Yes, we need to call out prejudice, bullying, and inequality – but we also to need remind others why we’re all much better off without these things. As I’ve watched the current election season play out, I’ve become more convinced than ever that social hierarchies are not only making us miserable, they’re destroying us. As a musician and teacher, I’m trying to promote cooperation over competition; but as a writer, I’m trying to articulate why it’s important for everyone to do so as well.
There are a lot of people clinging to the status quo of rigidly divided social hierarchies. For the extremely wealthy/privileged, their interest is maintaining their current status – any change in status feel like persecution. They’ve also managed to convince many working-class or poor White Americans that they should be equally invested in maintaining this stratification. While the latter group may lack access to material wealth and comforts, they still fight to maintain their symbolic power of being White and/or male.
What gets me – as a middle-class, left-leaning White person – is seeing others like me gleefully mock Trump supporters. While humor can be used as an effective tool to call out racism, sexism, etc., we’re only adding fuel to the fire by treating our political opponents as lazy, stupid, ignorant, and, ultimately inferior.
As a musician, I’ve witnessed many people try to exclude others for various reasons. I’ve been on the receiving end of it and, as much I’d like to think otherwise, have probably engaged in my own forms of exclusion. I’ve tried to convince others that being inclusive and equitable is the right thing to do, but the problem is that many still believe that they benefit from their exclusive position in the social hierarchy.
Thus, we can’t just call out bad behavior, we have to incentivize good behavior. Here are three reasons that more inclusion and less stratification benefit everyone:
- Because the goal should be meaningful, fairly-compensated work; not extreme wealth and status. Social stratification works when people feel like they only have two choices: be impoverished & unnoticed or rich & famous. Many people in middle- or upper-middle classes are starting to see the value in finding a balance between financial stability and doing work they love. Obviously, lower-class people often lack access to higher education and other resources that would allow them to find this balance as well. We have to work for better educational systems, but we also have to model for others that meaningful work and relationships, not money and status, are what create happiness.
- Because they allow for lateral growth. When we’re focused exclusively on climbing the ladder in our given profession or social circle, we start to lose sight of lateral growth because we become so focused on being the best at one thing. I’ve heard multiple people point out that competitive music programs have led to a series of technically perfect, but robotic/indistinguishable players. To me, exploring and synthesizing my different interests is very exciting. Plus, for those who do make it to the “top,” their life is spent is trying to desperately maintain their status and ward off competition.
- Because we need diverse social circles to be our authentic selves. When we surround ourselves only with others who look, think, and act like us, we seriously restrict and stunt our personal development. I’ve found that the people who share my core values/interests usually come from very different backgrounds. Plus, our interests don’t always map onto one social strata.Think about how much happier we’d all be if we could just connect with others who shared our passions, without being worried about seeming too masculine/feminine, upper-/working-class, gay/straight, etc.
How would you live your life differently if you weren’t concerned with maintaining your current social position? Do you think you would be happier?