In my youth, I was embarrassed by my family’s wealth and social status. I told nobody where I lived, not even close friends. When driven to school, I would ask to be dropped off out of sight. I later took to walking long distances home.
Now that I am older, I wonder what I was so ashamed of, for all around me everyone is racing to accumulate great fortunes, unrestrained. They are simply choosing to live their lives as my parents chose to: to work their way up the ladder. They too started out with little.
Now I find myself straddling a fine line, encouraging our children to study hard so that they may afford the finer things of life in time, while also teaching them that the accumulation of wealth isn’t the be-all and end-all of everything.
For a while I succumbed to serious blues in comparing myself to professional friends who have enjoyed illustrious careers. Fortunately my beloved is always on hand to offer me more considered perspectives. The best wealth, she perpetually reminds me, is contentment in a little.
We are not living in poverty, that’s for sure. We are doing okay. We’re debt-free. We have each other. We have wonderful views. We have a place here, and a place there. Our kids seem generally happy. We get to spend quality time together.
Perhaps the problem back then was just extremes. We lived in a town which suffered massive deprivation, inequalities and lack of opportunities, while we lived opposite a billionaire, unseen behind tall brick walls. Perhaps I was right to be ashamed of the way we lived our lives, when just eight miles down the road whole neighbourhoods lived in abject poverty.
Or perhaps it was the contradiction with every Christian teaching we were raised on. I admit that in childhood, I took to heart everything I learned in Sunday School. Perhaps that is why I never chased after the glitter and gold. Perhaps the cognitive dissonance was too troubling for my youthful soul. “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?”
We are now living in a time of economic crisis for whole segments of society. Two million children are growing up in very deep poverty. Inflation is pushing people even further into difficulty. The gulf between the haves and the have-nots is growing wider and wider by the day. No, a chasm has opened up. While many live below the poverty line, we have a government of millionaires. By some estimations, the Chancellor of the Exchequer may himself possess a personal fortune of two-hundred-million.
If I were in government, I think I would feel much like my teenage self: I would be utterly embarrassed and ashamed. How can anyone sleep easily with such inequalities? I never could, that’s for sure.