During my ‘State of the Blog’ last week I mentioned some of the goals I have for this blog. But blogging is only 1 of my overall goals for 2015. I have other things I want to accomplish, ranging from family to career. Instead of “blogging” about them, I thought I’d draw you a picture. Okay, I didn’t really draw anything but I did create an e-board instead. Take a look –
What do you think? Do you have similar goals? Are any of your New Year’s resolutions similar to mine? If so, share in the comments below –
Some people may wonder why people buy things that can’t afford, particularly people of color. Take for example, Trayon Christian, the 19-year old young African American male who was stopped & questioned for purchasing a $349 belt from Barneys’ Madison Avenue in New York. While any rational person would condemn racial profiling, the question may still linger – what on earth was a 19-year old Black college student doing buying a belt that costs more than he probably earns in a day?
Well, I can answer that in 4 words – NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS. Whether or not I agree with his purchase decisions, as an African American (and even as a woman) I understand the occasionally desire to look better, dress better, etc. than what your budget allows. I’m certainly not the type to dress above my means, however, it is very alluring and easy to get “caught up” in what society says I should be wearing or driving. As a woman of color, I compete on a daily basis with people who may have more money than I do and sometimes just to keep up, I sometimes find myself making purchases from places that I wouldn’t have otherwise.
Some people dress nicely because it makes them feel better about themselves & I can dig that. But there are other people, and this is where I fit in, who dress nicely because they know that people are judged based on what they wear & how they look, not on who they are. I can be the smartest person in the room or the best driver on the road but if my outfit or my car is raggedy, nobody will take me as seriously as someone who dresses better or drives a fancier car. Is this shallow? Perhaps, but it is the society we live in. Nobody does a double take at a Chevy Cruz but they will check out the driver of a Chevy Camaro. People admire the fashion sense of Kim Kardashian (even though I can’t stand her), but no media outlets will ever report on what Tina Fey wears. So if I know that wearing finer clothes – albeit more costly – will get me noticed by an attractive man or make a lasting impression during a job interview, then yes I will opt for the nicer clothing. First impressions are everything and if I can help my image by looking a certain way then why shouldn’t I do just that?
Now this is not an excuse for people to go out & spend inordinate amounts of money just to create an image they can’t sustain. I just think there needs to be balance. Who knows whether or not that $349 belt was Trayon’s only splurge for this entire year? Maybe he was using his student refund check & not even touching his own bank account? We don’t know. What we do know is that there is nothing wrong with wanting to “look the part”. Notice I did not say I would go into debt for a new pair of shoes or let my electric bill go unpaid so I can have a new handbag. Besides, isn’t that what all the great career coaches say – “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have?” All I’m saying is that buying nice things to make me look better can only help me, not hurt me.
Please read the article below that addresses this very issue from TalkingPointsMemo.com –
Why Do Poor People ‘Waste’ Money On Luxury Goods?
by Tressie Mcmillan Cottom
We hates us some poor people. First, they insist on being poor when it is so easy to not be poor. They do things like buy expensive designer belts and $2500 luxury handbags.
To be fair, this isn’t about Errol Louis. His is a belief held by many people, including lots of black people, poor people, formerly poor people, etc. It is, I suspect, an honest expression of incredulity. If you are poor, why do you spend money on useless status symbols like handbags and belts and clothes and shoes and televisions and cars?
One thing I’ve learned is that one person’s illogical belief is another person’s survival skill. And nothing is more logical than trying to survive.
My family is a classic black American migration family. We have rural Southern roots, moved north and almost all have returned. I grew up watching my great-grandmother, and later my grandmother and mother, use our minimal resources to help other people make ends meet. We were those good poors, the kind who live mostly within our means. We had a little luck when a male relative got extra military pay when they came home a paraplegic or used the VA to buy a Jim Walter house (pdf). If you were really blessed when a relative died with a paid up insurance policy you might be gifted a lump sum to buy the land that Jim Walters used as collateral to secure your home lease. That’s how generational wealth happens where I’m from: lose a leg, a part of your spine, die right and maybe you can lease-to-own a modular home.
