Friday, March 14, 2014

The harsh truth about harsh truths

One trait that fascinates me most about people is — for immediate lack of a better term — the need to be slapped. 

Welcoming motivation and/or constructive criticism is one thing, but that's not enough for some people. They enroll in various boot camp-style programs and tough-love seminars and earnestly read articles by the likes of Matt Walsh. All so they can chase that rush of, "Thanks! I needed that slap to the face!"

I suspect this is a privileged, upper-middle-class phenomenon, where the well-off have to fabricate challenges for themselves. The rest of us don't have to bother with searching, because the challenges slap us every day. And because we've had to struggle with life's obstacles rather than have the luxury of inviting them in if we please, we have a more nuanced and empathetic understanding of the circumstances.

That's why people like Walsh make my blood boil. If you're looking for a slap in the face, he's got one of the best hands in the business. But why would you want that? Dear God, why? (Granted, I can see why someone would read him to validate their own lack of compassion toward others, or as a way to feel their own success had no roots in the social contract or dumb luck. Just like with Ayn Rand.)

But even if Walsh is 100 percent correct, what does that say about his ideal world? "Start your engines. The race to the bottom is about to begin."

In The Four Harsh Truths That Everyone In My Generation Needs To Accept, Walsh offers somewhat contradictory advice: The world owes you nothing, so take literally anything you can get, even it's the lowliest fast-food gig, and like it — oh, and don't be afraid to take entrepreneurial risks! Because you have inherent value. Also, you are worthless. And all struggling people are lazy video-game players who hate to work and want to undermine America.

Look, I get that people aren't always going to land their dream jobs, especially at a young age. And that oftentimes people have to swallow their pride and take a stopgap job to pay their bills (I've done it multiple times). But Walsh, in the fine tradition of Ronald Reagan and numerous other right-wing "motivators" before him, fetishize this stopgap as inevitable and character-building. (Funny how these people are always in positions of power, not working fast food, and some of them never even came close to having to.)

There's a saying of which I'm particularly fond: "If you shoot for the farthest star out there, the worst that will happen is you miss and reach the moon. If you reach for the moon and miss, you'll land right back where you started." These guys wouldn't even have you reach for the moon — they want you to aim your rocket at Mount Everest and crash in the Middle East somewhere. And you weren't smart enough to build a better rocket, then tough luck, buddy. Man, that's a world I want to live in!

But I guess I'll settle for an imperfect world where hard work is no guarantor of success, but it — and dreams — are encouraged. And even more importantly, where it's acknowledged that an entire generation of Americans cannot find jobs suited to their talents, education and work ethic through no fault of their own, and are making sensible economic decisions (such as living with their parents) that will guide them long after they've overcome this hump, all of this in the face of a hostile crowd that hypocritically accuses them of being lazy and entitled. 

We're tough. We can handle it.


KBliss said...

My two favorite Ian blog post topics: 1) Ranting about how wrong Matt Walsh is the majority of the time. 2) Ranting about people who are "privileged" and think down upon others who are in the non-ideal situation.

However, this is one of the rare times I am going to side with Matt Walsh overall. If you can recall, I think we had a previous discussion similar to this in regards to Mitt Romney's "rich people" statement. I am not rich, and I feel like I have a level of compassion for everyone, though maybe not a perfect one. (I doubt any of us do). But, the simple fact is, believe it or not, there are people like the one that Walsh describes. I see it quite often. However, there are a lot of people who I might think are that way, where in the end, I don't know or understand what they are going though.

When Reagan quit his job and was unemployed for six months (which I know in some comparisons could be considered a short period of time), he played video games A LOT. Why? Because he got discouraged and tired of looking. A completely human emotion that is understandable. But, during that time he was playing video games with his other friends on a regular basis, waiting for the employers to call him back. I had been trying to hold in the stress I had about it (because then, I was a student making about $200 a month on top of going to school, luckily we had saved, with the savings quickly running out). Then, Reagan came home and found me crying my eyes out, which did the trick, and he went out and found a job the next week at the YMCA, a job he would keep for almost 2 years before moving on to bigger and better things.
He had tried temp work and everything under the sun. Not saying this works for everyone, but he did what he could to find work after someone put the pressure under him.

Overall, our government makes us feel like we are entitled to something, whether we consciously realize it or not. We only push ourselves when we are forced to do it. Why would I work a minimum wage job to earn enough for food, gas and to rent a crappy place when I could get $200 in groceries a month, rent assistance and unemployment to pay for the rest?

Now, I am not saying that government benefits etc. are completely a bad thing and not everyone takes advantage of them. I am not above these things, but they should be a hand up and not a lifetime handout.

There are lots of people on the other side who are rich and once they lose everything, they don't know how to survive, or they never earned it to begin with. Someone else may have earned it for them.

Now, don't misunderstand me, I don't think that all jobless people are lazy. Sometimes getting just any job can hurt your resume if you have a specific area of study. Some simply can't work and others simply can't find it.

But, overall, I think there are a lot of our "young adult" generation that are in denial and really, they just don't know how to work.

I believe Walsh even says "It's not always a fair picture, either. Many of us do not deserve this humiliating reputation. And every person who 'lives at home' isn't necessarily an apathetic loser hiding from work and responsibility, although some fit the bill."

Sorry for such a long thought, maybe I should have just written a rebuttal post on my blog :)

Ian McGibboney said...

You've hit upon one of the issues I have with political discourse in general and Matt Walsh-style rhetoric in particular: using outliers to condemn a whole group. There's even a term for it, but I'm not sure what it is.

Walsh claims a direct link between motivation and success, and thus feels no qualms about bashing those who don't have it. But in my experience, "Get off your duff"-style advice has never been helpful to me. Because motivation was never the problem. It's absolutely terrifying to most people to not know where their next income will come from. The job market is a terrifying prospect for lots of people, especially young millennials, and cut-and-dry criticism like Walsh's has no relevance to their majority situation, nor is it instructive. It's like telling a smoker struggling with quitting, "Just don't smoke, jerk."

I would guess that most people aren't shiftless and lazy. Some are, and it's de rigeur to hate on them, but it's a fraction. That fraction should not be used against the vast majority of people who need help and to whom laziness doesn't apply. It's really tough out there right now, even for the best and brightest.

What little help is out there is barely livable. if indeed it is more alluring than a minimum-wage job, then that's a pretty easy fix. Not a popular one in Congress, but a good one that I've advocated for a long time. Work has to pay, or what cycle there is out there will continue.