I was surfing Google+ the other day and came across a meme similar to the following:
Now memes like this piss me off, as does the implication that low wage workers deserve to be where they are–i.e. in poverty–because of some choice they made. Thinking that it might change the meme poster’s opinion if he knew that people with master’s degrees–not just high school drop-outs–often didn’t make a living wage, I offered up my own situation.Maybe the poster would reply, “Oh, really? I assumed someone with a master’s degree would make a minimum of $50k a year. Now that I know you don’t, I’ve changed my mind 100%: All workers, whatever their level of education, deserve to make a living wage. Thank you for pointing out the error of my ways, Angry Chik.”
What was the meme poster’s actual reply? “You’re an idiot if you have a master’s degree and still make less than $15/hour.”
This reaction is nothing new to me. I got sucked into a few comment threads about “Fight for $15,” and, when I put myself out there, I got the same reaction: Anyone who makes less than a living wage is stupid and/or lazy. Especially if that person is well-educated.
Though I don’t expose it to many people, I have a temper. One that tends toward passive-aggressiveness. I’ve worked on it for most of my 30’s, and now, in my mid-30’s, have finally concluded that passive-aggressive behavior–or verbal explosions–don’t get me anywhere. Actually, anger, unless controlled and channeled, has never gotten me anywhere. I have never exploded at someone or done something to “get back at them” that hasn’t ultimately been self-sabotaging.
So, there I was, raging internally at this meme poster who dared call me an idiot. How would I retaliate? Post a vindictive comment in reply to his, proving that he’s the real idiot, not me? Or–even better–write a blog post humiliating him, then post it in his comment section, so all of his followers will also see what a heartless dumb@ass he is? I went back and forth, finally resolving to write a blog post in the format of a letter addressed to an anonymous Google+ user, “Stupid Motherf@cker.”
As I took a long bike ride, I plotted out the post in my head, feeling more and more vindicated with every mental revision. Oddly, I didn’t see this going well. Sure, it might be enjoyable to write and could be entertaining to others, but would the meme poster respond positively? Would he change his view on minimum wage earners? Probably not. As a matter of fact, he’d probably get defensive and call me names worse than “idiot.”
This meme poster had mentioned in one of his comments that he was a former drug addict, who had worked hard to get clean and return to school for a skilled trade. He said he now makes $18.50/hour. It wasn’t hard for me to surmise that the idea of a low-wage retail or fast food worker–who by this man’s estimation hadn’t worked hard–didn’t deserve to start at $15/hour. We’ve all felt the urge to deny others happiness when we’re at our worst, haven’t we? Even when someone’s else’s happiness doesn’t–or shouldn’t–diminish our own? That’s what this meme poster’s problem was. A stupid or lazy person that could walk into a McDonald’s and make $3.50/hour less than he does diminished his sense of self-worth.
And how do we feel when others’ success and happiness make us feel like crap about ourselves? Probably pretty miserable.
Then Martin Luther King, Jr. popped into my head. At a job where I felt acutely miserable, I played his speeches and interviews for hours on end to lift my spirits. One interview that stood out to me was Dr. King talking about not having to like someone to love them. I really connected with the idea of cultivating love for all–even those we don’t agree with. So, instead of writing my “Dear Stupid Motherf@cker” post–or leaving a nasty comment–I left this in reply:
Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend. –MLK
Did meme poster guy come at me with expletives worse than idiot? No. Actually, he didn’t reply at all, which I took as a good sign. I read further down his page and came to a post that criticized the Affordable Care Act for raising his and his wife’s premiums. I replied that not only should they not have to pay the original $500/month for health insurance, but they shouldn’t have to pay their current $800/month, which is why we needed a single-payer system. Meme poster replied back in agreement. Overall, it was a positive interaction. I’m sold on the transformative power of Martin Luther King’s wisdom. I’ll just have to remind myself the next time I’m on the verge of leaving a vicious comment or reply: WWMLKD?