Our Talented Neighbors

Jerk alert! The following post will reveal that sometimes I can be a real jerk.

So, soon after we moved into Lot 26 last October, we met some of our neighbors. CF pointed out Roger* to me. CF knew Roger previously because Roger is a drumset player who CF sometimes sees playing out at open mics around town. Roger is also a little shy or something…when you say hello or ask how he’s doing, he often says, “Oooohh Okaaay” while turning away from you.

Anyway, because CF said that Roger played at open mics, and admittedly because Roger lives in the trailer park and acts a little strangley, I assumed he wasn’t really all that great at the drums. I know I know…I’m a jerk. In my (sort of) defense, I also compare all drumset players’ abilites to my very talented CF–and no one plays as well as my man!

So, one night I had the opportunity to hear Roger play. CF and I were at the open mic at a lovely little dive restaurant called the Works for their weekly Open Mic. When Roger got up to play, I wasn’t expecting much, but I never expect too much at open mics. I figure if I keep my expectations low, I can often be wowed ūüôā

So Roger started playing with some other guys and his drumming was pretty good…no…actually good!¬† It was a definite moment of shame for me, though.¬† I felt like such an idiot making those assumptions about Roger.

Since then, I’ve been thinking more about why I made those assumptions, and whether or not it’s a kind of thinking brought on by my place of privilege or by the cultural attitudes around me.

As I was trying to figure¬†what my assumption was coming from, the first thing that came to my mind is that perhaps I am functioning¬†under the idea that¬†people with a low income lack talent or skills.¬† But that’s ludicrous.¬†

Talent or skill is not dependent on money…BUT access to either showcasing or using those talents or access to opportunities to improve and gain skills may be dependent on money.¬† So, they don’t lack skills; they lack privelege or opportunity.

Further, perhaps I am also opertaing under an incorrect value system.¬† Perhaps it’s not that lower-income workers lack skill…instead, it’s that our society does not value the skills they have as much as the skills that higher paid workers have.

In other words, it’s not that they lack skills, but that they lack skills of “value” in our society.¬† Unfortunately, a lot of really important skills are not highly valued, or at least not as highly valued as other skills in our society.¬† If we go by income alone, a money-guru on Wall Street has more valued skills than the teachers who help develop the minds of our children or the factory workers who create the very products we all depend on or the farmers who grow the food we all need to eat.¬†¬† Seems a little unfair, no?

Anyway, I am going to do my best to give my neighbors a bit more credit and try to see the value in the skills of everyone around me.  That seems like a pretty compassionate way to live.

And that’s about all the thinking I can handle for today ūüôā¬† Until next time, may all your homes be happy, and may all your neighbors wow you!

*Not his real name.

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About Cathy G Gilbert

I am veggie-loving, community college professor who lives, teaches, and writes in Central IL.
This entry was posted in Reflections. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Our Talented Neighbors

  1. Julie Fraser says:

    Thanks for the post Cathy. It was really interesting! Something that especially ran true for me is that larger society values certain types of skills. I was thinking, also, that some of my students who self-report as being in the lower class talk about the differnce between “book” smart and “street” smart. They seem to pride themselves on being street smart. I haven’t thought of it before, but I’m guessing it takes creativity to make ends meet, feed children, etc. when budgets are so tight. We tend to value different types of creativity, but this is a valid one too.

    • Agreed! I just read, and had my students read, an essay by Gerald Graff that discussed “book smarts” and “street smarts.” The essay is called “Hidden Intellectualism” and he claims that we should our curriculum to include “non-academic” subjects in a course of study…he believes that if we can teach students to reflect on the subjects they’re interested in (i.e. the non-academic ones) through an intellectual/academic lens, then students would be able to relate to and be motivated to do well in school.

  2. AMW says:

    What came to mind for me, coming from a working poor background, is that often highbrow things like art, music, film, theater, poetry, etc., are not “practical” ways to make a living. As such, they aren’t valued and so many poor people with talent do not invest in the kind of training and showcasing it would take to become a professional. It’s sort of a ironic since they are already used to living poorly and “starving” which is the down-side of a career like that for people with privilege.

  3. Pingback: More on Being “Trashy”: the Urban Dictionary Version | The Stigma of Lot 26

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