I admit it. I am peeved. A young man half my age just snickered at my home heating system. “Wow”, he commented, “Why would you keep this old thing running when a new one only runs five or six?” I coolly inquired, “Five or six?” He answered,”Yeah, five or six, seven grand tops and you can get rid of this clunker. Who would be silly enough to pop seven hundred dollars into repairs? Waste of money when a new one is so cheap.”
I would be that silly. I simply don’t have the cash for a new one. When I tell him I am interested in prolonging the life of my existing system, he stares at me blank-faced for a moment, then utters a drawn out, disparaging “O-o-o-h. O-kay.”
A student yesterday lamented that she felt bad because she may not be able to attend a twelve hundred dollar Caribbean cruise during spring break that is an optional journey offered by the music department at our high school. “Oh, you’re going too?” her peer squealed in excitement. “It is gonna be so much fun!” “No” muttered the blushing student in a quiet voice, “I don’t think I will be able to make it.” Her squealing friend paused, caught on and attempted to minimize the damage. “No big deal. There will be other trips later on.”
And there will be, but perhaps not for everyone. My kids were never able to go on one, and you know what? They are thriving happy adults. I am not going to freeze this winter and I have it a lot better than many of my acquaintances. I am solidly middle class and my situation is far from unusual. There are those far above me and those way below my monetary status. The heating boy does not own his own home, have children to support or occupy any meaningful position from which to comment on my financial choices or situation.
Until you have driven a clunker or worn hand-me-downs or cut coupons, you probably have little understanding of what financial judgement feels like. An inherent assumption exists that there is a basic level of economic wellbeing that everyone enjoys. People need to be more aware that personal circumstances vary. The squealer meant no harm and the oil technician was simply thoughtless when he spoke. Neither understood the audience they were addressing. They were each reveling in their own thoughts, without looking outward to see or care about their neighbor.
Take a moment to really see before you speak. When you do speak, express yourself with care to the person you are addressing. Many of your neighbors struggle to put food on their tables. People work long hours to support and nurture their families. We face losses of those we love and watch our families grow. We endure illness and share celebrations of life achievements. We are human and share our joys and sorrows. Does a diminished savings account define a person? Should shame follow admission of poverty? Does a fatter wallet make a better person? Of course not. Yet those who feel looked down upon by those of superior financial status feel lessened. Are you making someone else feel like less?
People can be grossly insensitive. The trick is to not let it ruin your day. Remind yourself that the offenders have no real understanding of your life and are speaking out of turn. You also have no appreciation of their background. Though financially comfortable their lives may be lacking in many other ways. Perhaps they never learned how to look thoughtfully outside of themselves.
These offenses are hardest on kids. Children are honest. They can make devastating remarks without even realizing that another student is feeling belittled. “You have never been to Disney? Oh, my parents take us every two years. You have to go!” Kids have little to no understanding of economic differences. Parents need to educate their children early on. Take the time to explain values, and where money matters fall in the hierarchy of life.
We all like having things and doing things. Money is important as having it ensures comfort and a certain freedom to move fluidly within society. Yet there is a lot that money cannot do. Money cannot replace a solid system of ethical values or substitute family or friendship or education. Money is superfluous when it comes to emotional connection or appreciating nature. Money is a practical object. It is not key to becoming the person you wish to be. Having easy access to wealth is not a solution to life problems. Funny enough when things do come easily they are often less valued than those we earn.
The heater boy offended me. I was mad for a minute or two. I was certainly not jealous. I am proud that I have worked to get my family to the place we occupy and wouldn’t change my beloved crew with all its foibles and circumstances for the world. My best memories and experiences have nothing to do with my wallet. I am glad my kids and I are thoughtful. We do our best to value others. We often laugh at our challenges, recognizing that financial woes are better issues to face than many others. I am grateful for all we do have. In spite of a bum oil tank we are remarkably fortunate. As to whether I will have this heating company make another service call, I will simply reserve my judgement.