The Finger

As much fun as it is to point fingers, isn't it even more satisfying to be judgmental? Condescending certainly makes me feel superior. I'm not proud of it, but I have been guilty of viewing myself as above my peers. After all, I get to the gym frequently and on a given day drive right past Krispy Kreme. "Why do those alcoholics choose to drink?" I mutter. "Clearly, morbidly obese people are at risk of life-threatening heart disease." "Don't those opioid addicts know they're going to end up stealing stuff to support their habits?" Clearly, my good judgment, healthy lifestyle, and common sense have resulted in my satisfying mental health and low risk of coronary bypass surgery.
And it's not just those unfortunate souls with process addictions to whom I can feel superior. The most satisfying holier than thou condescension is reserved for hothouse flowers. Wealthy folks who complain are unlikely to engender sympathy. In these very columns, I have made vicious fun of spoiled 16-year-olds who complain about getting a Lexus when they waned a BMW. How dare they be unhappy? Look at all that stuff they have. I work all day and most of the night, dagnabbit. You think these blog posts write themselves? If I didn't have tuitions to pay and a mortgage, everything would be peachy. I would sit on the beach all day. Even if the little umbrella fell out of my drink, I would never complain. If only I didn't have to do these stupid dishes, travel all the time to tour programs, fulfill my commitment to see clients all the darn time, I would be over the top, satisfied and content.
Or would I? Maybe instead of having anxiety about earning money, I would have anxiety about investing money. Fretfulness might follow like a shadow. And maybe I'm being insensitive and overly harsh about spoiled rotten kids. What if privileged people have their pain too? What if their suffering is magnified by "meta guilt"? What if wealthy kids feel like they have no right to complain because they have so many material advantages? What if their angst and despair are the same as yours or mine? Only worse because they know they're supposed to be happy.
I wouldn't wish adversity on anyone. Privation and poverty  are no fun. There must be productive ways to build character that don't involve hunger or cold. But maybe "fall down seven times, get up eight" requires the requisite setbacks. Maybe having things isn't as satisfying as earning things. If you do receive a BMW for your 16th birthday, what do have to look forward to for your 17th? A helicopter? A rocket ship? Giving your kids too much sounds like in inadvertent form of child abuse to me.
And pain is pain. We never know what goes on behind closed doors. For all we know, wealthy kids get "things" when they would prefer time with parents. Too simplistic? Then what happened to Richard Cory? The poets are always the harbingers of insight.
Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.
And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
"Good-morning," and he glittered when he walked.
And he was rich-yes, richer than a king-
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.
So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.
Robinson's poem predates even rudimentary air travel by six years and luxury sky boxes by almost a century. Opulence and waste have been around for quite some time whereas I'm told that compassion originated substantially before 1897. Next time I point a finger at someone I will recognize that there are three fingers pointing back at me. Or as another poet suggested, "Better recognize your brothers; Ev'ryone you meet."

2 thoughts on “The Finger

  1. Martin

    Great column. Wish you hadn’t gone to the three fingers pointing back,
    though it was perhaps unavoidable indeed foreseen given the title.

    Reply

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