How do you see life? As a ride to be enjoyed? A game to be played and potentially beaten? A series of unfortunate events, or challenges to be hacked?
Going back to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, survival is the threshold – once basic, physical needs are covered, our minds and selves are freed up for higher pursuits. But are we born into certain levels? Is his hierarchy a kind of psychological caste system?
I’m currently reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace, and in one chapter he argues, through a character named Prince Andrew, that Russian serfs are meant to work hard, to have their days filled with demanding physical labor and that, if a landowner wanted to give them more freedom, he would be doing them more harm than good. A serf is a type of person that needs this labor to survive. Without it, he’d be lost – feeling useless and not knowing how to fill his time productively. In the same breath, the prince posits that just as he would suffer in the serf’s life of manual labor, a serf would have no idea how to manage his time in the prince’s life of leisure. So each is born into a level, and that’s that – it’s for the best. The rare ones who transcend levels are meant to do so, but they are mere exceptions.
This might seem cruel and unequal and classist – but does it matter? Are the concerns of one class really so different from another? I love the show Sex and the City, and I’m currently watching Girls. The former chronicles the lives of four women living in New York – they have well-paying jobs, are in their thirties, and the show explores their relationships, the ups and downs of their personal, everyday lives. Girls follows four twenty-something girls, also living in New York – they run in circles of entitled young people, all being supported by their parents, not really having a clue about how to handle life, and struggling just to pay rent. But the show explores the same themes as Sex and the City – relationships, everyday life – their humanity. So does it matter how much money they’re making? Maybe Carrie is worried about spending too much on shoes while Hannah can barely make rent, but won’t the same types of problems always exist? Won’t the real issue, the one we remember, not be our financial stability or the weird job we worked, but the relationship with the guy who wouldn’t commit, or the ex-boyfriend who’s now gay, or the moments of warm friendship in the midst of all this? Does class even matter?
Now I know that, in this comparison, I’ve looked at two sets of white women from middle class families. I know, it’s a biased perspective. But I think it could apply to more circles than you’d expect, and I think that what ultimately makes the difference is not the class you are in, but the way you approach life. If Carrie Bradshaw suddenly decided to dedicate her life to philanthropy and making the world a better place, I think she could find a way to do it just as well as Hannah Horvath could. Sure, they have different connections and talents, but that’s the point – they’re different people. The differences they could make in the world are equally valid.
If you’re born into the ghetto, raised in a gang, always looking over your shoulder, selling drugs just to survive – you could find ways to enjoy this. You could coast through it, accepting it as your lot in life, hardly thinking about moving up or down in the world, just letting yourself live the life you were born into, having relationships and making deals and simply living. Or, if you see life as challenges to be surmounted, maybe you’re driven to do well in school, to get a scholarship to college, to rise out of the class you were born into. You’re an exception.
But that’s on an individual basis. They don’t teach life strategy in school. I never took a class on figuring out your passion or your purpose in this world. So maybe you’re compelled, internally, to figure this out for yourself, or maybe you’re not. And, more than whatever situation you’re born into, I think this is what decides your fate. You can practice, you can study, you can move yourself up in the world – but it’s entirely your prerogative to do so.
What do you think – am I being unfair? How do you approach life?
Love, calm, & care –