We had a little of that kind of rural black wealth so we were often in a position to help folks less fortunate. But perhaps the greatest resource we had was a bit more education. We were big readers and we encouraged the girl children, especially, to go to some kind of college. Consequently, my grandmother and mother had a particular set of social resources that helped us navigate mostly white bureaucracies to our benefit. We could, as my grandfather would say, talk like white folks. We loaned that privilege out to folks a lot.
I remember my mother taking a next door neighbor down to the social service agency. The elderly woman had been denied benefits to care for the granddaughter she was raising. The woman had been denied in the genteel bureaucratic way — lots of waiting, forms, and deadlines she could not quite navigate. I watched my mother put on her best Diana Ross “Mahogany” outfit: a camel colored cape with matching slacks and knee high boots. I was miffed, as only an only child could be, about sharing my mother’s time with the neighbor girl. I must have said something about why we had to do this. Vivian fixed me with a stare as she was slipping on her pearl earrings and told me that people who can do, must do. It took half a day but something about my mother’s performance of respectable black person — her Queen’s English, her Mahogany outfit, her straight bob and pearl earrings — got done what the elderly lady next door had not been able to get done in over a year. I learned, watching my mother, that there was a price we had to pay to signal to gatekeepers that we were worthy of engaging. It meant dressing well and speaking well. It might not work. It likely wouldn’t work but on the off chance that it would, you had to try. It was unfair but, as Vivian also always said, “life isn’t fair little girl.”
I internalized that lesson and I think it has worked out for me, if unevenly. A woman at Belk’s once refused to show me the Dooney and Burke purse I was interested in buying. Vivian once made a salesgirl cry after she ignored us in an empty store. I have walked away from many of hotly desired purchases, like the impractical off-white winter coat I desperately wanted, after some bigot at the counter insulted me and my mother. But, I have half a PhD and I support myself aping the white male privileged life of the mind. It’s a mixed bag. Of course, the trick is you can never know the counterfactual of your life. There is no evidence of access denied. Who knows what I was not granted for not enacting the right status behaviors or symbols at the right time for an agreeable authority? Respectability rewards are a crap-shoot but we do what we can within the limits of the constraints imposed by a complex set of structural and social interactions designed to limit access to status, wealth, and power.
I do not know how much my mother spent on her camel colored cape or knee-high boots but I know that whatever she paid it returned in hard-to-measure dividends. How do you put a price on the double-take of a clerk at the welfare office who decides you might not be like those other trifling women in the waiting room and provides an extra bit of information about completing a form that you would not have known to ask about? What is the retail value of a school principal who defers a bit more to your child because your mother’s presentation of self signals that she might unleash the bureaucratic savvy of middle class parents to advocate for her child? I don’t know the price of these critical engagements with organizations and gatekeepers relative to our poverty when I was growing up. But, I am living proof of its investment yield.
Why do poor people make stupid, illogical decisions to buy status symbols? For the same reason all but only the most wealthy buy status symbols, I suppose. We want to belong. And, not just for the psychic rewards, but belonging to one group at the right time can mean the difference between unemployment and employment, a good job as opposed to a bad job, housing or a shelter, and so on. Someone mentioned on twitter that poor people can be presentable with affordable options from Kmart. But the issue is not about being presentable. Presentable is the bare minimum of social civility. It means being clean, not smelling, wearing shirts and shoes for service and the like. Presentable as a sufficient condition for gainful, dignified work or successful social interactions is a privilege. It’s the aging white hippie who can cut the ponytail of his youthful rebellion and walk into senior management while aging black panthers can never completely outrun the effects of stigmatization against which they were courting a revolution. Presentable is relative and, like life, it ain’t fair.
