For Some Folks, Life Is a Hill

You may be born at the bottom, but the bottom was not born in you.

Comments: 215

  1. Mr Blow is an inspiring man
    To be read whenever one can,
    Defies condescension,
    Climbs hills despite tension,
    And I am a Charles M Blow fan!

  2. He's full of wit and charm
    Always has visuals and numbers
    With his words, never does harm
    Each column a jewel we long remember
    I, too, a fan I am
    Of this very precious man

  3. Can I subscribe to your limericks? I'm an LE fan!

  4. You are an inspiration and one of the finest examples around to follow as a writer, thinker, as a parent, and as a human.

    Everyone finds hills along the way. For some, those hills seem like mountains. For all, the climb is easier with the support of those around them. This applies to the disabled and elderly for sure, but it applies to the rest of us as well. You are absolutely correct:

    "Those who espouse such arguments must root for failures so that they’re proved right. They need their worst convictions to be affirmed: that other people’s woes are due solely to their bad choices and bad behaviors; that there are no systematic suppressors at play; that the way to success is wide open to all those who would only choose it."

    Just last week there Derek Thompson wrote a great article in The Atlantic about the so-called bad judgment of poor people. As it turns out, the choices they make are the correct ones for their situations.

    Don't listen to those who promote values you know run counter to what you know. We need to support each other. The 99ers aren't lazy. There are no jobs. What have Republicans done other than make sure there is no recovery? No health? No food aid? No student aid? No fixing of bridges and roads?

    Life is better and not quite so harsh when we all travel together. Life is better with honesty and hard work, than not. It takes determination and effort to climb the hill, together. We can do this.

  5. Good thoughts. Rima.

    As the author George Eliot wrote, "What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult to each other?"

  6. Much as I admire Rima Regas as a human being, and wish her every success in overcoming medical issues she alluded to in her recent Obamacare posts, it pains me to read some of the statements she makes here.

    To in effect disparage scholarly work which concludes that poverty cannot be overcome largely by pointing to racism, is to do nothing to help its victims. When you flail away at the straw man of those who make unthinking (or worse) comments about "laziness", you suggest you are bereft of useful ideas on the subject. Significant scholarly work has been done on the subject of family breakdown and poverty, work which suggests the thrust of today’s column is in error. To simply define away “breakdown” to bolster your argument, as does Mr. Blow in his column today, is unlikely to contribute much to the debate.

    Every thinking person knows that African-Americans were oppressed in this country for centuries. Though I opposed Mr. Obama’s elections on policy grounds, nevertheless I also felt a great swell of pride in the fact that this country could elect a black man to the most important job in the world. Clearly we’ve made progress since the 1950’s and earlier. But none of this advances a workable solution to poverty. Again, to say in effect that researchers whose work takes issue with Mr. Blow and Ms. Regas are rooting for failure, is not the intellectual approach I was taught growing up in a very liberal family.

  7. Tom,

    I don't know how you construed that I was disparaging anything. There are often many layers to societal problems. While the election of our president undoubtedly signifies progress, we still have many rivers to cross.

  8. Another gem of a column from Charles Blow.

    "Simply because we were licked a hundred years before we started is no reason for us not to try to win."

    Harper Lee---To Kill a Mockingbird.

  9. I was fortunate to be born far closer to the top of the hill than the bottom. While I've certainly faced struggles in life, I've always been lucky to have family and financial resources to help, and a society more interested in helping me succeed rather than fail. As such, I really don't have personal knowledge of the struggles that people born towards the bottom of the hill face.

    But I do have the power of observation which readily shows how difficult our society makes it for people at the bottom of the hill to make it even part way up. I know that we do not provide the same educational opportunities for poor children of color as we do to well-off white kids. I know that our society far too often wrongly assumes that young black men are criminals. I know that poor communities from rural Appalachia to the inner city do not get the investment and support that middle class and wealthy communities do. And I know that we've created a society that relies on a vast low-wage/low-benefit workforce to enable the top 1% to amass even more wealth.

    Finally, I know that we are all better off if those of us who are born closer to the top of the hill do what we can to lower and remove the hurdles in the way of others trying to climb the hill.

  10. The compassion we have for one another makes all the difference. Like Charles, you're very rich in compassion, WP. Thank you for all you do!

  11. I think you meant to say that we've created a society that relies on the vast wealth of the top 1% to pay 30% of its taxes, and the top 10% to pay for 70% of its fiscal responsibilities.

  12. You nailed it, Mr. Blow. This constant attack on the poor by the plutocrats and the right wing politicians controlled by them is finally becoming the subject of a counter-attack... in this column, in progressive blogs, in labor protests against big box gulags, in the refusal of Seattle machinists to accede to Boeing, in a group of passengers who walked off an airplane in solidarity with a blind man bumped from the flight because his service dog interfered with corporate decorum. Oh, and let's not forget Pope Francis's epic put-down of the capitalist Masters of the Universe and their sadistic crusade against the human race.

