Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Woman Who Lives On The Other Side Of Income Inequality Seeks What Money Cannot Buy

Dear Tazi:

When I was a child I always dreamed of what I would be when I grew up, and I am sad to say that those dreams have not come true. I know what you must be thinking - almost nobody grows up to be fabulously wealthy with a rock star husband and perfect kids, but this is not what I wanted for myself. I grew up in that world - with the mother with the supermodel looks; the nanny who taught me how to be perfect; servants and a maid to care for my every need; and whatever I wanted handed to me as if I deserved it simply for being me. What I wanted was a normal life.

Every Christmas season my mother made my nanny take me to the thrift stores and the soup kitchens to see "how the other side lives" and I remember how sad I felt that these people had no nice clothes or cool toys and wanting to give them mine. Every year, once Christmas had passed, I insisted on donating my old toys and clothes to the people who needed them. As I got older, and no longer needed a nanny, I started donating some of my new stuff, too. It just didn't feel right to have so much when there was such need right in my own home town.

At the soup kitchen, I always noticed that the people who seemed to have so little had something I did not - a sense of community; these people didn't care if someone used the wrong fork at dinner (all they had was one fork, and they didn't seem to care if it was used or not!). They didn't care if someone's shoes did not match their clothing (they were happy to have shoes); and the world didn't have to come to a screeching halt if they were having a bad hair day. They were still seen in public. They would laugh and joke with each other at the dinner table, and more than once I would see someone squirt milk from their nose from laughing so hard, only to laugh about it themselves.

I chose to study social work in college because I wanted to help people, but also because I wanted to learn from these people who taught me so much when I was growing up. I always expected to marry and have children and have a mice, normal, middle-class life - not wanting for anything but the big ticket items that regular people work hard for but were always just handed to me. Do I sound like a poor little rich girl yet?

I guess you can't help who you fall in love with or who they become, but I met my husband in college while he was a poor scholarship student who had to work two jobs to pay for his living expenses. I liked that he was a hard worker and an honest man, he liked that money hadn't spoiled me. My parents insisted on throwing us a huge wedding...and I think that is where the trouble started. My father hired my husband to work in the family business, starting him at a respectable salary and putting him in touch with a lot of important business people.

Within five years, my husband was offered a better position with a prestigious company and my father bade him well, claiming that nepotism makes for lazy workers. My husband is anything but lazy. In fact, he has become a workaholic in the hope of eventually being a Fortune 500 CEO. So once again I have the mansion, the fancy cars, and the maid to assist with the cleaning. All I need are a second nanny and the butler to find myself right back in the situation I wanted to run from as a child.

I don't want to leave my husband...I just want a more normal life. The financial security is comforting; the financial excess is smothering. How do I give back without embarrassing my husband? He would be mortified if someone we know saw me volunteering at a soup kitchen or dropping stuff off at the thrift store!

Wishing For A Better World

Dear Wishing For A Better World:

Did it ever occur to you that if someone you know sees you at the soup kitchen or the thrift store it is because they are there, too? You say your husband fell in love with you because money did not spoil you, yet it seems that money has changed him. You sound like a gentle, loving soul who is completely unfulfilled by her current circumstances. While many would cry poor little rich girl, I am not going to judge you. In fact, I feel honest sympathy for you. Too many people are afraid to step out of their comfort zone to come to the aid of others or to befriend someone in different circumstances than they, regardless of their social class.

You speak of being jealous of the freedom others had to simply relax the rules in order to enjoy each other's company. What lessons are you passing on to your children? Are you teaching them that all meals are to be formal, or have they learned that sometimes dinner can be eaten in front of the TV on paper plates? Are you teaching them the value of sharing by helping them to box up unneeded toys and clothes to donate to those in need? Are you teaching them the importance of giving of themselves by volunteering? All are valuable lessons!

Many communities are in need of volunteers in schools, as well as to assist with municipal services like volunteer firefighters and police deputies. This is especially true in communities where the very wealthy are used to having other people provide such services for them. Unfortunately, such jobs do not pay well (if at all) and those who fulfill them cannot afford to live in the communities that they serve and protect. With your social work background, would you consider spear-heading a movement to increase the number of volunteers in your community? Would you be able to convince your neighbors that rubbing elbows with "the other side" will not bring them down, but make them a better person? Not only would this allow you to use your education, but it will help you to make your corner of the world a better place. Plus, you would be teaching your children by example.

If you or your neighbors cannot make a commitment to volunteer, there are other ways you can help. Why not have a neighborhood yard sale, with all of the proceeds going to a specified charity? Here in Rhode Island, Wheeler School holds an annual clothing sale to raise money for scholarships. People of all economic backgrounds flock to it to find bargain prices on designer goods.

Even Cher and pals could agree on to a yard sale!

Another way of bringing meaning to your life by giving back to others is to pay your employees a living wage. Nannies are some of the hardest working women on the planet - handling child care, meal prep, laundry, cleaning and other household duties - but being paid a salary that breaks down to minimum wage per hour or less! (And taking the Nanny with you on your vacation is no vacation for her!).

Whatever you decide to do, I think it would be important to have a sit-down with your husband to discuss your feelings, and your observations on how much he has changed since he was a poor college student who was impressed with a rich girl who had not let money spoil her.


Ask Tazi! is ghostwritten by a human with Bachelors degrees in Communications and in Gender and Women's Studies. Tazi-Kat is not really a talking feline.

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