In contrast, “acceptable” is about gaining access to a limited set of rewards granted upon group membership. I cannot know exactly how often my presentation of acceptable has helped me but I have enough feedback to know it is not inconsequential. One manager at the apartment complex where I worked while in college told me, repeatedly, that she knew I was “Okay” because my little Nissan was clean. That I had worn a Jones of New York suit to the interview really sealed the deal. She could call the suit by name because she asked me about the label in the interview. Another hiring manager at my first professional job looked me up and down in the waiting room, cataloging my outfit, and later told me that she had decided I was too classy to be on the call center floor. I was hired as a trainer instead. The difference meant no shift work, greater prestige, better pay and a baseline salary for all my future employment.
I have about a half dozen other stories like this. What is remarkable is not that this happened. There is empirical evidence that women and people of color are judged by appearances differently and more harshly than are white men. What is remarkable is that these gatekeepers told me the story. They wanted me to know how I had properly signaled that I was not a typical black or a typical woman, two identities that in combination are almost always conflated with being poor.
I sat in on an interview for a new administrative assistant once. My regional vice president was doing the hiring. A long line of mostly black and brown women applied because we were a cosmetology school. Trade schools at the margins of skilled labor in a gendered field are necessarily classed and raced. I found one candidate particularly charming. She was trying to get out of a salon because 10 hours on her feet cutting hair would average out to an hourly rate below minimum wage. A desk job with 40 set hours and medical benefits represented mobility for her. When she left my VP turned to me and said, “did you see that tank top she had on under her blouse?! OMG, you wear a silk shell, not a tank top!” Both of the women were black.
The VP had constructed her job as senior management. She drove a brand new BMW because she, “should treat herself” and liked to tell us that ours was an image business. A girl wearing a cotton tank top as a shell was incompatible with BMW-driving VPs in the image business. Gatekeeping is a complex job of managing boundaries that do not just define others but that also define ourselves. Status symbols — silk shells, designer shoes, luxury handbags — become keys to unlock these gates. If I need a job that will save my lower back and move my baby from medicaid to an HMO, how much should I spend signaling to people like my former VP that I will not compromise her status by opening the door to me? That candidate maybe could not afford a proper shell. I will never know. But I do know that had she gone hungry for two days to pay for it or missed wages for a trip to the store to buy it, she may have been rewarded a job that could have lifted her above minimum wage. Shells aren’t designer handbags, perhaps. But a cosmetology school in a strip mall isn’t a job at Bank of America, either.
At the heart of these incredulous statements about the poor decisions poor people make is a belief that we would never be like them. We would know better. We would know to save our money, eschew status symbols, cut coupons, practice puritanical sacrifice to amass a million dollars. There is a regular news story of a lunch lady who, unbeknownst to all who knew her, died rich and leaves it all to a cat or a charity or some such. Books about the modest lives of the rich like to tell us how they drive Buicks instead of BMWs. What we forget, if we ever know, is that what we know now about status and wealth creation and sacrifice are predicated on who we are, i.e. not poor. If you change the conditions of your not-poor status, you change everything you know as a result of being a not-poor. You have no idea what you would do if you were poor until you are poor. And not intermittently poor or formerly not-poor, but born poor, expected to be poor and treated by bureaucracies, gatekeepers and well-meaning respectability authorities as inherently poor. Then, and only then, will you understand the relative value of a ridiculous status symbol to someone who intuits that they cannot afford to not have it.
I read this article after someone forwarded it to me from the NY magazine & thought it was quite interesting. Although I don’t have any children, I can definitely remember the competitiveness of studying for the SAT’s & getting into a good college. I think nowadays it’s even worse and I can’t begin to imagine what it will be like when my kids are college age.
But how do parents do it? How do you justify paying thousands of dollars for SAT prep courses but get upset when their children don’t make passing grades once they get into college? Your kid wasn’t motivated to begin with. Why is it okay to fudge qualifications on your own resume but insist your child be forthcoming about their own involvement in school activities? Why is it okay to pay for an overpriced tutor in college, but get angry when your child takes mind-altering drugs to help them stay up for the test that you paid for them to pass?
