human than me. To rise above him without even knowing him. I have seen the world reduced to these kind of heartless misjudgments. But they last and they go deep. And children are killed because of them. And governments promote them. That guy in the next car misjudged. And so did I. I am totally ashamed.