    The MOTU have constructed for our climbing pleasure more of a mountain than a hill. There are hordes of zombie propagandists and deficit scolds at every pass, who'd sooner throw us off one of their many manufactured cliffs than look at us. And when we talk about reaching the promised land, let's not strive for the same tippy-top inhabited by the Forbes 400. The struggle should not be to join them, but to beat them. We must build a new society based on humanitarianism, not consumerism.

    In the words of Orwell: " Until they become conscious they will never rebel. And until they have rebelled they cannot become conscious."

    So please keep writing columns like this one. While your words may not penetrate the alleged consciences of the Beltway elites, I think you just raised the consciousness of more than a few incipient rebels out here in the real world.

  13. Karen,

    It's not the Right Wing Politicians who are giving $85 Billion a month to Wall St. and the 1%, it's the Obama Administration! Don't leave them out!

  14. Richard: perhaps the main reason why the Fed (not Obama), led by a Bush 43 appointee, is buying $85 billion a month of U.S. treasury bills, is to keep the American economy from collapsing.

    The Obama administration has been spending the past 5 years valiantly trying to clean-up the mess left by the right-wing circus since Reagan.

    I just watched a video of Americans beating the stuffing out of other Americans over a television at a Walmart somewhere in our once great land.

    Is this what we have become: worse than animals?

    At least predators have an excuse, as in trying to avoid starvation.

  15. Your inclusion of the Orwell quote puzzles me. You write of columns like this one having the potential to raise consciousness. The quote, with consciousness and rebellion each being a prerequisite of the other, speaks of the impossibility of realizing that potential. I hope your own vision is closer to the truth.

  16. It must be galling for Mr. Blow to read his fellow conservative opinionators. One is forever writing about honor and virtue while defending the party that has none. The other sees a future utopia of conservative populism spearheaded by Ron Paul and Mike Lee. These spokesmen for the unspeakable were born on the top of the hill, and the vistas they see are unobstructed by tenements and poverty and crime and other side effects of "chaotic" neighborhoods, a left-handed euphemism used by one of these writers for the people born at the bottom of the hill.

    The climb is hard enough without the smug and self-satisfied forever justifying the different levels of society, unaware that their own success is as much an accident of birth as the circumstances that hold others down. One meek and mild pundit says that people of "quality" will rise to the top, while lesser sorts will remain at the bottom, no matter how much public money is wasted in the effort. This is just another way of saying that the bottom of the hill is where some people belong. It's born in them.

    Working hard is one way up the hill, but it's a hard enough climb without a government that stacks the deck against the poor, cuts food assistance, closes schools or makes education unaffordable, and generally makes the climb harder. There are few who support and defend the rights of all people as eloquently as Mr. Blow, but there's no end to the people who are ready to obstruct and block the path up the hill.

  17. @gemli ~ Agree with you that " There are few who support and defend the rights of all people as eloquently as Mr. Blow,..." And your comments consistently and eloquently do similar. I respect and learn from your writing as well as Mr. Blow's. Thank you to both of you.

  18. Gemli,

    How are things on Beacon St. These days? There are still an awful lot of "Limousine Liberals" around most of our major cities and D.C.

  19. The last few years have brought a string of inspirational movies and documentaries about struggles against the hill, Stand and Deliver, The Help, 42, The Butler, The African Americans, The Latinos, The March on Washington, The Perfect Game, etc.

    I know for my own experience that this history of struggle inspires those at every level of the hill, including those young leader with whom I I spent the last few days. And I know the kids they work with every day are making huge progress, in spite of massive challenges at home and in the neighborhood.

    I know there are so many more like Charles Blow out there in the pipeline, sustaining progress.

  20. The really incomprehensible move, are the ones that make it to the top of the hill, and then pull that ladder up after them. They refuse to reach down and give the next person a hand up.

  21. And then there's what we do when we fall down that mountain or hill -- that's important, too, I think, including for those who were born near a peak. That trajectory can be a life journey, too.

  22. People succeed more often because they are sacrificing their immediate needs for the benefit of their children. The end of poverty means their children must succeed too.

  23. I agree in part and disagree in part with this essay. I agree that (very) hard work is typically necessary to advance upward along life's hill, especially if one has started from the bottom. And I know that resilience and faith are required to cope with the setbacks often encountered along the way.

    But I disagree that hard work is inevitably its own reward. Hard work frequently results in failure. In some instances, hard work is greeted with barriers imposed by others seeking to displace a competitor's advance, especially if the competitor is from a group that has not traditionally been expected to advance.

    It is indeed a bitter pill when hard work results in failure or additional discrimination or new setbacks. Those who have encountered disappointing results or additional obstacles need to be grounded in the faith that additional work will lead to a tangible reward, whether financial, reputational or in the learning attained on life's journey.