The article below speaks to issues like this & makes some very interesting points. Read below –
Ethical Parenting by Lisa Miller
Imagine this scenario: It’s a Tuesday evening and you’re just home from work, still panting from the subway ride, when you determine without doubt that your fourth-grader has lice. The teeny pale eggs, they could be dandruff, but they’re not; ugh, dozens of them, everywhere, clinging to the silky hairs, and all you can think is, Not tonight.
Having been through this before, you know that the only way to help arrest a schoolwide epidemic is to spend hours, three at least, dealing with the vermin right now—combing, vacuuming, washing, drying—not including the inter-spousal fighting and the hysterical kid meltdown that invariably accompanies such an outbreak. Which puts bedtime conservatively somewhere around 11 p.m.
And tonight, of all nights, you just can’t afford the drama. You can’t. Because tomorrow is the ELA, the statewide reading-and-writing test whose scores in this crucial year will help to determine your kid’s middle-school placement, and sending her into the exam emotionally wrung out and insufficiently rested is not an option. It is not.
So here is what you do. You pretend that you didn’t see what you saw, that the lice don’t exist. You fill your child’s mind with calm, positive, and confident test-taking thoughts as you put her to bed early. That you are potentially contaminating 26 other children in her class—costing their families untold hours of anguish and lost work, and thousands of dollars in dry cleaning—by sending your lice-ridden kid to school creates a gnawing sensation in your gut, but this is not a sufficient deterrent. The lice can wait, and the test cannot; in a contest between your kid’s near-term success and her classmates’ longer-term (and let’s face it, uncertain) pain, your kid wins. Besides, you tell yourself, layering rationale upon rationale, one of them gave it to her.
But your child is no fool. She knows she has lice, and she knows what tomorrow is. For her, the takeaway goes something like this: Always be kind and considerate of others, except in those cases where consideration impedes your own self-interest or convenience. Then, take care of yourself.
Parenthood, like war, is a state in which it’s impossible to be moral. Worse, the moral weakness of parents is always on display, for children bear witness to their incessant ethical hairsplitting. It may be delicious fun to tut-tut over the corrupt child-rearing customs (and to pity the progeny) of the aggressively rising class: the mother who, according to Urban Baby legend, slept with the admissions officer (with her husband’s consent!) to get her child into the Ivy League, or the one who sued an Upper East Side preschool for insufficiently preparing her 4-year-old for a private-school test. But such Schadenfreude elides a more difficult existential truth, which is that ever since Noah installed his own three sons upon the ark and left the rest of the world to drown, protecting and privileging one’s own kids at the expense of other people has been the name of the game. It’s what parents do.
Every hour, it seems, a parent is given the opportunity to choose between her child and a greater good, and in those moments the primal parental impulse can be overpowering. “If some science-fiction sorcerer came to me with a button,” writes the philosopher Stephen Asma in his 2012 book Against Fairness, “and said I could save my son’s life by pressing it but then (cue the dissonant music) ten strangers would die somewhere … I’d have my finger down on it before he finished his cryptic challenge.”
So while the kiddie race to the top among the most competitive people may elicit the most grotesque behaviors, the fact is that all kinds of parents seize advantage for their kids when they can. (Jeff Zucker’s 15-year-old son somehow found his way onto the advisory board of Cory Booker’s tech start-up. If you could rustle up something similarly high-flying for your kid, wouldn’t you be tempted?) In fact, the very state of being a parent obscures clear ethical reasoning, creating blinders, explains the Duke University dishonesty expert Dan Ariely, “as to what’s moral and not moral.” The same person who would never lie on his own résumé may lie on his kid’s school application and feel that “they’re doing something for a good cause, that they’re actually being altruistic.”
