Today on the bus two men in their mid-40’s sitting behind me were talking about their work. Both were aggrieved that some of their co-workers were looking down their noses at them. One man said to the other, “He has a piece of paper from Dalhousie because mommy and daddy paid for it and he thinks he knows more than me, he thinks he is better than me.” I don’t know this workplace or this man but chances are strong the gentleman with the “piece of paper from Dalhousie” doesn’t think about the man sitting behind me as much as this aggrieved worker imagines. It is true that there are people who feel they are “better” than others but not quite as many as you likely think. As a Minister I have intimate and deep conversations with many, many people and what I have discovered is that most of the people whom my late mother would call the “big shots” in fact feel just as judged and looked down upon as she did. It is truly bizarre to me the emotional energy that people put into this grievance, this chip on the shoulder that causes people to say, “s/he thinks s/he is better than me.” Again, the person saying that is likely worrying about this far in excess of what the person they are speaking about is thinking of them.
And this leads to another observation, this sense of grievance is held by all groups and all sectors of society. Here on this bus were two able-bodied men, Caucasian in race, straight (they referenced wives and children) and employed. Yet even these men feel this sense of grievance and judgment, this need to say (like a mantra) “S/he’s no better than me”. Interestingly I have heard many such men tell me how other aggrieved groups; persons of colour, women, persons living with disabilities, etc… need to “get over it” and stop feeling victimized. And then, often in the same sentence, they too express some grievance.
One could argue the election of Donald Trump and Rob Ford were elected because white men who felt a grievance were tired of being looked down upon by the “elites”, whomever they are. Many say that racism, principally directed at former President Barack Obama, was responsible for this rise in white working-class populism. Others say it was the large number of white working-class men losing jobs in manufacturing that fuels this movement. While it is true that Trump’s questioning of President Obama’s birth certificate was a racist act and that many white working-class voters did lose their jobs when companies moved factories overseas neither sentiment is the verbalized expression of angst given by voters at Ford and/or Trump rallies. Instead what seems to animate these voters, these populists, is grievance that the “elites” who have been looking down their noses at them, taking advantage of them, are not going to get away with it any longer. Never mind that the policies of Ford and Trump are not exactly generous to working-class voters the rhetoric is and that, in the end, is more important.
This sense of being aggrieved, of feeling looked down on, is stronger than ever. This in spite of the fact that the class system has radically shifted, that many working-class voters with professional accreditation and “papers”, carpenters, plumbers, pipe-fitters, etc…make six figure incomes, make far more money that the so-called “professional” with the piece of paper from Dalhousie with the Bachelor of Arts. I am not convinced that the grievance is always connected to a real judgment and may in fact have more to do with the person’s own sense of self-esteem and self-worth. There are victims out there, people who have suffered deep wounds from comments and actions that have marginalized the poor, women, people with disabilities (mental and physical). But creating an expectation that all people should scratch an itch of grievance only add more stress to our lives. Chances are no one is looking down on you, chances are this worry is only making your life more stressful. I’m just saying…