  24. An excellent point, that hard work is not a guarantor of success and can indeed attract the wrong sort of attention.

    Ultimately, Mr. Blow's point still stands, but it is important to understand these additional hurdles.

  25. A.N.,

    Working hard by itself is often not enough, not because "The man is holding you down", but because if you want more out of life than just a job you must do more than "just work hard". Many people work hard all their lives and advance only a short distance from their starting place.

    There is nothing wrong with this, in the past it was known as "The Dignity of Labor". Today it has somewhat gone out of style. That said you can still earn a good living with a modest education and hard work. If you desire more then you must be willing to do more,

    One path involves being willing to be responsible for the work of others. Education definitely helps in this, but is not by itself enough today. Many college graduates have discovered this in the last 5 years. To be successful you must bring something to your job past just an education. The job must be something you want to do and you must communicate that to those around you by deeds as well as words. Ability performing a job does not directly translate into success supervising others doing the same job. Here education and experience help, with experience being more valuable than education.

    Transitioning from "working for others" to "working for yourself" requires more space than is allowed here. There is one point that can be made, that is "Determination" counts for more than anything else when working for yourself,

  26. The social world rotates around gathering low hanging fruit. For the poor this is unhelpful and inaccurate. It is astronomically more important for every oppressed person to first be strong. No one will tell you that.

    The poor lack credibility. That means they cannot call the police, talk to the teacher, and must conceal the continual wounds of vulnerability. It isn't the herculean force that wins for most, but the rigid daily mantra of persistence. Every strength must be tuned and ready for performance. This effort must be preformed with little guidance and zero reward.

    I guess it also means that what survivors hate most is people who lie or lazy people who portray some social manipulation as salvation. The work is about being eternal and vigilant. Maybe it will never win, but truth will be your companion. While it doesn't make life easy, it is a gem of credibility.

  27. "Breakdown of the family"

    From the ideologues of the right (including your Times colleagues Brooks and Douthat), that's the go-to explanation for poverty - never the slightest understanding that poverty can be so oppressive that it can destroy families and, increasingly these days, prey on young people so much as to inhibit them from starting families.

    The truth is that if you have a hill to climb, your determination to climb it is opposed by more than mere gravity, which can always be overcome. Today's prevailing economic forces can kick you right back down. Their existence is no accident; they are the inevitable result of policies that favor the already favored.

    Mr. Blow, this was an admirable piece of writing. I would have added just one more piece of advice. If you are at the bottom and you want to climb, one of the ways up is to get out and vote, get your friends to vote. There are more of you than there are of those who would keep you down. And don't just vote once every four years. Vote every time you have the chance. Above all, vote whatever obstacles are put in your way.

  28. Reality check: voting is, like remarriage, the triumph of hope over experience. Until every office has a one-term limit, the most important thing for winners of elections is to do whatever is necessary to win the next election.

  29. @Nat Erlich

    It’s the funding, not the terms that is the problem. A good Senator (such as Herb Kohl, who served my state for many years) should not be booted if voters want him or her. Term limits would likely result only in a series of puppets propped up by the Party. It is the incessant fund-raising that is the problem.

  30. Most people are not trying to climb to the top of the hill. They just want to live at the level they are, or slightly higher if possible, or slightly lower if necessary. They want security, honorable work, the ability to provide for family, things like that. The basic explanation for why not everyone who tries is able to get this, is that there are not enough such stable life slots in our society and not enough are being created.

    Many poor people move in and out of trying to make it partway out. If most of them succeed when they try, their example will inspire others to try and the number of poor will drop. If most of them do not get much of anywhere if they try, others will see that this sort of trying does not work,

    Long absence of paths to modest success degrades cultures. Perhaps the presence of these paths will help strengthen them.

  31. The problem is that Republican power brokers want to turn every hill into a mountain and add greater burden to all those climbing.

    For those facing low wages, their solution is to get rid of the minimum wage. For those facing food insecurity, cut the SNAP program. For those without health insurance, cut out the Medicaid expansion.

    Think of the heaviest package you've ever had to carry up a flight of stairs. Then, think of carrying it one hundred flights. It would be impossible for all but a very few.

    Now think of the economically insecure carrying such a burden, endlessly up a hill that grows ever higher.

    Nobody believes in hard work more than I do but really, I see millions of Americans struggling to feed, clothe and house themselves and their families all the while working hard to climb those hills. We have millions of "world-class climbers' already. As a nation, they get no credit for their efforts. Mostly, they are relentlessly demonized and degraded.

    Times have changed since the Great Recession and policies like sequestration are the ones gaining traction, making the journey to economic security ever harder, ever longer and ever steeper.

  32. "As a nation, they get no credit for their efforts. Mostly, they are relentlessly demonized and degraded."