Why else would an otherwise conscientious couple decide to hold their perfectly normal kid back a year, except that she’ll be that much older than the other kids in the class and thus that much better at sitting still during tests? Why else does a father volunteer to coach Little League and then put his son in the cleanup spot? Why else do parents do their children’s homework night after night, except that they fear that without the “help,” the kids would fail or falter or fall behind? Parents instruct their children to “get what they get and don’t get upset”—and then they beg and bribe the adults in their children’s lives, haranguing teachers for better grades and theater directors for bigger parts and clergy for “the best” assignment in the soup kitchen, and they curry favor (they hope) with foil-wrapped bottles or hard-to-get tickets at Christmastime. In the interest of giving kids “a leg up,” parents will do almost anything: They’ll call friends on the board; they’ll pull strings to procure internships; they’ll invite the coach over for dinner; they’ll claim strong adherence to a religion or an ethnic identity that is, in fact, weak; they’ll fake recommendation letters; they’ll neutralize their child’s competition for a spot on the hockey team by whispering something about someone’s alcohol use; and they’ll administer the occasional misbegotten tablet of Adderall. The ultimate litmus test in New York City is this one: How many good people do you know who have lied about their address to get their kids into the better public school? And are you more or less sympathetic if that person is a hedge-fund manager or his nanny?
Parenthood means you cannot possibly behave as though society’s rules and norms apply equally to all. Anthony Gray, who runs the Institute for Global Ethics in Maine, says the most difficult moral choices are those in which a person is faced with “two or more legitimate rights in dynamic tension.” On the one hand, there are your child’s health, résumé, self-esteem, and future opportunity, and on the other, there are other people’s children, the rules of a community, and the need for your own child to learn hard lessons about self-sufficiency, responsibility, struggle, honesty, and failure. “It is good, it is right, to want your child to do well in school and to get into a competitive college and launch their life into adulthood. It’s right to help your kids with homework,” explains Gray, parsing the dilemma. “It’s also right to teach your child the importance of truthfulness. And to avoid direct conflicts of interest.” A decision-making process is taught at the institute that Gray calls “reflective reasoning,” which religious people might call “discernment,” a tuning in to one’s conscience to discover the higher right and then summoning what he calls moral courage to act accordingly. But when an entire culture is clamoring to get theirs, that clear, small voice can be difficult to hear.
“It’s the opposite of the free-rider problem,” the Swarthmore psychologist Barry Schwartz explains: If everybody recycles, then you can be the one person who doesn’t, and you still benefit from all the recycling that goes on. But if everybody is occupied full time making sure their kid wins and other kids lose, then taking the high road doesn’t serve you at all. “It’s a corrupt system, and your opting out won’t change it. You gain nothing, and you lose a lot.”
Though invariably proud of their children, parents are not always so proud of themselves. I know a man who does SAT tutoring for the children of Manhattan’s private-school elite, charging families $22,000 per child per year, and every time he meets a new client, he says, the mother sheepishly pulls him aside in the foyer and says, “We’re not like this.” We’re not the kind of people who spend tens of thousands of dollars on tutoring, except here we are doing it. (Because of rampant prepping, the Independent Schools Admissions Association of Greater New York recently announced it was ceasing to recommend the ERB, the standardized test, as a valid measure of preparedness for kindergarten.)
Jason Stephens is an associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Connecticut who studies cheating among adolescents and is interested in what he calls the “judgment-action gap”: why high-school students cheat, even when they know it’s wrong. Parents, he says, are displaying a similar disconnect, seizing advantage for their children while discounting the gnawing feeling in their gut. It’s like a drug addiction, Stephens says. Each infraction may, in itself, be relatively small, but the effects are cumulative. “It’s a culture,” says Stephens. “It’s not hard to see how parents can justify this behavior—they’re just prioritizing other values and goals, the child’s well-being over the greater good. It means more to me that they get the leg up than if I have to lie a little bit. Now that I’ve done the wrong thing, I have to not feel guilty. I don’t want to run around feeling like a shmuck. I rationalize it, I justify it, I diffuse my responsibility. Hey, it’s not my fault, this is a cultural thing.” As when watching a parent drink three glasses of wine at dinner, a child begins to regard this behavior as ordinary, and then, Stephens says, “it comes to define who they are.”
