SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2003        Personal Memory Ethnographies

Tony Hight

My Changing Viewpoint

   My first encounter with the borderlands of class occurred five years ago; at least this is the first time any incident of this nature surfaces to my rememory.  This memory was the first to come to mind when thinking of a time I noticed difference.  It was then that I noticed a difference between the working middle class and the non-working or part-time lower class.  By societal standards, I have always regarded myself as  “middle class.”  As a member of this class I worked hard for what I had and carried with me many involuntary judgments and stereotypes of those regarded as the “lower class.”  During the writing of this paper my viewpoint of this lower class underwent a change and I found that many of those judgments I had were erroneous.

   When I arrived home from another hard day’s work, one of many to support my family, the smell of steaming spaghetti rushed past me as I opened the door.  It was late, I remember the TV being on, but didn’t pay much attention to what was showing.  After our usual chitchat, my wife and I began a discussion about her sister, brother-in-law and infant son.  The discussion involved her brother-in-law’s decision to step down from his newly acquired position in order to make less money so as to qualify for even more governmental assistance than they were already receiving. 

   Many thoughts rushed through my head at the time.  During that time in my life those thoughts were completely justified and based on my beliefs and how I was raised.  To give a comparison, below are my viewpoints then and the thoughts that I have now.

I was outraged!  As a person with a middle class perspective I was taught to work for what I have, support my family on my own and in the event of ever needing any kind of outside assistance, my first goal should be to halt that assistance as soon as possible and begin paying back my debt.

Each person has specific reasons why they make the decisions they do.  While, I still believe in working for what you have and doing your best to support your family I am able to see now that there can be a point where you sacrifice time spent with your family in order to keep up a standard of living.

I just couldn’t believe what I was hearing my wife say.  Suddenly, the television in the background faded away.  I have a short temper and I felt it begin to grow.  This situation really bothered me.  The fact that I was younger and had a family of my own only made my anger hit home harder.  This was when I realized the prejudice I had with select members of the lower class (only those that didn’t try to better themselves).  You see, at one time my family needed the government’s financial help, however, it was only for a short while.  As soon as I possibly could, going by what I thought was right, I had my family off government assistance; thus, once again fully supporting my family.  Now I realize just how obtuse some of those prejudices were.  Again a comparison of some of the judgments I made with how I feel now.


How can these people be so content remaining in a lower class that they actually limit their possibilities in life so much that their life can be made easier by getting more from the government?  And it is my hard earned tax dollars paying for this drivel.

Maybe these people are content because they have their family by their sides.  I get up before my son, put in more than a full days work, and arrive home just in time to put him to bed.  Maybe the money and standard of living isn’t worth it.
   It’s funny, now, when I think back to the thoughts I had at the time.  In my memory I can see my mouth moving but now find myself dubbing different words on top.  Words that shed a different light on what I thought then and the stupidity of how it sounds to me now.  Below I will give an example of this situation. 


I put in long hours and work very hard to provide for my family and will do whatever it takes to provide for them without outside assistance.  I give my kids everything they need and try my best to give them everything they want.  And here are these people actually turning down more money just so they can stay in the shack they’re in now and continue to live off of my, and the rest of the population’s tax dollars.  How can they possibly be happy living off the government? 

How dare they actually make less money and spend more time with their family.  How can they possibly enjoy living a lower standard of life – lower as viewed from my perspective, the perspective that enjoys money?  How can they live that lower standard of life yet be happier and enjoy life more than I?  How can they find joy in their family, and in the time they share and in the things they do together and not worry about money?

   It’s odd that you can live through an event and then years later, triggered by something (in this case an ethnographic paper), its meaning and your thoughts about that situation can undergo a change.  Seeing this situation through my brother-in-law’s eyes has allowed me to see things from a different perspective.  It has shown me that money isn’t everything and that family is the most important thing.  What good is providing for my family when I’m too busy to spend time with them?  I now do my best to balance work and family.  I still find myself, from time to time, worrying about that extra hour of overtime or taking that extra half a day off to go to a school function for my son, but it soon passes and I realize that one hour or one day isn’t going to force us to live on the streets.  And it will mean more to my son to have me at home then working that those extra few hours a week. 

I can now see why my brother-in-law chose not to move up in his company and continued to stay on government assistance.  This does not mean, however, that everyone should step down from their jobs and go on assistance, but I do think everyone needs to look at the time they spend at work and the time they spend with family and see if the scale is tipped in the wrong direction.  Whereas once I couldn’t look at my brother-in-law without distaste due to the prejudices I had, my changed viewpoint now allows me to see the thanks that I owe him. 

 Return to Personal Memory Ethnographies homepage