    Sadly, you are correct. They get demonized and degraded all the while those who do the demonizing stack the deck against the kids some more, for good measure.

    I keep hoping that those who suffer greatly from the mean spiritedness will finally decide they've had enough; that a working society isn't a dog eat dog world.

  33. Republicans want to turn every hill into a mountain? So you believe in absolutes correct? Every is an absolute. Under Obama the top 7% saw a 24.3% increase in income while the bottom 93% saw a 4% decrease. I thought that wasn't suppose to happen.So does your absolute apply now?

    What don't liberals get about sequestration.Obama agreed to it return for raising the debt ceiling. And he said he would veto any attempt to block it.

    As a Republican why would I want to work with Democrats? During the budget shutdown we were terrorists, anarchists, hijackers, bombs strapped to our chests. So after all these slurs and malicious comments I am just suppose to forget it?

    7 years ago when McConnell threatened to use the nuclear option Harry Reid, Joe Biden,Barack Obama, Chuck Schumer spoke of the horrible effects of implementing it, that the rules that existed had worked and Reid even spoke of the need for filibusters. McConnell was vilified.Now, it's 2013 and suddenly Harry Reid decides to use it. It's horrible when Republicans do it but honorable when Democrats do.

    The mountains I see are the ones that are created by trying destroy each other. We don't have elections, we have character assassinations. We don't discuss, we condemn. We don't solve, we divide. You can point fingers all you want but until you park your incessant attacks they have absolutely no reason to cooperate. That's a hill that has grown because of 30 second sound bites and special interests. Do enjoy

  34. Your post is perceptive and bang on. It seems that the Republican fanatics will not be satisfied until we have a Charles Dickens economy.

  35. Seems you had a good support system as a child, many do not, and it is up to us to do what we can to counter these deficits.

  36. Mr. Blow, thank you! Being born in a poor family in a poor neighborhood, I cannot agree with you more. Money was scarce during my entire childhood, but II watched my parents, my heroes, climb that hill and make my journey a lot easier. It makes me angry to hear folks from upper middle class bubbles, preaching to the poor about personal responsibility. Insinuating that the poor does not have any.

  37. Thank you for yet another thoughtful and wise column. The truth is that we are all in this together TOGETHER! The ones that think we are not are blind, if they but knew it.

  38. The harder i work the luckier I get.

  39. Excellent and inspiring column, Mr. Blow.

  40. I will be saving this column in order to directly quote it; as Mr. Blow will no doubt continue to support every "spread the wealth" plan under the sun in order to create dependence on government.

  41. ...and I will save it for precisely the opposite reason.

  42. Did you read the entire column, Joe? Or are you commenting on another column? It's difficult to make a connection between your words about Blow's desire to "spread the wealth" and Blow's actual words, "History is cluttered with instances of the downtrodden lifting themselves up. The spirit and endurance that it requires is not a historical artifact but a living thing that abides in each of us, part of the bloodline, written in the tracks of tears and the sweat of toil. If life for you is a hill, be a world-class climber." Am I missing something? Can I buy a vowel?

  43. The late great Oseola McCarty climbed that hill.

    She was the elderly washerwoman who gave away practically every dollar she made to endow a scholarship fund for poor students in Mississippi and became a symbol of selfless giving.

    Oseola McCarty gave away a life savings of $150,000 to help complete strangers get a college education at the University of Southern Mississippi and died in the frame house where she took in laundry and ironing and made her small fortune a dollar or two at a time.

    She decided in 1995 to give away most of her life savings, saying there was nothing in particular she wanted to buy and no place in particular she wanted to go. An only child who had outlived her relatives, she lived a solitary existence, surrounded by rows of clothes she made pretty for people who knew her only as the washerwoman.

    ''I'm giving it away so that the children won't have to work so hard, like I did,'' she said.

    The selflessness of her gift would bring her worldwide attention. She was honored by the United Nations, President Clinton and received 300 awards. People all over the world knew who she was and what she did.

    ''People treated her like a monument,'' said her traveling companion.

    Contributions from over 600 donors have added some $330,000 to the original scholarship fund of $150,000.

    After hearing of Miss McCarty's gift, Ted Turner gave away a billion dollars.

    He said 'if that little woman can give away everything she has, then I can give a billion.'


  44. Occasionally in life I have had a close friend who gets in a HUGE financial bind, for one reason or another, and is just desperate for help... I have learned the very best way to be a friend to someone in dire need is to write out a check for whatever amount you can afford, then state: "This is a gift, not a loan -- and I only wish it could be more!!!"

    When people have been tossed around in life and face heavy burdens, a "loan" is the last thing they need to be worrying about having to pay back... It would just add another craggy ledge to their current precarious position on the hill.

    Luck and hard work helped a lot of people up the hill, and Charles is right that we must reach back and toss a rope to others. As perilous as our economy is right now, I urge everyone reading this to step up and help your friends and family during these holidays. It's just the right thing to do, and you can sleep better at night, too...

