You are not a self-made man.
Yes, I know you started that business solo. Yes, I know you worked your way up from the bottom of the ladder. Yes, I know you put a lot of hard hours into getting your business degree.
You’re still not a self-made man. I know this because I know you.
You’re not a self-made man because you were born on the top rung. You’re white and male, which are both automatic bonus points. You live in one of the most prosperous countries in the world, where opportunities for success are available. That’s another bonus. You were raised by middle-to-upper class parents in a good household. I’ve met your parents. They’re quite nice. That’s a huge bonus. They sent you to one of the best schools in the country, where you received an excellent education and got to build a network of contacts with many of the most intelligent and talented men of your generation. I know this, because I studied alongside you.
You’re not a self-made man. You built much of yourself, no doubt. You worked hard for your success, and you shouldn’t feel guilty for it. You earned it! Well done! But your success was contingent upon being born in the right place at the right time to the right parents with the right education and the right money. You built your success upon the back of your winning genetic lottery ticket.
I know your story. You bought run-down houses and renovated them while living off your salary as a retail-slave, before renting and selling them for hefty profits. That’s awesome! You’re driven. You’re an achiever. But don’t pretend that you did this all yourself. You got a great grounding in personal finance, courtesy of the education your parents paid for. You graduated high-school without vices or debts, courtesy of a strong community that supported good choices. You felt confident when you began building your real-estate empire because your family stood behind you. If you fell, you knew they’d catch you as best they could.
Or what about you? I know you, too. You’re a high-ranking public servant, just like your father. You got your job on your own merits, I’m sure, but where did those merits come from? Your parents told you all they knew, because they loved you. They introduced you to colleagues at dinner-parties, and you were polite to them because you were raised that way. You shook hands. When it came time for promotions, I have no doubt you were chosen because you were right for the position. But do you really think that, when it came time for those men in suits to choose between two equally qualified people for that high-ranking position, that they wouldn’t lean towards the surname they knew, the surname they’d had over for dinner?
I know many of you. Not all, but many. I keep in touch via Facebook. I see your success and I’m glad for it. What I’m not glad for is your self-indulgent pride, or the cruelty and callousness that has accompanied that success.
By virtue of birth, you were given a plot of land and a box of tools. With those, you built a upper-middle class suburban castle in the shape of a business, or a well-paid job, or great political influence. Well done! You worked hard. You should be congratulated. But that doesn’t give you the right to look at a man living in the street with no plot of land and no tools but his bare hands and bleeding feet and call him a slacker or a bludger or a parasite because he hasn’t built a castle just like yours. He may never build a castle, or even a shack. He doesn’t have a hammer or a plan. Yours were birthrights. His birthright was debt, drugs and depression. You’re running the same race but he started a lifetime behind you, and without your help he’ll never catch up.
You were handed a road-map to success and you walked it well. Now you have the chance to pass that on to someone besides yourself. You can do this through charity, or community work, or voting for the party that supports the lower classes. The classes that aren’t you. You can give tools to people that have never owned tools before. You can hand them the plans to build their own lives.
So when I see you punching down – calling the unemployed bludgers, saying they’re stealing your tax money, voting for policies that destroy what little social security networks they have, all while being completely oblivious to the tremendous advantages that you were handed through no virtue of your own – it leaves me sad. Sad and disappointed.
I think you’ve disconnected from reality. You don’t understand what it’s like outside your perfect, upper-middle class white male bubble. You think that everyone starts at the same point. That hard work is the only differentiator between the poor and the rich.
You don’t know the people I do. The fourteen year old child who misses two days of school every week because he has to stay home to help his father, who is struggling with methamphetamine addiction. The girl who lost both her parents and now lives with her grandparents, both too out-of-touch to give her an education in finances or street-smarts. The man in his mid-twenties who was made redundant a week before his girlfriend was hit by a car, and who slid into crippling depression.
They need help, and you won’t give it to them. Worse, you don’t want anyone to give them help, because they don’t deserve it. They aren’t productive. They’re a drain. They’re holding the economy back.
You were supposed to be the best of society. You were given all the advantages necessary to leave the world a better place but it’s turned you bitter. You hide inside the tall walls of your castle and spit over the battlements at the poor scratching at your doors. Get a job!, you say. I did it. Why can’t you? Go build your own castle!
And now, with your vote and your anger and your apathy, you’re signalling for your guardsmen to release the hounds.
You could be so much more. You could be so much better. You voted for cruelty and callousness and you can’t take that vote back, but you can make reparations socially and morally. You can offer a hand to those in need. You can support the poor and disenfranchised. You can work with those less able, less privileged. You can make this a better country for everyone instead of just yourself, and the first step is to recognise that you are not a self made man. You, like everyone else, are a product of circumstance, and your circumstances were very, very good.
You could, at the very least, be a little less gleeful as you shit in the mouths of everyone hunkered around your ivory throne.
But maybe I expect too much.