Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 9
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman bubble masks hardship

I love Whitman. I love dealing daily with some of the smartest people I’ve ever met. I love the 3 a.m. conversations about the corn lobby and the hour-long discussions on how to create a better world. But the truth is, we live in a bubble: a bubble where people can afford to care.

While Whitman touts itself as diverse, how diverse can a private school that costs 50 grand really be? While plenty of people are here on scholarships, even paying their own way, the fact is most of us come from wealthy/upper middle class families, with wealthy/upper middle class upbringings, and parents who made sure we did our homework before we did the dishes or drove us to soccer practice instead of making us ride the bus to work.

I recently spent time with a friend I had known growing up and whose family would join us for Christmas parties every year. Today he’s a 20-year-old deck-hand on whichever fishing boat offers him work, smokes cigarettes like a French nurse, has spent time in jail and lives in a trailer that he shares with his older brother. And while talking to him I realized that I have no conception of what it’s actually like to live his life.

What is it like to pay your own taxes? To pay your own cell phone bill? To try to find work after prison? To know that you need a job in order to eat? I’ve never had to know the answers to these questions. My parents have paid my taxes, my parents have paid for my cell phone, and if I ever ran out of money, I got a bail-out. But I’ve always done what was expected of me.

Sometimes I’d like to tell myself that I worked harder than my friend, that I deserve to be where I am because I didn’t take the easy choices. But I’d be falling into a trap set by my ego. Sure, it was hard to do homework after an exhausting practice, but it would have been a lot harder to do it after working all day at minimum wage and coming back to an alcoholic father who doesn’t care about the math homework I didn’t know how to do. My friend took a particular path, but it was one set in front of him, and it was a lot harder than mine.

People are only as good as the world allows us to be. We are all the products of our environment. So why do we continue to believe that successful people simply worked harder and thereby deserve their fate while those at the bottom dig their own graves?

I blame ivory towers: here, the Whitman bubble. We believe everyone can make their own fate, and we look around and see people who’ve “worked hard” for success. And then we see the drop-outs and “failures” and we tell ourselves that they just didn’t seize the opportunities presented, they didn’t take the initiative when we did. But spend any time with these so-called drop-outs trying to find out why, and you’ll realize they’re not just drop-outs or failures. They’re the same as any Whitman student, but the road that fell before their feet wasn’t a paved path to success.

At Whitman we love to talk about what people should do. We should recycle. We should donate to help starving children. But too often we don’t talk about what people actually do and why. My friend cares less about recycling than you care about the quarter on the sidewalk. He doesn’t have the luxury to care about these things. He cares about how he’s going to buy his next pack of cigarettes. Or his next meal. But if he could get half off on cigarettes by recycling a pound of beer cans, he’d spend every evening digging through the trash behind TKE.

In order to truly change the world, we need to stop talking about what people should do, and start talking about what people actually do and why. Maybe then we can create the social structures to create change. But until we understand what life is truly like for people outside our bubble, we won’t be able to create change. So get out there, get involved. Burst the bubble.

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