  45. I did not know about this remarkable woman. Thank you for your post. I now intend to investigate her story.

  46. When we allowed globalization to destroy our jobs, eliminate investment & steal our dignity, we made the hill much higher & steeper. That is no reason to stop trying but we still need to challenge those that make it harder.

  47. Mr. Blow, that is quite a list of things you disapprove of or dislike. Clearly you are not a Republican in ideology, temperament or spirit. Congratulations you appear to be a human being with a fair and open mind with the temerity to suggest that what should be a road to success, aside from being born a wealthy while male Christian with a head start at birth, is actual personal merit such as intelligence, honesty, determination, commitment, knowledge, patriotism, skills and a sense of justice and fair-mindedness, regardless of invidious categories. My goodness, you sound like a Democrat maybe even a liberal. Good for you.

  48. I think Mr. Blow sounds like a principled and perceptive man with a well defined moral core.

  49. And some hills are steeper than others. I wonder if I'll ever see the view from the top.

  50. Great column. I don't see who could disagree with it.

  51. It is also unfortunate when people hold people back when they have physical and emotional handicaps.Through no fault of their they may have a illness like MS, MD, or HIV. How many employers will look at people with HIV and balk..But look at people who got it through no fault of their own. Arthur Ashe is a great example. As a result of the example he set he made it possible for believe to achieve that they can, all races and faiths can overcome. When he passed his legacy was cemented in history. And as a result of the class and dignity in which he carried himself they named the new US Tennis Center after him.A fitting tribute to a great man.

    I am an idealist. I'd like to think that colleges would admit people not because of a test score but the potential they can bring, their talents, their ideas.I'd like to think we can elect a president and not have the issue of his race decide his ability to serve. I'd like to think that employers could put aside long standing bigotry and hate and give everyone a fair shot at a job, that instead of corporate profit they'd reinvest in the community, and not just their gated one.

    I'd like to think that we could give as much as possible so that a nation does not have hungry kids, who don't have their vaccinations, who go to school so that maybe, just maybe they can achieve their dream. People have to let go of hate, not judge by color but by the character and attributes he possesses.I believe it can happen It must happen if we are to heal

  52. I see things similarly to Mr. Blow, though I formulate it somewhat differently.
    I’m skeptical of any glib notions of the power of positive thinking.
    But I am very convinced of the power of negative thinking.
    If you believe that you do not have a chance in this society, then you truly don’t.

  53. Very revitalizing article and at a time when most readers can appreciate that the struggle many of us share is a universal one! We should embrace this discussion and recognize, despite personal successes and either good fortune or luck, many people struggle to make the summit! There are many proud people who refuse to take hand outs and would rather try and fail or fall then not try at all!

  54. Reading your thoughts, I thought of the frustration I felt after having read "Orange is the New Black". The book was written by an upper class white girl who went to all of the best schools, got into some really sleazy situations, and ended up in federal prison.
    This story is the story of many people of color that start at the bottom of the hill, yet it is because it happened to a privileged white woman, that it was published.

    The author started at the top of the hill, and no matter how far she fell, she was still somehow better than the people she shared her cell with. I hope she uses some of her wealth from that story to try and help the people she spent time with behind bars. She darn well better have come out a liberal.

  55. While I agree that, for some folks, life is a hill, I think it is a bad idea to allow victimhood to define oneself. I am a descendant of poor Irish, Chinese and Puerto Rican immigrants. All of them were treated like dirt. But at no point did they allow themselves to use discrimination or injustice as an excuse for where they were in life. They all believed in the American Dream, and they decided to work hard to improve their own lives and the lives of their children. All this talk of victimhood does little good but much bad.

  56. This was the same with my family. They considered all the things, good and bad, that life threw at you as things you needed to overcome. No thoughts of being a victim were allowed. If you allow yourself to become a victim of your circumstances you will never live and will never have a better life.

  57. Wow, did you miss the point.

  58. A sermon I still remember was about the minister being approached on the street by a man down on his luck; he expected to be asked for money. That's not how the story ended, but he--a servant of God--was so completely honest about his feelings of impatience and even dread toward this stranger. He felt like an easy mark in his collar.

    Dread? Disgust? What a change from the usual blandness about honoring all those we meet; the Good Samaritan; etc. I quietly let go of some shame.

    I didn't have to go through life Teflon-coated in an unrealistic level of goodness that, for me, is just never going to happen. His honesty met me where I really was on the hill, not where I thought I should be.

  59. Life is a hill, You can be born at the bottom of the hill and climb. You can be born at the top and fall. Some stand on a ledge most of their lives fearing the fall, afraid of the climb. But all ascents are not without risk, all ascents require preparation, Many falls come with many great climbs up the hill. Most assuredly those born somewhere on the hill not at the bottom face a perilous path as well, for once the view has been good, the deep valley is foreboding, many stumble down never to rise again. With many stuck in the mud at the bottom never to rise.
    Those who make to the top of the hill, should be tossing ropes over the edge helping others up. After all some climbers are better than others.

