10/11/2010

I went to the bank  last Friday. I was in a queue behind a middle-aged blonde woman. She was dressed in all black, spotted a deep red lipstick and was carrying a  big black gold-embroidered handbag  I don’t know why but her image made me think of   madams  – not that I’ve met any but after too much tv, books and being a general Billy no-mates, you tend to build a picture. She also made me think of perpetual jet-setters or the ‘it’s-my-sole-purpose-in-life-to-keep-up-with-the-joneses’ types. I waited for my turn, after a few minutes I heard:

“Alright, that’s sorted,”  then the girl behind the counter handed her a slip. I thought she was done, so I made a few steps forwards, leaning and readying myself to be served. But she wasn’t done,  for the girl behind the counter went back to punching something into the computer. The woman noticed my move, I noticed that she noticed me too, so I swiftly looked away, to a poster on the wall.  She then moved to block my view of the counter and put a big arm around the side of the counter that I was standing near to. Then I got the picture. She thought I was looking at her details! Wow. She continued throwing cautious glances at me whilst guarding this space even more. I decided to move a further steps back. Give her the piece of mind that she so desperately wanted. When it was my turn, the girl behind the counter said hello then immediately added:

“Just to say, you were standing very close to my last customer there.”

“Was I? I…”

“Just telling you because people can be funny with these things.”

Of course they can. I saw it. But I wasn’t standing too close, I only moved closer because I thought she was done and when I realised she wasn’t, I retreated, but hey. Now think about that, and then think trust, mistrust, security.

Why those word? Because coincidentally I was reading this highly insightful and thought-provoking book: The Spirit Level, Why Equality is Better for Everyone by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. There is a chapter on community life and social relations. Here they discuss how in unequal societies (focusing on income inequality, which essentially affects things such as social status) people tend not to trust each other more compared to egalitarian societies. They live in fear and are constantly trying to either a.) protect what they have or b.) keep away from those people they considered out of their social circles, which ultimately is not good of all of us. For those higher in the ladder, they live with constant fear, for those lower in the ladder they live with the worry of lacking in something and not belong, so everyone is affected.

This  incident could not be more apt. Here are some illuminating quotes:

Inequality , not surprisingly, is a powerful social divider, perhaps because we all tend to use differences in living standards as markers of status differences. We tend to choose our friends from among our near equals and have little to do with those much richer or much poorer. And when  we have less to do with other kinds of people, it’s harder for us to trust them. Our position in the social hierarchy affects who we see as part of the in-group and who as out-group – us and them – so affecting our ability to identify with and empathize with other people.

(…)

With greater inequality, people are less caring of one another, there is less mutuality in relationships, people have to fend for themselves and get what they can – so, inevitably, there is less trust. Mistrust and inequality reinforce each other.

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