John Greenan, one of my partners here at CDM, sent me a link to Chris Kelly's creative essay that appeared last Sunday (August 19) on The Huffington Post (Learning to Loathe Yourself: Peggy Noonan and How To Be a Conservative Pundit).
What impressed me about his post was not the embedded political debate, but his commitment to understand the reality facing people who live in poverty.
At the end of his lengthy comments, Kelly quotes George Orwell from The Road to Wigan Pier:
At the back of one of the houses a young woman was kneeling on the stones, poking a stick up the leaden waste-pipe which ran from the sink inside and which I suppose was blocked. I had time to see everything about her--her sacking apron,
her clumsy clogs, her arms reddened by the cold.... She had a round pale face, the usual exhausted face of the slum girl who is twenty-five and
looks forty, thanks to miscarriages and drudgery; and it wore, for the second in which I saw it, the most desolate, hopeless expression I have
It struck me then that we are mistaken when we say that "It isn't the same for them as it would be for us," and that people bred in the
slums can imagine nothing but the slums.
For what I saw in her face was not the ignorant suffering of an animal. She knew well enough what was happening to her--understood as well as I did how dreadful a destiny it was to be kneeling there in the bitter cold, on the slimy stones of a slum backyard, poking a stick up a foul drain-pipe."
The assumptions we make about others can be powerfully positive or downright crushing. It is essential that we come to grips with and take seriously the self-understanding of others.
Orwell's insights are brilliant. They afford the subject of his analysis the respect she had earned by living in her very concrete, extremely harsh and well-understood reality.
Frankly, many of us middleclass types just don't get it.
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