This I Believe

Hugh - Cushing, Maine
Entered on May 23, 2006
Age Group: 65+
Themes: work

Being a product of the capitalist system, born into it, raised in it, educated in it, I never questioned its morality. I saw that it created a disparity in income and standard of living among the population but I attributed it mostly to the difference in individual native ability or education or just plain luck. Living in Chicago during my college years I saw the enormous slums and riots there more the result of racial prejudice than of the system. In other words the opportunity to succeed was always there; it’s the American ethic.

I was a perfect candidate to achieve that success. I was a believer in the system without regard for, or really awareness of, its negative aspects. It was total acceptance; I had faith in its rightness as if it were a religion. So after two decades of being a cog working for other companies, I went into business, a manufacturing business, where I thought I would have total control over my destiny, and where nothing I did could harm anything or anyone else so long as I was honest and acted within the law. I couldn’t have deluded myself more.

I began to be bothered seeing my workers, many years older than myself, doing difficult physical work at a time when they should be easing off. I began to worry whether they could maintain their standard of living when they retired. I came to realize my company was no more than a dictatorship in which no one had any say. And I came to be concerned with where our waste hauler dumped our waste. And on a personal level, I began to see that my family was paying a price as a result of my relentless driving, and dedication to the business. Materially, they were better off than most of the people in our community, in our nation, but on an emotional, human level they were deprived. This was perhaps the worst negative of all for being a capitalist.

I came to understand that living in a capitalist society requires a trade off. To succeed in business involves sacrificing such responsibilities as being with one’s family often when they need you, putting aside personal feelings and empathy when they interfere with the bottom line, being single minded of purpose while failing to consider a larger purpose, the community, and trying to destroy one’s competition who is seeking to destroy you. Capitalism is no nirvana. It is very hard on its participants, but you’d never know it they way it is touted in the media. Refusing to accept blindly the demands of capitalism, I realized I’d have to compromise, remember who I am, and keep in mind those who love and depend on me. I refused to let the system make me into someone else.