I had an interesting discussion with “Unload and Unwind’s” Jenni about social class. Let me know what you think.
“I am curious about your class. You said you identified mostly by social class – before anyway. How did you perceive people from the lower classes, particularly ambitious ones?”
“Sadly I didn’t perceive them at all they were just not on my radar and as such I never gave it any thought when I was younger. Neither positive nor negative views, just no view at all as it would never have occurred to me to think of it. In my world it was more a case of recognition if that makes sense, a feeling of similarity and shared experiences that money and connections can bring.
You didn’t mix outside of those circles due to the fact that your social activities were the same as those around you. I was at university before I had a friend who hadn’t been to private school. When you dated someone, even if you didn’t know them personally someone you knew well would and you had the equivalent of a background check [although you didn’t think of that way it was merely information.]
As I got older and I started to stretch a little I became more and more aware of how insular that world was. For example I was at a fundraiser and we were talking with friends and one of the men said [to another guy] hey you were at Churchie [Church of England Boys School] in such and such a year did you know so and so as he applied for a job with our firm. The other guy said Oh I didn’t really like him he cheated at rugby and all the men nodded very solemnly as if he’d said he’d murdered his mother and so this guy didn’t get the job.
I learnt over time to appreciate a persons capabilities and qualities rather than their background but it took time. As I said the world was just so insular. Personally I never believed in the concept of ‘them’ and ‘us’ but others I knew did. Christopher Skase is a good example of that, self made multi millionaire and he moved to Ascot from down south and started throwing big parties etc.
Every single person I knew despised him because of the way he flaunted wealth but lacked any kind of genuine style or class. As it turns out he was a creep who made off with millions leaving people bankrupted and moving from country to country to avoid extradition. Ambition wasn’t the issue he was just gauche – I know terribly snooty word but it fitted him.
Both of my husbands went to public school and came from lower socio-economic groups but both are equally brilliant and ambitious, I wouldn’t have dated them as a young girl or even a young woman but as I said as I grew I recognized the insular nature of my life and the oppressive and restrictive social rules that went with it. My first marriage didn’t last but my second one did and we’ve just had our 10 year anniversary.”
“I ask because I’ve always had very clear perceptions of the people better born than myself. When I was young, their presence awed me, cowed me, made me frown and take comfort in the virtue of modesty. When I got to high school, I learned that, once I’d gotten big and renowned for my ability to do violence on a sports field, that many of my betters feared me, which I found absolutely titillating. Now, as a young professional, I view the inheritance class as a guilt-free and often soft target on my journey up the career ladder.
I should clarify that while I almost always try to advance by improving the entire organization to which I belong, and while prosperity is not a zero sum game, power always is. So, when I “target” a person better born, I am not trying to hurt them in an absolute, material sense of the word. I am trying to take their power, though.
Granted, not all of the well-born are soft and not all of them end up being targets, but as a general rule, blue bloods are absolutely the ones I prefer to compete against. This is partially because they often haven’t had to learn how to fight (literally and metaphorically) and mostly because the guilt I feel trying to beat someone who is working for their power goes away when I’m competing against someone who has simply inherited their position.”
“You are right about the competition angle, there are some I know who don’t transition into genuine success simply due to the fact that they had to strive – as they had never really been forced to strive against true difficulties then often once out of the glass bubble of education etc they didn’t advance at any great rate and often had difficulties meeting work obligations.
My family and my schooling was a little different. There were no excuses for not achieving and no slack cut or paths deliberately smoothed. The benefit I received in terms of better opportunities was weighed with the responsibility to do something with them and not to coast.
I must admit that the road to success was opened more easily for me than I realized at the time but my journey on it was very much determined by my skills.
A lot of the people that I knew when young went into family business, law practices, accounting firms etc and I doubt they would have achieved the status so quickly without that backing.
My school was highly competitive, academically, athletically and fine arts wise, those who slacked off or attempted to coast were simply asked to leave as there are a number of excellent private schools that do not have the same views on performance and the responsibility that came with privilege.
Having these opportunities did not make a person better only luckier than others and those families who preferred a more ‘genteel’ or elitist approach to life sent their children elsewhere.
However my school was considered one of the best in the country 90% of the graduating class attended university and 82% received offers from their first choices in the year I finished. If comparing those who attended other schools over 2 or 3 decades you will find most of the top people in their fields come from one of the small handful of private schools with similar attitudes to learning and to life along with a handful of others from a variety of background who made their way through sheer talent and ambition.
I will inherit money but it isn’t mine it’s my families, what I have in this life I earn and I raised my son the same way as I feel that a reckless sense of entitlement that comes from never having to apply oneself is damaging on so many different levels.”
There is so much to explore, here. Am I a psychotic bastard, for starters? Is the sheepishness Jenni is pretty clearly feeling rational? Is it okay to care less about the feelings and ambitions of well born people? If it’s not okay, how are lower born people supposed to compete?
Please comment, I’d love to hear what you think.