Most parents don’t think of themselves as the kind of people who prize winning above all. Most hope to teach their kids what used to be called “good values,” which a previous generation learned in scouts or church: kindness and compassion, respect and responsibility, to “do unto others” and be grateful for small things. But how are children supposed to learn honesty and fairness when the parents are yelling at the coach to give Johnny more playing time? Or wrangling behind the scenes to get Susie into a particular day care? Put another way: By advantaging kids at every turn, are parents, in fact, laming them? Are they (we, for I have a 9-year-old daughter) raising children they may not ultimately want as colleagues, neighbors, or friends? “You can preach and you can preach,” says Audrey Kindred, director of family programming at the New York Society for Ethical Culture, “you can tell and you can tell, but we all learn primarily by example. There is something about what we’re not intending that seeps through much stronger than what we are intending.” My father told me not to smoke, and then he stole my cigarettes and smoked them himself: I was a smoker for nearly 25 years.
Meet Anna Blum, 18 years old and every parent’s fantasy. In conversation, she is earnest, thoughtful, articulate, conscientious. She just graduated from Fieldston with honors grades and is now at Vassar, where she hopes to major in film studies. While in high school, she co-edited the Fieldston News, scored high on her SATs, and spent the summer interning at a nonprofit. Anna has her own website, where she posts the films she’s made and the poems she’s written and where she cites as role models Andy Warhol—and her own mother.
But Anna worries that she and her peers are a little bit lost when it comes to sorting right from wrong. When a friend told her, for example, that she took Adderall to enhance her performance on the SATs, she was, initially, shocked. “I’ll say, ‘That’s really wrong.’ And then I think, I had a very expensive SAT tutor. I haven’t done Adderall, but it’s sort of hard to see where the line is.”
The parents of her peers have one main goal, says Anna, which is to get their kids into a good college. And the two-track ethical system they teach follows from there. “The culture among parents is they say this is right and this is wrong,” Anna explains, but at the same time the parents always defend their own behavior as right.
Anna frets about what she and her friends will do when college is over and they’re forced to navigate real life. Everyone says you can’t get through medical school without using prescription drugs to stay awake. Everyone says a liberal-arts degree will make you unemployable unless you pull strings. “Once that becomes normal, baseline, that’s a shift we should be avoiding at all costs. If you weren’t raised a certain way, you have zero chance of making this work. To know that there’s one specific route to go down and it’s a really upsetting route, it’s very frightening to me.”
All the data show a generation far less ethical than their parents. According to a 2009 survey by the Josephson Institute of Ethics, 51 percent of people age 17 or under agree that to get ahead, a person must lie or cheat, compared with 18 percent of people ages 25 to 40. Two years later, in another Josephson survey, 57 percent of high-schoolers agreed that “in the real world, successful people do what they have to do to win, even if others consider it cheating.” Younger people are likelier than their elders to lie to parents, spouses, and bosses and to keep the change if a cashier makes an error in their favor.
But what Anna’s talking about is something slipperier than blatant cheating, a cut below sneaking answers into an exam, a hazy space where right and wrong seem porous. According to research by Denise Pope at Challenge Success, a nonprofit founded at Stanford, 95 percent of eleventh- and twelfth-graders say they have cheated in the past year, and a huge percentage of high-schoolers think that certain kinds of cheating are no big deal. Sixty-six percent, for example, say that receiving unpermitted help on an assignment is either not cheating or is cheating so unimportant that it barely counts. (Could this be payback for all those nights when you caved and helped your kid fill in the blanks on her math-facts drills?) Fifty-two percent say that copying a couple of sentences from someone else’s work is a trivial thing.
