“Can I be you when I grow up?” the lady at the gas station asked because she drooled over my little foreign sports car. She made me laugh. It feels good to be envied.
But if she only knew! I have been at the extreme opposite end of the feeling. I remember driving my teenage son’s old station wagon while the family car was having engine repairs. His sister would scrunch down in the passenger seat when the big old hunk of junk would backfire, puff smoke and die at inopportune moments. One day a frustrated motorist shouted, “Fix it or park it, lady!”
We both felt near tears but we laughed instead and said we were driving a big, white house shoe.
Pride and humiliation—I wonder if they are innate in us or if they’re learned.
Our parents teach us to take pride in our accomplishments and feel disappointment and embarrassment when we fail. Or perhaps they merely encourage what is already there.
School teachers use pride and shame to encourage good behavior and study. The very system of grading supports comparison of ourselves to other students. Maybe even class “show and tell” gets us started on that path.
Advertisers encourage this thinking, of course, in order to sell goods and services. They know everyone wants to throw the ball like a sports hero, cook like a professional chef, look like a model, and charm like a movie star. Owning what our heroes own or recommend is surely the way to be enviable.
Some of the newest advertising uses shame as well, portraying young people whispering behind someone’s back. Human imagination convinces us we could be the subject of secret derision if we don’t use that product, drive that vehicle or wear that brand.
We are not allowed to see the heartache involved, the plastic surgery, clothes altering, photo airbrushing, contract negotiations or legal wrangling that goes on behind product promotions. We only see what they want us to see.
The same is true of my beautiful car. Success is the finished product you see. You are not allowed to see my fourteen-hour days behind the counter at Quik Trip, hauling rocks up the side of a mountain, living in the back of an office or driving the big, white house shoe.
If that young lady who was jealous of my car could have known the path I’ve walked, would she have been willing to trade places with me? Or would she have said, “No, thank you! I’ll keep the life I’m comfortable with”?