So I’m going to pick up where I left off with my last post. I was saying I found an investigative news article, A Maine nonprofit paid its disabled workers less than minimum wage, while its executives got six figures, so depressing that I was at a loss for words.
I was wrong.
First, I should have included Cage the Elephant’s Ain’t no rest for the wicked as a soundtrack because it popped into my head while I was reading the aforementioned article. It’s on the list of songs my boys wish I would forget because I really love to sing it!
The vignettes in the lyrics are full of words that could have supplemented my loss. It’s a great discussion about the darker side of the human condition to offer as background music while I try to appeal to our lighter, brighter side.
Second, I did have more words. They started to kick around my head as soon as I wrapped up that post — two specifically: human dignity. I felt guilty for not putting more emphasis on that concept.
Those workers being paid less than minimum wage have dignity, and instead of honoring that dignity, service providers profited from it.
I’ve long argued that the human race is still too driven by greed to be able to responsibly hold human dignity in one hand and the love of money in the other. That story is a perfect example of what I mean.
We’ve yet to become stellar keepers of human dignity, especially when it comes to vulnerable populations like children, the disabled, the elderly, the poor. Something inherent in the darker side of our nature still needs to believe some humans have less value than others when it comes to basic human dignity.
That belief enables some people to do things like personally and excessively profit from public funds, like Medicaid, while underpaying beneficiaries in their charge.
That belief enables some people to think social services should be punitive and unfairly demanding of young mothers in need of support.
That belief enables market forces to pay millions to upper level management and shareholders while entry level workers qualify for entitlement programs everyone loves to resent.
That belief enables some people to see someone less fortunate and think, that person must deserve his or her circumstances … I must’ve worked harder or I must be a better person or I must be smarter.
In truth, when we see someone less fortunate, the only thing we know for a fact is, that person was born to different circumstances than I. That’s it. That’s all we know for sure.
When you look at things that way, the next thought to follow should be one of gratitude — gratitude for having whatever circumstances contributed to the opportunity to view someone else as less fortunate.
I hear ultra-conservative readers out there doing their default boohoo about having worked hard for what they have. This thought is not intended to diminish that ethos at all. It is however to call to mind the adage about much being asked of those to whom much has been given.
Because no matter how hard a successful person has worked to reach that success, that person worked in life circumstances that supported that success to some extent or another. There are plenty of people out there who have worked their tushies off under their own set of circumstances without ever feeling the comforts of some financial success.
Like the underpaid workers in the BDN Maine Focus article.
There’s no comfort to draw from the idea that your dignity is so much more valuable than someone less fortunate. Somewhere out there in some undignified situation like a homeless shelter or a jail or a social services program, there’s someone smarter than you, someone who might clean up better than you, someone capable of being more successful than you under different circumstances.
I know this to be true from experience. I’ve interacted with people society would view as the lowest of the low and people society would view as extremely successful and a whole bunch in-between. From perceived as criminal to perceived as angelic. The difference between them all being manifestations of circumstance.
No more, no less.