I was recently talking with a young man who grew up in the upper-middle class. He was relating to me a conversation he had recently with a woman who grew up in the upper class. He was amazed by this woman’s ways of thinking, her attitudes of thought. She didn’t understand the reality of many things that had been and still were part of his life: saving up money for a car, not always having money to buy things, not getting everything you wanted for Christmas, picking a restaurant partially based on its price range, etc. Likewise, she lived in a world of other realities, where different things were normal: owning 2-3 homes, randomly or impulsively buying a $3 million yacht, BMWs as presents, etc. The young man from the upper-middle class was baffled, since this woman seriously “didn’t understand what real life was like. I mean, it’s not as if she’s snotty; she’s just so out of touch with reality.”
At that moment, it suddenly hit me: If there seemed an almost insurmountable reality difference between upper-middle class and upper class, then what about between upper-middle class and middle class? Or lower-middle class? Or lower class? As someone who grew up in (I think) middle or upper-middle class, how much is there about the life and reality of the lower class that I don’t understand? Now, I “think” I can understand it, like I can understand not always having the surety of enough money for dinner. But do I really understand it?
Just as the young woman above could logically grasp the idea of saving up money to buy a car, her discussion of the matter revealed her inability to grasp the reality of it. And even if she could glimpse a semi-true understanding of it, she continued to live her life in her little “bubble.” This new, brief knowledge didn’t change the way she viewed economics, politics, etc. Her personal views of so many things --- almost all things (yes, I’m close to sounding Marxist here) --- are shaped by her material and economic setting.
I think this is true for all of us. I’m no Marxist, but I strongly hold that there are deep truths (truths with a small “t”) in certain aspects of its foundational philosophy. So much of the way we think and act, so much of our strongly held beliefs and values, are bound up in our material setting: and a major part of this setting is our class and economic standing.
I challenge myself to “walk in others’ shoes,” and not simply as a trite mind experience, but in a deep and powerful attempt to grasp the reality that is their own. Like we’ve said a lot, it’s not as if we can find an objective, outside perspective --- at least not anywhere besides the truth preached by Mother Church. But despite the shortcomings of our attempts, we can all look toward the common good as a way to break out of our subjective, material, cultural situations --- the common good as it applies to our family, friends, country, and world.
P.S. When it comes to our basic inability to see fully grasp each others’ realities, it is most often the poor that come out the worst, for the rich have the most economic, political, medical, martial, and legislative power. I think this is why good Marxist criticism often has a ring of social justice to it.