I was upset that I had to sleep on a pullout couch instead of in my own bed, but I never felt angry or embarrassed. It wasn’t until I heard our family friend’s child (and my classmate) telling other classmates that I was staying with her that I felt myself desperately wanting her to stop talking and for me to disappear.
Even though my family’s financial situation was not my fault, as soon as I was called out for being different, I felt awful.
For the most part, money is a subject that people avoid so as not to create discomfort surrounding financial inequality. This only leads to the deepening of shame or pride regarding one’s family income because when a subject isn’t discussed, people tend to internalize feelings about it.
Our society is very polite and tends to shy away from possibly offensive subjects. Until attending the 10th grade Truth Is… retreat, I don’t think I had discussed money with anyone outside my socioeconomic class. The only way to break this cycle is to spark conversation about poverty and affluence despite the initial discomfort.The discussions I took part in about wealth at Truth Is… and at Face-It were awkward to say the least, but they were healthy and eye-opening.
Without these uncomfortable discussions, people often only associate with others who resemble them both socioeconomically and in other ways. People then do not have to walk on eggshells to avoid topics related to any possibly uncomfortable inequalities.
Part of the reason I felt so ashamed for not living in my house was that even at eight or nine years old, when children have difficulty filtering much of anything, my classmates did not ask me why I wasn’t living at my house. Even though they were probably trying to make me or themselves feel comfortable, it instead felt like they were sweeping the situation under the rug, and it created a barrier between me and my peers.
When people avoid a topic, it tends to collect shame and seem wrong to talk about. People’s sensitivity leads to a lack of discussion so as to avoid discomfort, which leads to greater sensitivity.
By chance children are either provided with a privilege or beset with greater barriers based upon their families’ income. This doesn’t make children of higher classes spoiled by definition, nor are children of lower classes noble savages, but it does indicate different meanings of money and aspiration. Inequality and difference are inevitable in life, and it is important to trudge through initial discomfort with someone who was endowed with greater privileges or challenges in order to break down the cycle of sensitivity and shame and also to branch out to people with different experiences.