The American middle class is shrinking. The financial divide between the ultra-moneyed and the rest of society is widening. As that gap grows, it becomes harder and harder for people on each side of that divide to break through to connect with people on the other side. It becomes easier to demonize people from "the other side" than to actually connect with them.
I envision a society where everyone has value as a human. A society where the amount of money a person has has no bearing on how much respect they get or don't get.
To begin creating that society, I start by exploring my own mentality that prevents that society from existing. Let's call it the "1% mentality." That name refers to the kind of thinking that allows the financially wealthiest 1% of American society to maintain overwhelming power. But anyone with any amount of money can exhibit this mentality.
When I'm under the influence of the 1% mentality, I find myself believing that the amount of money a person has accurately represents their value as a person. When I pass a banker and a homeless woman on the street, I tend to pay more attention and be more deferential to the banker. And I find that I automatically give more respect to money-earning work than I do to unpaid or barely paid work (such as parenting, community organizing, or volunteering).
And under the influence of the 1% mentality, I find sad comfort in the lie that having enough money can cover up my spiritual and social poverty. "Hey, my social circle might be limited to people who mostly look, talk, think, and act like me, and I may feel alienated from the larger community around me, but at least I'm physically comfortable!"
I wonder who else shares these symptoms?
It shames me to admit that after all this work to better myself, I stay under the influence of this kind of thinking. But at least I can name these sad, ingrained beliefs, and call them what they are: bullshit. The belief that money is a reliable measurement of a person's value is not true and causes deep suffering. Money is a wildly inaccurate gauge of character.
But if I can remain constantly on the lookout to name my bullshit thoughts, then I can begin re-programming myself to break free from my 1% mentality.
Maybe one day I'll be able to see people's actual value, regardless of how much money they hold. Maybe then I won't let money drive wedges between me and other people. Maybe then I can begin interacting with all people knowing that we have all been broken or at least scarred, and all of us are members of humanity worthy of compassion.
But I also remember that there's no beautiful arriving day when all my misguided thoughts will disappear from my head. The American stew of classism that I've been slow-cooked in doesn't work like that. There is no "finishing" the work of undoing the illness of the 1% mentality -- just practice and reflection.
*If you're curious about more ways to fight the 1% mentality, seek out opportunities to participate in for moneyless commerce. For example, check out Cambridge, Massachusett's Time Trade Circle, a bank with no money--only time.