In retrospect, my parents modeled a bit of an “us vs. them” thought process during my childhood. This showed up more profoundly in some spheres than others, and there a few ways that it was actually helpful. For example, my parents were careful stewards of our finances. Frivolous expenses were quickly identified and pro-actively prevented, and advertisements selling such wildly un-necessary items were painted as someone wanting to trick you into giving up your money to them for something that was far from worthwhile.
As I moved forward into the world and into various educational and professional pursuits, I found myself quickly disabused of this “us vs. them mentality” in most areas of life. It has unfortunately and persistently hung on in some ways, but most frequently its just a whisper in my head that tells me to not spend the money on something that I was considering purchasing.
Even there, though, I have to be careful. Being impulsive with one’s finances is never a good thing, but there’s such a thing as letting those same finances rule you, as well.
Last week, I had a break from class. I’m not on a large campus right now, but attending a small arts school that’s far detached from the parent university’s main campus. As such, I spend my time in one of two buildings that are across a pleasant Massachusetts street from each other, and nestled among various other small, local shops and restaurants. Immediately next to the building in which I have class, there’s an independent bookstore that I wandered into during my break. I love these types of bookstores… an environment that feels precarious in our digital marketplace. This one had a wealth of different books in different genres, ranging form political non-fiction to plays to current bestsellers. I paused and glanced through some acting books, and then flipped quickly through a book on dancing. I found myself wondering about the number of titles on performing arts, such as acting and dance. While I’m certainly no dancer, I’ve read my share of acting books, and I know that a very few of them would be classified as excellent books. I’ve become a bit wary, in fact, of such non-fiction, and found myself glancing dismissively through the dancing text. I could suddenly hear that old caution from my parents echoing in my subconscious…this was someone trying to trick a reader into paying for something that wasn’t worthwhile.
Now, before you look at me too judgementally, I stopped this thought process in its tracks quickly. I can’t judge the quality of that book, because, as I said, I’m no dancer (even though I did marry one). I think that the “us vs. them” mentality is harmful in this area, though, because a desire to be a good steward of one’s money can lead one to forego books with suspicion that may, in fact, be excellent books. I hold onto what may perhaps be a naive belief in other writers: most books aren’t written to take advantage of a marketplace in which they can make money for stringing together words. The vast majority of writers are honestly trying to contribute their thoughts to the public sphere, and we all benefit from this.
Now, of course, the opposite can be true, as well…readers that will buy any book because of its subject matter, with complete disregard to the fact that it may well be a poor book. I see this often in religious spheres, my own faith included, and perhaps specifically. This is an exception, though, and not the rule.
What this comes down to is my tendency to distrust others, which frequently isn’t a good thing. We are all better for hearing one another’s thoughts, and we can’t truly know if we disagree with those thoughts until we’ve heard them out.
I’m not saying I’ll buy that book on dance, but the next time I see a book like it, I’ll do my best to push down that nagging suspicion in the back of my mind.