  60. "I don’t buy into the mythology that most poor people are willfully and contentedly poor, happy to live with the help of handouts from a benevolent big government that is equally happy to keep them dependent." All well and good, but the reference to "big government" I find offensive. Big government got a lot of people to college a generation ago, that now have no hope to get there. Many minorities are experiencing a much fuller life now as the second generation of that help from "big government". I do not find fault with "big government" at all. It eliminated a whole generation of folks from having to feel like they are victims stuck at the bottom of a hill, that looks and is many cases is, just to big to climb, at least not very far. Also, the "hand outs" that you refer to I remember very well as a young school teacher. Those hand outs provided dental care of children in my class of second/third graders, so they were not in pain and could pay attention in class. It also provided glasses for another restless student, who I found out from a home visit, could not see the board, living with his grandmother (lucky for him!) in a dark shack, heated with a wood stove and lit with a kerosene lamp. This was forty years ago. Where are these children now? They did well, with grandchildren by now.

  61. I do believe, Ms. Egeli, that Mr. Blow was using the term big government to describe the oh so trendy perspective of the conservative movement that uses that term to infer tyranny from the central state. To push the perverse logic that extending a helping hand to the suffering and downtrodden is not noble and worthy, but somehow sinister and driven to enslave. Best line in a dynamite essay, I might add.

  62. Ms Egeli, Mr Blow fully agrees with you.
    That's why he refers to the standard right-wing tropes that you're correctly decrying and debunking, as a "mythology."
    He's entirely on your side here.

  63. "Family" obviously can be defined many ways. The problem is that we have a traditional, nuclear definition that has delivered outcomes in the rearing of children and the provision of companionship into old age unto death that pretty much works for the vast majority of human types and has for about as long as we've had history; and that the other definitions of "family", while respectful of the intensifying desire for diversity in society, haven't yet proven themselves and may turn out to be a crapshoot that rolls craps. Individuals have a lot to win and less to lose in such experiments (and until they've been in place for generations, they remain just that), but societies have quite a lot to lose while the gains, IF they're realized despite the risks, might not equal what's lost.

    We're seeing dystopian results from broken homes in life-outcomes of children reared in them, and in some non-traditional families. That's hard to ignore.

    But your hill analogy is a very good one. None of us chooses where on that hill we're born, but if we wish to have fulfilled, productive lives, we must all climb it, despite the distance and the slope; and it doesn't help much to cry about that stark reality. As a society, we can find ways to help, but in the end it's the individual who does the climbing ... or doesn't.

  64. I take issue, again, with the idea that "broken homes" leads to a dystopian result. I was married, had that much-vaulted nuclear family, but my husband chose not to work and instead chose to drink and be abusive. Once I dumped him, our family began to heal and my children have only benefited. So sometimes, to stretch that metaphor further, if you have people who deliberately sabotage your efforts to climb that hill, it's best to shed them, especially if they weigh too much to drag them screaming and kicking up the hill with you.

  65. Jackie:

    Take issue all you wish. But I'd suggest that the baggage one encounters on the climb is simply part of the climb. Glad to hear that you and your children are doing well and still climbing, despite needing to shed some baggage along the way.

  66. We each need to consider whether we want a significant portion of the next generation to be faced with unnecessary hills (which just happen to provide major benefits for a segment of our population, at their expense) or whether we want to learn what it is that is creating those needless hills, and remove them?

    Henry George (b. 1839, Philadelphia; d. 1897, NYC, running for mayor for the 2nd time) showed us the structures that produce those needless hills, and how to level them to create a level and less pot-holed playing field -- a fair field and no favor -- for all of us to live on. The text was "Progress and Poverty" and it inspired a generation.

    We'd be much better off if more of us knew its analysis and proposal. P&P is online -- see,, and numerous websites;

    We CAN create a better social and economic environment for our children and grandchildren, so they aren't faced with spending their lives climbing dumb hills set in front of them by structures created by avarice and legalized by our elected "representatives."

    Look for "The Crime of Poverty" if you want a short introduction.

  67. "History is cluttered with instances of the downtrodden lifting themselves up."

    Right, but history records the feats of heroes and bigger than life winners. It's a good thing we have them, but a lot of the downtrodden and us middle class people folks just don't have that hero fibre. But we can and should do our part and contribute what we can to make our society a better place to live for all.

    A few weeks ago, I read the following in The NYTimes: " Equality is not a biological imperative, it's an ethical choice."