There’s lots of room to wiggle here. Especially when the transgressions get you where you want to be. Justifications are easier when the result of questionable behavior is the yearned-for A or the starring role or field position. “I don’t think they see their parents’ maneuvering as wrong. They assume that’s what it means to be in school,” a private-middle-school teacher told me. Watching their parents pull strings and bend rules on their behalf can prepare the kids for a vision of success in which winning is a zero-sum game, she says. “They learn how you do backdoor deals. How you do the meeting before the meeting and the meeting after the meeting.” They are invested in the way things are, an unequal system in which they are on top.
Social psychologists have demonstrated that rich people are likelier than poorer ones to lie, cheat, and disregard traffic rules and, more recently, that they are likelier to believe that social status is a matter of merit. (A study published in August in the Personality and Social Psychology bulletin showed that the wealthier a person is, the more he or she will agree with the following statement: “I honestly feel I’m just more deserving than other people.”) So while all parents may ruthlessly put their children ahead of others, the children of affluent parents may be likelier to believe that ends justify means. A Harvard grad who was implicated in the university’s 2012 cheating scandal (in which scores of students submitted similar or verbatim answers on a take-home final) complained to Businessweek about the inconvenience of having to cooperate with the university’s ongoing investigation. “Dragging us into this … now, when we have financial obligations and jobs, seems very unfair.”
I spoke at length to an administrator at a prestigious private school who talked about the damage done to children’s sense of self when their parents (overtly or covertly) contradict a school’s purpose and values. At good schools, for example, the college counselors know the kids. They know the colleges. They compile lists of prospective schools with the kids’ best interests at heart. But the parents, unsatisfied, hire a private college counselor, who makes a different list of schools—along with different things the kid needs to do to get in. And the child is put in an impossible position of having to pretend to want both things. “You’re asking the child not to passively accept this, but to actively talk out of two sides of his mouth. This goes to a kid’s core identity. Who am I? How am I representing myself?,” this administrator says. “And the result is a kind of cynicism. There’s nothing like cynicism to prevent an authentic development of self. It’s the ultimate defense against meaning and purpose.”
But the kids who learn the lesson of cynicism may in fact suffer less than those who don’t. What parents are really telling children with their constant intervening is that there’s no way for them to succeed on their own, says Harold Koplewicz, a founder of the Child Mind Institute. “The message to the kid is, You aren’t good enough.” He compares these parents to “fixers,” who illicitly manipulate outcomes for their clients. In their effort to build their children’s success, parents may actually be short-circuiting their self-esteem, and stunting their self-efficacy, making them unable to tell the difference between the things they can accomplish in the world, with the application of hard work and native ability, and the things they cannot. Jason Stevens is somewhat blunter. A fixing parent can make a child, he says, “crippled. Or entitled. Or both.”
Here’s my excuse, and I presume it’s yours, too. It’s tough out there. The future is uncertain, and no one knows what skills kids will need to get by in war or warming or economic collapse. The accoutrements of middle-class stability and comfort feel like they’re slipping away, even to those of us living smack in the middle of them.
The urge to ferociously protect kids in an environment of scarce resources is not a modern impulse but an animal one. Bonobos are some of the most openhearted creatures on Earth. They care for one another’s children; they have sex all the time. But chimpanzees, to whom bonobos are closely related, are venal: They’re hierarchical, aggressive, and mean. A chimp mother will, when it suits her, kill another mother’s child. The difference is scarcity. Bonobos live in a region of the Congo where there’s always enough to eat. Chimps live in regions where food is seasonal, and competition for it is fierce. Humans are primates, too.
But in unexpected places, a countermovement may be gathering strength, led by people who understand that humans can—and do—rise above their animal instincts. And the agents of this backlash are most often not brave parents but their more stubbornly idealistic children. “I know kids,” says Pope, “who are absolutely mortified when their parents cheat the system. They’re embarrassed and ashamed.”
