Privilege: I have it. (A confession)

Yesterday, I got a much-needed attitude slap down, and I don’t know if the person giving it to me even realized what she was doing.

I was sitting in my mother’s studio-slash-study (a room in the basement of her house that ironically enough used to be my bedroom). We’d been talking for a couple of hours, and the conversation had spanned from my four year old niece’s latest exploits, to why there are no female street artists, to how I was going to afford to pay for my husband’s therapy bill.

That turned the conversation towards the Affordable Care Act, and I started going off about my monthly bills. I personally was very upset because the Department of Education can’t communicate with the Department of Human Services and see that they’re each saying that because I make X amount of money, I don’t qualify for assistance with their respective payments. However, if I deducted, say, my student loan payments from my income, I WOULD qualify for assistance with my health insurance (and vice versa).  I didn’t think that was “fair” at all, since the bills would force me to put a hold on my long term plans. My question to my mother was: Why can’t the government communicate? Why can’t they count debt as well as income so I could keep a handle on my life?

Her response was not as supportive as I expected, given that my complaint seemed perfectly valid to me.

She sat back in her chair, looked at me for a moment, and said, “You have some serious First World problems.”  I laughed, but she didn’t. She talked to me for a few minutes about how absurd it was that I was complaining about “unfair” with the job, lifestyle, and dreams that I have. Then she went on to say: “Do you know who needs assistance, honey? People like your aunt.  Even though she’s blind and crippled by diabetes and no one is willing to hire her, the government wants to cut her disability payments, and she can’t make it by as it is. She needs help with her insurance. You don’t.”

That shut me right the hell up.

Her sharp commentary on my privilege are still echoing inside my head and poking at my pride. The more I think about it, the more I realize she is unquestionably right.  Yes, my husband and I struggle…but we are NOT struggling to survive. We have achieved stability, even if it is not quite the way we want it, and the only reason we cannot afford our insurance premium is because we do not want to sacrifice the immediate comforts we feel we are entitled to….nor are we willing to extend the timeline on our long term plans. We are not willing to sacrifice our current privilege, and therefore we have zero right to complain about being denied yet another.

With her words and those facts in mind, I have come to the conclusion that the only decent thing I can do at this point is to shut my freaking pie-hole about what I can and cannot afford, stop being an ass about my self-inflicted problems, and fix my tiny family’s issues the hard way.   It’s going to be rough and uncomfortable for a while, and it’s going to force me to be patient and thrifty, and to institute a level of self-discipline that has not previously existed. I also have a feeling it’ll be a forced march for my husband on some of the decisions that need to be made…but….the end result, I think, will be worth the effort- not just for us, but for those we love and the random lives that we touch every day.

I’m going to begin my journey by making a conscious effort to STOP complaining.  Such an action has nothing to do with finances, but….it will have a hell of a positive impact on my life in general, wouldn’t you say?



Hindsight is 20/20

Last night, my arachnophobic lottery attendant asked me if she HAD to clean out the drain where a two-inch spider lives. I looked at her for a second, then told her I didn’t give a **** if the drain got cleaned, I was far more concerned that she stayed comfortable and happy. Someone else could clean the drain- just do something else to make it fair for that person. She gave me this weird sideways look like she didn’t believe she had heard me properly, and then she started to grin. A little while later, she found me and started pouring her heart out about the things that bug her about working for this company (to my surprise, none of them were my management style). The rest of the shift was spent in easy companionship. In fact, despite being absolutely dead in terms of business, last night was the most comfortable shift I have ever worked there.

I am absolutely stunned at the number of people who have come out of the woodwork since I gave my notice, specifically to talk to me about how much working for this place sucks. I have heard story upon story in the last week about how they not only feel like our employer has failed them, but also feel like certain members of upper management have gone out of their way to stomp on any hope of advancement or improvement.  Blatant sexism and racism were both common factors in these stories, as was blatant and unnecessary favoritism. None of them are satisfied with their pay rate or the benefits offered.  Most of them only keep their job there because they truly feel they will not be able to find work elsewhere. Although I have had similar concerns in the last year, I have never heard other employees complaining about it so directly. I had no idea they were as upset as I was!

Corporate policy requires managers to remain aloof and distant and we may never become friends with any of the staff. However, I only have six shifts left at this job, and I can no longer even pretend like I believe that corporate profit is my primary concern.  I passionately wish that I had been more open about how firmly I side with the staff when it comes to worker’s rights. I wish I had initiated more conversations with them about what it actually means to work in a “respectful workplace”- that it doesn’t just mean they respect each other, it also means they should expect respect from those who are above them. I wish they could have known how many times I have stood up for them and protected their rights when other management wanted to take advantage of them. I wish they could have known -long ago- how completely messed up it is that no one there makes (or ever will make) more than minimum wage.  I wish I could have fostered an environment where they had felt comfortable telling me their concerns while I was still in a position to make a difference.

Instead, I let my walls drop too late. I have spent the last week listening to their whispers of discontent, and feeling profoundly helpless. The worst part is, I know it is my own doing. I could have helped them, and instead I focused so much on my own discomfort that I ignored the signs of trouble that surrounded me. Now I am leaving, and the hard-working people I had a responsibility to take care of have to start all over again. Some of them may never even know they had a chance at achieving change, and it’s because I didn’t speak up and stand up for myself, and thus empower them to do the same. How sad is that?

My closing thought:

At our last staff meeting, the GM told the staff “We must reach [projected profits in dollar amounts] for the month, or there will be consequences.” It was understood that he meant people would get written up for inadequate performance and their hours might get cut if the goal was not met.

When he said that, it struck me as profoundly unfair in pretty much every way. How is it the staff’s fault if the restaurant doesn’t get enough business to hit a goal that was generated by an algorithm? How is it their fault if our non-existent advertising program doesn’t pull more new customers in? Why should the staff suffer consequences for what other people do? Isn’t that sort of like telling someone “If that group out there that you can’t see or interact with doesn’t do this specific thing I want them to do, I am going to hit you with this stick?”

If that happened to you, wouldn’t you be upset, too?