    In a democracy, everyone has a say, even the downtrodden and us imperfect mortals. We can vote away a lot of injustice, we can vote away the 1%ers' strangle hold on everything that matters to regular people. We can do everything we can dream of. Voting is so important that a lot of our ancestors died to obtain it. It's the only thing the owners of the univers fear.

    With our votes, we can level the playing field, and thus help our friend born at the bottom of the hill rise to the top without having to be world-class climbers.

  68. I support everything you have said, however a political solution is made more difficult when the political hacks working for the 1% gerrymander congressional districts into an impregnable far right fortress. The political route will take time and patience.

  69. Earlier this week I spent a day with a group of young men from Washington DC who are climbing one of the steepest hills of all: they were juveniles who were tried, sentenced and incarcerated as adults. They also chose to become members of Free Minds Book Club and Writing Workshop.

    Now after serving their time, they serve as ambassadors and continue to use poetry to educate DC youth, and raise awareness of the injustices of the justice system. Meanwhile, they find it almost impossible to rent an apartment, find a job, and be treated fairly by anyone.

    They are world-class climbers and I am going to send them this column, Charles. Thank you for giving voice to their courage!

  70. Even people above subsistence need a realistic promise of some success in order to push. There needs to be some perception of a path with reward, and that it is a realistic path for the individual. They also have to see members of their group, whatever that group is, having some success, to stir their ambitions.

    It's a combination of motive created by the means and opportunity. People in a discriminated or kept down class, often don't even know the talents they possess to develop. That has historically applied to all groups assigned a more limited role in society-- woman, and racial/ethnic groups thought inferior or lacking in some way by the dominant group.

    Thus acceptance of their lot and resignation are often more common reactions to discrimination than are determination to work one's head off to succeed. Except for talented exceptions.

    Mr. Blow is obviously a very talented writer and journalist whose abilities combined with opportunities that allowed him to develop his ambitions.

    Our enlightened civil rights laws for women and minorities allowed great progress, but that's being torn down by our economic anti govt policies that weaken economic security for all. As the young see less opportunity--college grads with high debt and fewer jobs with good pay, plus workers with no unions, robbed of their jobs by globalization--their horizons and their ambitions could easily be lowered, rather than stimulated.

  71. "You have it within you to be better than you were." "We honor ourselves in the trying." Wisdom. Pope Francis. The protesting Walmart workers. Charles Blow and the comments he engenders. All of the groups working to help people get a foot up on that hill...the Montana Human Rights Network, PFLAG, Not in Our Town, .the Gender Expansion Project, the list goes on.
    With a columnist like Charles Blow in the New York Times writing about what we all share as humans, maybe those who want to build hills will have less say. I like climbing and being on top of a hill but would not want to live looking down on others. "Trying hard and working hard is it's own reward." And writings by Charles Blow help us create a world where trying hard and working hard can be acknowledged. That single mother working 2 jobs should be getting a livable wage!

  72. Oh my. Then I wanted to add all the people who help people get a foot up on the hill...certain politicians, teachers, parents, wise employers and coworkers, progressive activists ,counselors, social workers, caring relatives and doctors and neighbors and friends , the kindly car mechanic or store clerk- the whole world of people , like those whom Charles Blow mentioned yesterday,that remind us that we do not live in a vacuum and are all interconnected.

  73. My feedback is simple - Bravo. Great post

  74. I believe the largest hurdle to climbing the 'hill' is education. Here in Palm Beach County, home to a large share of the national wealth, public schools are in de facto segregation based on the surrounding community. 'Failing' schools are always in the poorest communities with huge percentages of students receiving subsidized lunches.

    These schools naturally attract less talented educators, less parental involvement and a higher percentage of Spanish and Creole speaking students. Standardized testing takes up an inordinate amount of time in test taking preparation with less time actually educating students. Worst of all, these schools are usually in worse physical condition with less opportunity for extracurricular activities.

    For students in these 'have not' schools, the 'hill' is covered in grease making it nearly impossible to climb. The results are predictable: the cycle of poverty is repeated generation after generation.

    Until resources and incentives are applied to making the playing field level for every student in the entire County, there's little chance for developing World class climbers here.

  75. The next big systemic change after the ACA, in an effort to reduce inequality and increase fairness, should be:

    The reduction of schools' dependency on local property taxes.

    Where I live, for example, the schools in East Boston should be the equal of those in Wellesley. They are not.

    So far, however, it's seen as more important for affluent people to attract other affluent people to their pretty upper middle class towns and villages than to give a leg up to those who are trying to climb.

  76. Your post is perceptive and bang on. Of course some of your fellow Palm Beach neighbours might criticize the broader pooling of resources required to de-grease the hill. That would be "socialism" yes? Or horror of horrors - "re-distribution". It's funny because I would call it an investment in the future of my country - kind of like a Victory Bond investment in the human capital of a nation.

  77. " 'Failing' schools are always in the poorest communities with huge percentages of students receiving subsidized lunches."

