Over the past few weeks I’ve had my tone and communication approach mentioned or alluded to on several occasions. As a human, my defenses wanted to go up, and they did to an extent, but I tried my best to take notice and examine the way I speak and interact with people, whether in person or on social media.
A couple of years ago I was invited to contribute to a blog with the goal of sharing in a kind but firm manner about the issues surrounding racial issues, privilege, and the way these topics contribute to a lot of negative events and divides in the United States. I remember one of my editor’s critiquing me on my tone in a particular piece, essentially reminding me that “you get more flies with honey than with lemons.”
Due to my health circumstances, my primary mode of communication over the past two years has been technological and through social media. It can be easy to get into word battles, forgetting the person on the other end of the conversation is more than that one point you’re arguing and, more than that, they are also human with a soul and feelings. Therefore, with all the synchronistic reminders about how I come across to people, I am making a deliberate effort to check my words, speak kindly (but firmly, when necessary), but to also remain true to what I believe, even on hard issues.
A few mornings ago I entered into a conversation with a family member about a political meme they shared. I care about this person a lot, and I want to facilitate good conversation when we speak because our relationship goes far beyond a Facebook chat. We were able to have a constructive, cordial, and engaged discussion that ended on a very positive note. Additionally, it left me considering what I had said, how I had said it, and if there was more I could have added to improve on what I’d said.
Like most people, I think, I continued mulling over certain aspects of what we’d said, trying to think of what my next response would have been, had we continued the discussion—which ultimately began addressing freedoms that we have in the United States, whether real, perceived, or mythical, particularly regarding money and how we spend it.
For instance, how many people are actually able to campaign to become politicians compared to those who would like to based solely on financial ability? And would campaign spending limits fix this? I know in the United Kingdom there are spending limits for referendum votes, like for Brexit (I don’t know if they limit candidate campaign spending). I took the perspective that spending limits would make a positive impact on our political system because it would take some of the power away from the 1% and large corporations and give it back to “the people.” My family member took the position that if we start to limit freedom in one area there is the danger it will spread into other areas, too.
I understand that concern. I appreciate and value the freedoms that I have because of my citizenship, race, gender (in Western culture, because even with the hurdles I may face as a woman, other parts of the world are significantly worse), socioeconomic status, etc. But, what happens to people who don’t have those same privileges? I am by no means a wealthy person, but all of my needs are met. Could I go out, campaign for office, and get elected? Maybe at a local level (which is where we really need to invest our energy, by the way!), but without the right connections to people with money and influence, I would be hard pressed to go to a higher level.
The conversation flowed from the political curtailing of spending to the personal ability to spend, and whether or not either one of us would like someone telling us how we could spend our money if we were one of the lucky few to be exorbitantly wealthy. Shortly after, busyness of the day caused our conversation to close, but I continued pondering the question and different factors over the course of the next few days (hence this blog post).
I agree that there is a potential danger to limiting freedoms, because when one is sacrificed, it’s that much easier to continue removing others one at a time. In fact, I would argue we are already at that place, but it’s been done in such a way that many people don’t see it—for instance, the Presidential Alert that most cell phones in the U.S. received last week. Those alerts mean the government has accessed all of our cell phone numbers from our cell phone companies and can reach and/or surveil us that much more easily.
Remember Edward Snowden? He’s in Russia because he called out the NSA for illegal collection of data on Americans. If that doesn’t mean anything to you, watch this great episode from John Oliver as he explains why that should massively freak all of us out!
So, while I get the concern (fear) of the slippery-slope of losing freedom, I have to jump to a different perspective from which to see the concept of spending and money (the semi-original topic). The “American Dream (myth)”, while perhaps originally rooted in the idea of leaving someplace for a better life, has historically set up the majority of Americans (even today) to believe that anyone can do anything if they work hard enough, and what I earn is mine to use as I please without concern for anyone else (I recognize it’s a very black and white statement for a complex issue, but I’m trying to not write a book. Feel free to email if you want to discuss further.)
This (predominantly) American mentality has created a selfish society that values personal, monetary worth over the good of humanity. Of course, many who read that sentence will think, “Not me! I give _____ amount to such-and-such a charity or religious organization,” or “I gave that homeless person $5 last week,” and while those are good things, it misses the core problem: that while giving to those causes we consider “worthy”, in the very next breath we criticize those who are in need or policies that could help make the playing field more equal if we feel our personal income and accumulated possessions/finances are going to be threatened.
Before you start thinking, “She should move to Venezuela and see how she likes it” or “She’s such a socialist,” hear me out. I am advocating for a change in how we view our freedom and how we view our fellow humans.
If, as my family member posed, I’d been born to a billionaire father, would I want someone telling me how I could spend my money? My first reaction is, no. I’d want to be able to spend and give as I saw fit. However, when considered, we need to recognize that a better system could be structured if we separated the personal spending from the political. The issue is that the 1% and the large corporations can use their money as personal investments in the political arena (buying products…or in this case politicians, policies, votes, etc.) to benefit themselves. How does that help the 99% (who, incidentally, are often the biggest advocates for the absurdly wealthy to be given tax breaks and other benefits, rather than being expected to pay their due to our system, too)?
Ultimately, I see it boiling down to selfishness and greed brought on by the idea that no one deserves anything and should therefore have to work just as hard to get anywhere. But that ideology ignores the cultural, economic, and systemic shifts that have taken place. No longer can a college student work for a summer to pay for college. No longer can someone walk into an office, drop off an application face-to-face, and practically be guaranteed the job. No longer can (or could we ever?) receive quality healthcare without the risk of financial ruin. No longer can you move out on your own and easily survive…or survive at all. The list goes on…
How do we fix this? We can start by reading, educating ourselves on what’s really happening behind the “curtain” of our political system, opening our hearts and minds to the plights of others, and viewing ourselves as a team. I’m not advocating for “everyone gets one egg for their meal today.” I’m advocating for a mentality shift that doesn’t equate “tuition free college” or “free healthcare” as an attack on our freedoms and bank accounts but as an investment into our society and future. I’m pushing for the understanding that when we set up a system to succeed, even if it costs a little bit more from the people (tax dollars…that aren’t poured into the military industrial complex), that we will all be more successful and stable.