I grew up poor. There are a lot of stigmas tied to that. I was subject to many of them. This little blurb is not meant as a judgment, nor a plea. It’s just a simple truth, and solely from my perspective.
There is something about the hopelessness of not being able to afford anything. You just kind of give up on trying. If you’re going to work your ass off and still not be able to pay your bills then why bother? Everyone needs fun in their life. There is a point where fun trumps responsibility, especially if you have no idea how to start being responsible. That mentality can be very anxiety-inducing. When the anxiety becomes constant, you just want it to stop. Without a sense of responsibility, you don’t know how to take care of all of those feelings. It’s easy to find ways to take the edge off. After a while you rely on being able to take the edge off, because it’s the only way to cope.
With your emotions at arm’s length, it becomes easier to dehumanize people; easier to treat them as disposable. You start to surround yourself only with people who are there to help provide or justify the things that take the edge off. Self-preservation is the strongest instinct we have. It’s amazing how your brain justifies your actions. Those justifications become your truth, saving you from the devastation of wrapping your mind around your own guilt. The world becomes shrouded in black and white; us versus them. If someone questions you, they become the enemy, and therefore not human.
When a child is brought into this particular world, they learn how to do all of these things at a very young age. Their world is limited by this. Once that child reaches their teen years, their scope of the world increases. When you have learned nothing but these survival instincts, but are aware that there is a greater world beyond the one you are surrounded with, you are faced with added confusion, fear, and jealousy. When you question those that brought you into the world you know, the survival instinct kicks in. You become just another inhuman thing. You go from us to them. You become the enemy.
Many people become so steeped in this world that they perpetuate this cycle. It becomes the only way they can think to live. When this happens, they cut themselves off from the world they don’t understand. They remain insular. Their desensitized world makes sense. Others find a way to grow into the greater world they have been exposed to. Most have help. Some are tenacious. But for the ones who have to outgrow irresponsibility, kick old habits, and learn to function in a healthy way the learning curve is steep.
There’s another way. Some people understand how to mitigate anxiety by creating and connecting. They spend time with the ones around them. They reduce the edge by communing with their family, friends, and neighbors. They channel their energy into the people they care about. They think of ways they can improve their communities. They use their anxious energy to build, to create, to educate. When that happens, the people around them become more important. More human. They learn to listen. They understand that their wealth is not measured in dollars but in relationships. This lifestyle teaches them fun and enjoyment with little financial expense.
When they bring children into their world they pass on those values. When those children become teenagers and are exposed to a larger world, they see their community grow. They have learned that community is good. A positive thing. The confusion, fear, and jealousy are natural feelings, and therefore less inhibiting. When they question those who brought them into the world it is natural. They are taught to commune; to explore and share. They accept the world and learn to find their place within it.
I wish I could say that I am the latter. Sadly, that is not true. I have spent my adult life trying to find my place in the world; trying to learn how to be a productive member of society; to break old habits. Some have heard me describe myself as tenacious. It’s true. But I didn’t have the modeling to be otherwise. What I had was a strong internal sense of empathy. It’s not always the poor. That is just my history. So, poor or not, teach children well. Even if they are not your children. Teach them how to create, to commune, and to share. I have thought about this a lot as I’ve worked on A Clockwork Orange. I hope you think about it, too.