Thursday, February 28, 2008

The fine line of respect

I've been very conscious of class and privilege issues lately. Most of my classmates are blue collar guys, construction workers or similar, who are getting into trucking because they've lost their jobs, or have seen enough peers lose their jobs to know they need to diversify their skills and pick a more dependable industry. They are looking for local driving routes rather than long haul jobs because they have families who need them at home every night to watch the kids.

And I come in with my big words and my middle class adventuring bravado and say to anyone who'll ask that I'm here so I can get paid to travel. For me, this is a year or two off from my regular life. This is fun for me, I get to drive things and get dirt under my nails and feel like a tomboy kid again, but it's temporary and I know it, so I'm not stressing the finer points, not worrying if this will continue paying my mortgage in 10 or 15 years.

The reason I'm so conscious of these class differences is because I have a lot of respect for my classmates. They are good, honest people; many of them have been dealt very crappy hands in life; they've been humbled. And a part of me feels like I'm disrespecting them. I hate the connotation of disrespect in the word "slumming," but I can't help but feel like that's exactly what I'm doing. The trick, I suppose, it to keep all this this in mind and consciously avoid any possible disrespect.

The one other woman in my class is a construction worker; she once went to school to become a paralegal, but hated working in an office so much that she took a job shoveling cement to get out of it, and has been happy ever since. I wonder how many people she disappointed by going back, from the hard-won white collar back to dirty blue. I think of her story often, as a reminder that the most important thing is doing what feels right for yourself.

1 comment:

Abby said...

i think it's a mistake to think of it as slumming. why are you there? your chosen industry bit you in the ass too. you're there for the same reason they are- because this is the right thing for you now. you have a degree and experience waiting for you when this adventure is over, but you weren't in an industry you could just go back to. when you're done with this, you'll have to fight your way into another field then. i think you're all in it together. i don't know how much sense that makes.