I know a young man who, on moral grounds, steadfastly refused to enlist the help of an SAT tutor or indeed do any test prep during his overheated senior fall at a private school whose name you know. The college-application system is broken and corrupt, the kid said. “I could sense around me this horrible stress and this defeated feeling,” he told me. “The more prep you take, the more tutoring you do, the better your scores. It seemed like a gross system. I didn’t want what I was doing to be determined by it. I didn’t want to play their game. I wanted to play my game.”
For a season, his parents walked a tightrope strung between loving support of their son’s moral stance and perpetual anxiety that he was throwing his life away. At least, the father advised, make a virtue of your stand and explain to the admissions officers your objections to this process. “He said if I have a better way of doing it, I better damn well show that I do.” But the kid refused to do that, too. “My parents are wonderful people, and they knew that this was a big moment in my life,” he recalls. “They were honest about their anxiety and the situation we were all in together.”
Does this story have a happy ending? The kid didn’t get into any college and lived at home, working, until it was time to apply again. (At which point he still blew off SAT prep, feeling that the test he’d already taken was preparation enough.) But he learned something about himself, which was that he really did want to go to college, and now he’s happily studying classics at a school not in the U.S. News top 50, composing electronic music that would blow your mind.
I’m sure there have been times when you may have found yourself in a financial pinch and needed to borrow money. Hopefully you were able to borrow that money and pay it off without any problems. But there are others of us who have borrowed money, couldn’t pay it back (or chose not to) and in turn ruined a perfectly good relationship or even in some cases, our credit history. Well, I think there is only one way to handle a debt – by paying it back!
When you borrow from a family member or a friend, it’s especially important to pay back your debts. You don’t want to ruin the relationship you have with them & it proves you’re a responsible person. What happens when you’re short on money & need to borrow money again? You don’t want to have a reputation of not paying what you owe. I’ve heard of people not paying their debts because they feel like the person who loaned them the money doesn’t really need it back. But that’s not really your call to make. If you ask to borrow something from someone, be sure to give it back.
Remember how happy you were when someone loaned you money when you desperately needed it? Or how appreciative you were when they graciously helped you pay for something that you needed? Well, that’s the same attitude you should have paying it back. Cheerfully! You never know when you might need to borrow again. People like to see how appreciative you are not only when you borrow the money but when you pay it back. So give it back with a smile just like you received it with a smile.
When you borrow money, set deadlines & stick to them. Create a realistic timeframe in which you believe you can pay the money back and put it in writing. Borrowing money changes the power dynamic of any relationship. But when you make timely payments every single time, the power dynamic tends to stay in balance as each party is doing what the other expected.
Sometimes borrowing money is unavoidable. But if you do, pay it back & pay it back with a smile!
Yesterday, I was having my normal daydream of becoming rich & retiring young. There was a time when I thought that I would always work even if I was rich, ensuring that my education & expertise wouldn’t go to waste. A lot of my friends thought that was a stupid notion, telling me that the whole purpose of working is to get rich (or make lots of money, at the very least). But I have always defended my position because I think that working to make lots of money is only part of the equation.
As an underrepresented minority working in Corporate America, I want to make sure that I continue to set an example for other young African American women that may want to enter the rankings of Corporate America. As it stands, currently less than 20% of the Fortune 500 companies are led by a woman and only 1% by an African American. So, to me, there is a great need to increase visibility of African Americans in the workforce, whether they were rich or not.
However, as I continued to think about the current employment rate (resting at 8% nationally, 7% for females, 14% for African Americans) I believe it is in the best interest of those that need to work for those with money to stop working. Okay, let me repeat that: If you have money and don’t need to work then you shouldn’t be working. Save the job & salary for someone that really needs it. If your husband makes enough to support your family then don’t be greedy by getting a job. Let another woman have your spot in the workforce. There’s nothing wrong with loving your craft & wanting to work in your field but understanding the current economy, it makes no sense to “steal” an income from someone else when you don’t really have to.
Women like Vanessa, Melinda & Jane (the wives of Kobe Bryant, Bill Gates & Alan Mulally, the CEO of Ford Motor Company) have got the right idea. Don’t work if you don’t have to.