Increasing Social Distance
My rush at work seems to have abated.... At least somewhat.... For now....
Who would have thought that actually working for a living was so hard? Anyway, I have recently had (for the first time in a while) some time to think.
What has me spinning lately is a conversation I had on the bus.
My new job requires me to wear a suit every day. I often get quizzical looks from my fellow riders, since I'm always the only one in such attire. But recently I got confronted directly. "Are you a lawyer?" asked another passenger, apparently deducing this fact soley from my coat and tie. When I told him that I was, he seemed utterly perplexed. "What are you doing riding the bus to work, then?" he asked. Apparently all lawyers, admittedly members of the American aristocracy, are too rich and too important to take mass transportation with "ordinary folks."
I continued to talk with the man (a regular-Joe bartender), but he seemed nervous. In a way I can't exactly explain, I was uncomfortable too. At most times in my life, I've felt perfectly natural conversing with anyone. But the suit was apparently infecting my brain....
I have long thought that the purpose behind "professional dress" was to distance and differentiate we "professionals" from "those people," and it always bothered me. Why do we need to try to mark ourselves so explicitly as "better" than them? And why should anyone be nervous to talk to me of all people? These things have always bothered me.... But I never thought that my suit would affect me--my own attitude. I never thought that I would feel distance on my end.
But perhaps it isn't just the suit. Perhaps it is also that I spend my days in an office filled with highly-educated professionals, reading the writing of still other highly-educated professionals. I just haven't spent any time lately talking with my neighbors outside my socioeconomic class. And I've discovered that any amount of time spent in such isolation really does turn everyone else into "those people."
If I am to follow Jesus' example, a highly abstract, generalized love for neighbors isn't enough. Christian love, I believe, must also be specific, concrete, grounded in the actual neighbors that I meet every day. So I'm resolved: to resist the suit; to get to know my working-class fellow passengers; to strive to mitigate the social distance that makes me somehow vaguely uncomfortable with anyone outside my class.