Go back in your memories to your early years when you were in primary school and you might recall the times the bell would ring and you’d run outside for recess. With only 15 minutes or so of this time, you’d quickly run to some pre-determined spot and meet up with your best friends to socialize, play a game of skipping, soccer, or just talk. Whether you remember it or not, I’m guessing there were other kids who loathed that ‘free’ time for mingling because it was a daily reminder that they didn’t fit in with anyone.
Be it our days in High School, College or University, the same kind patterns of inclusiveness or isolation probably occurred. You might invite certain people to your dorm for a party; hang out with the same people on weekends, etc. That to me is just human nature; gravitating to certain people you enjoy being around who enjoy being around you.
The difficulty comes when others get isolated and excluded from social gatherings not based on their personal characteristics but due to their socio-economic status. Some don’t come from old money, some don’t come from money at all, they have to work hard for any break they get, and if they don’t get a break they have to work harder to manufacture their success.
On the fringe of our modern societies, we can easily spot those who are disadvantaged, architects of their own demise, poor decision-makers and the socially isolated. They are outside mainstream or ‘normal’ society, (whatever ‘normal’ infers) and much of the time their hopes and dreams are centered on inclusiveness and acceptance. When they say they want a job, as undefined as that statement is, what they mean by it is to rise to a level of normalcy.
Why do they settle on a job as something desirable often without even defining clearly what that job in fact would be? To them the job itself represents what they consider to be ‘normal’ acceptable behaviour to aspire to. This identification as a worker doing something productive is like punching a ticket and gaining access to a group they want to be part of.
The label of ‘unemployed’, or ‘out of work’ marginalizes them and they know it. We so often ask in conversations what someone does for a living, as our way of both identification and then categorization. We have our tradespeople, our administrative professionals, front-line, middle and upper management types, our decision-makers etc. Each and every time we gather information on what it is someone does for their work, we make a mental file card on the person and file that information in some kind of class and value Rolodex. “Oh you’re a Secretary? How interesting.” How you view that profession will shape where you initially ‘file’ that person based on your value system borne out of many past interactions with Secretaries you’ve encountered.
It’s when someone says, “I’m unemployed at the moment”, “I’m job searching actually”, or “I don’t have a job but I’m hoping to” that many of us immediately make up a mental file card sometimes to the person’s disadvantage. Why is that? Is it because we assume they aren’t people we want to be associated with or know? Do we make a leap in opinion or judgement and assume because they aren’t working they aren’t motivated, they are somehow less valuable as people or maybe even if they are unemployed any relationship we might have with them would be all give on our point and no take in return?
I wonder what might happen if someone with a job – perhaps a very well-respected job, went to a group of people and concealed that fact and introduced her or himself as being unemployed or between jobs at the moment. If they announced this, while they might initially get dismissive looks, I actually suspect their people skills and social skills would save them. They’d likely be able to articulate what they are seeking, and through the choice of words they use and their interpersonal skills would actually become included rather than excluded. They might even generate offers of help and leads in the days to come.
Unfortunately socio-economically marginalized people often present with mental challenges, lower self-esteem, insecurities, poorer interpersonal skills and as a result make some questionable decisions affecting their circumstances both present and future. Just a prolonged job search alone is mentally taxing and assaults one’s self-worth. Without employment, those interpersonal skills get rusty, and all of this impacts on adverse decisions made.
So to justice and the marginalized. Perhaps we ourselves – you and I; we could make the required effort to defer our initial categorization of others, attempt some effort of inclusiveness, and understand someone’s desire for improvement which may have to occur first before the necessary skills are there to support that wish. In short, hold off on adverse judgement of the person and separate them from the circumstances in which they are currently in. See the person in other words.
Maybe it’s a small thing; this social engagement of people rather than classifying them based on their present circumstances. I’ve met some fantastic individuals who are on social assistance. The struggles they deal with daily and overcome would surprise you, impress you and have you wondering how you yourself might fare if in their shoes. They have great stories of hardship, challenges, failures and victories. But you have to listen to them to hear them.