Metaphorically speaking

Part of what I do to make the mortgage is finding content for the social media platforms of various executives, which is just about my favorite part of the job, since it requires — yes, forces! — me to read, read, read. Even better, many of the subscriptions are paid for by my employer, which is even better since it means I can support a handful of great media operations (NYT, WSJ, Harvard Business Review, the Economist paid for by company), and I can afford to pay for a few others that aren’t as expensive.

Of course, my work also entails seeing what other executives and thought-leaders are posting, so I can amplify the message as need be. That’s not always quite so pleasurable, since some of these people, for all their power and influence, aren’t posting great stuff. Or possibly, the folks who are curating their content aren’t exactly deep thinkers.

So it was that I found myself staring at a something on the LinkedIn account of top executive at a Fortune 100 company, a meme with thousands of likes and hundreds of shares, probably 50/50 split between agreement and ass-kissing. This is the “inspiration” they were applauding:

What’s the problem? Cluelessness about a significant and ever-growing population of Americans who work hard, smile for the bosses — and still aren’t going anywhere.

There are people who can’t change that metaphorical tire. It’s flat because they couldn’t afford to replace the tire when they saw the threads grow shallow. It’s still flat because they could only afford a beater, and it came with worn tires. Anyway, it’s going to be flat again soon even if they can get the tire patched because our roads and other infrastructure are falling apart because we’ve given tax breaks and custom loopholes to the wealthiest of families, individuals and corporations while starving our civic institutions.

In other words, they don’t have what they need to get by, and the common goods that used to help us all are increasingly inaccessible or just plain gutted.

I hear all the time from people who have never been in a position where they couldn’t afford to fix a flat tire, and believe me, they all think they got where they are because they are hard-working and smart. They never see that they started several steps up the ladder from those who’ve been handicapped by circumstances of their birth, of which there are many in this country.

They see the difficulties others have in their lives as their own fault.

Yeah, this is just one of those “inspirational” sayings that gets passed around when there’s nothing good to share from the Harvard Business Review. The executive (or his social media assistant) probably gave posting this a moment’s thought, and that was about it.

But the instinct to buy in to such platitudes shows at best a shallow understanding of the lives of others who are struggling, and at worst cements the views of the Corner Office Crowd that they and they alone are why they ended up where they are, and that’s just not true.

If you see someone struggling with a flat tire on the side of the road, you’d likely pull over to help if you can, check that they have help coming if you can’t help, or at the very least call for help, but you’d recognize the need for help, and you wouldn’t ignore it.

We have a lot of people in this country who need help, and saying “just help yourself” isn’t in the tradition of being part of the human community, of helping each other.

Before you share nonsense (or anything, really) think about it a moment, and see what it’s really saying. If the message is: “Fuck you, I’ve got mine,” you might want to think about the person you’ve become — and change your own attitude.

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