Abigail Clauhs (Boston University) on Peacemaking in Class Warfare: Part III

By: Abigail Clauhs

September 13, 2012

Abigail Clauhs (Boston University) on Peacemaking in Class Warfare: Part III "Peacemaking in Class Warfare." It's an ambitious title, is it not, the one I've chosen for this series of blog posts?
In my past posts, I've written about how there is growing stratification between classes, and yet how we are not so secure within our class divides as some might think. There are many conversations to be had on how to make this better--everything from income equality to social programs to political reform. De juro solutions.

But I want to talk today about something more basic. A de facto way to peacemake, if you will. Because even if we do eventually fix income inequality and strengthen social programs and reform politics (and I hope we will), that will be something that happens in our institutional systems.

We also need something for our social system. A new way of looking at things. A viewpoint where we no longer stigmatize by class.

Our society values certain kinds of intelligence, certain kinds of traits. You see them in our upper and middle classes--academic success, high SAT scores, business sense, eloquent speaking. Presidential candidates and CEOs and, yes, students like the ones who win the Millennial Values Fellowship have these skills. Can you use rhetoric? Can you read critically? Can you speak smoothy?

These are the requirements for conventional success in our society. We look for extroverts. We value "leadership," a word that is sought on everything from college applications to job resumes.

But these are not the only valuable characteristics in our world. (In fact, Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, would be happy to argue otherwise with you). We must learn to value different types of intelligence, to reevaluate our definition of success.

My grandfather is a plumber. On his wall in his office is a poster with a strong, tall man holding a wrench; underneath the image are the words: "Plumbers: Protecting the Health of a Nation." He is proud of this poster; he's had it up for decades and keeps it up there as he continues to protect that national health, still refusing to retire even in his seventies.

My best friend's fiancé is a mechanic. In his twenties, he already owns his own auto shop, kept busy with a stream of constant business. He has a skill for machines, able to listen to the sound of an engine or run his fingers along a part and instantly know what is wrong, and how to fix it.

A friend from high school just joined the Air Force, heading off to training where he survived boot camp and began to learn the dashboards of the inside of combat planes, the hundreds of controls and buttons and the sheer courage it takes to fly a hunk of metal into the empty sky.

Yet somehow I am considered the successful one. My grades and book smarts earned me a scholarship to college; they somehow qualified me to receive rewards and recognition and accolades. I, who will never be able to fix a busted pipe or install a hot water heater (I even have trouble understanding the inner workings of a toilet). I, who am hopeless when my car breaks down (I barely know how to check the oil). I, who cannot even manage to operate a Nintendo controller, never mind anything with an actual flight risk.

There is something inherently wrong in a culture where the skills I possess are considered so much more valuable than the plumber's or the mechanic's or the soldier's. Where the upper class, the valued citizens, are the ones who have only one kind of intelligence.

This mindset, I believe, is what we will need to alter in order to ever truly end class warfare. Yes, policy changes will be required, and legislation will have to be created. But unless we genuinely value abilities from all the classes and from all our people, we will never be able to be, as Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "a society at peace with itself."

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