    I can't speak for the rest of the United States however I do know that in the state where I live "failing" schools in the poorest communities are the recipients of the highest level of per-student financial aid from state taxpayers and still maintain abysmal results.

    If the infusion of billions of dollars, over countless years, does nothing to turn these schools around then logic should dictate that there must be another way.

  78. I grew up quite literally on the wrong side of the tracks in a blue collar area, partly rural but close enough to town to walk in an hour or so. My problem was what I refer today to as a poverty mentality. I grew up in an alcoholic home filled with inconsistencies, physical and sexual abuse and an inability to feel safe; physically, emotionally or financially. I started school life with teachers shaming me constantly about my dyslexia, a condition they neither understood nor could give me tools to deal with. I became an alcoholic and addict at thirteen and found sobriety at the age of twenty eight. But for many years I still suffered the disability of the misunderstanding that success had much to do about changing my defeatist attitudes and learning how to walk through the fear of being successful. It was such an unknown to me. I started out by learning how to read and comprehend properly, little by little, mostly about my addiction disease at first and then about my codependency. Then came the highest hurdle, learning that I didn't need to stay in one fixed station, that I could indeed become part of the middle class if I worked for that goal. Along the way I had to drop the victimization attitudes that kept me feeling life was against me and that it was now my obligation to strive for success as a defined it. I can only imagine though how much more difficult the journey would have been if I had dark skin, was born gay or in destitute poverty.

  79. This is very true, you can be intelligent, but if you have a background like this, the mentality associated with it is very hard to overcome. It is hard to feel confident and like you are capable of things others are.

  80. A lump in my throat as I read your profile. Thank you for the courage to share your story. I was moved by the lack of self pity in your post, and the perspective at the end about the unjust burdens carried by others - how compassionate!. You seem like a fine man. All the best.

  81. Daniel, congratulations on your successes, and best wishes for further and even greater ones.
    Thank you for your courage in sharing your story, and even more for avoiding the easy traps of smug self-satisfaction, and coming to the crass, unfeeling conclusion that so many others might have done -- of thinking, "hey, I did it; so anyone can do it; so anyone who doesn't has only themselves to blame for it."
    You've learned your most important lessons well.

  82. There are also hills and moutains composed of self-destructive beliefs we aren't born with. We learn. Children learn what they live, how they are treated, what they are told by the significant others in their life--and by the culture in which they live.

    Self-destructive beliefs are also restrictive beliefs which begin to be absorbed during the developmental years, the first 5-7 years of life. And beliefs about ourselves and our capabilities are all powerful. They define what we do or fail to do later in life and whether or not we can overcome obstacles and succeed. We usually can if we believe we can.

    Children who live with criticism, learn to criticize themselves and not take chances, children who live with ridicule, learn to feel bad about themselves, children who live with support and approval, learn to believe they can achieve their goals, children who live with love and words of encouragement learn to feel self-confident and so on.

    There was a study some time ago that discovered that a group of children labeled "invulnerables," who lived in seriously dysfunctional situations succeeded in life because they each had one person in their life who believed in them and supported them so that they believed in themselves. And it only took one person, to make all the difference.

    In President Obama's book, Dreams of My Father, it was his mother who let him know that he could do anything he put his mind to. Yes he can. And he did.

  83. The usefulness of the "life is a hill" analogy depends very much on the shape of the hill. If the wealth distribution curve is "the hill," then the challenge faced by people near the bottom is much greater than that faced by a climber on your average hill.

    The slope of the bottom half of the curve is so flat that one can work very hard to rise up from the 10th or 20th percentile, for example, to the 40th or 50th percentile and receive very little financial benefit for doing so. The curve at that level provides very little reward for hard work.

    Thirty years ago the flatness of the slope for the bottom half of households was a severe impediment to those wishing to improve their lot in life. Today it is much worse. A counter-intuitive consequence of increasing inequality is that it has diminished incentives for people at the bottom to work their way out of low-paying jobs.

    So it is more important for citizens to work together on efforts to change the shape of the curve than for them to work individually (in competition with each other) to try to scale it as is.

    But how? A new idea that might work is published at the blog site

  84. Stuart--I took a very brief look at the blog you mentioned, and bookmarked it for a full read. What struck me in this quick glance is that, while the idea may be new to us progressive types, it has already been fully implemented by the right. There are the ones who vet candidates and issues and set out opinions as to 'best way' to vote, And the ones who follow and act on those opinions. These are Fox News and the 'Dittoheads', with strenuous message discipline.

    For progressives, politics and policy are highly nuanced, with an undisciplined passel of un-herd-able cats unable to agree on most anything at all, let alone listen passively to voter advice.

    And by the way, let's make 'liberal' a label to be proud of again. .

  85. Human beings are full of judgments. We look at a momentary snap shot of a person and think we know them,, their histories, present and future. And yet can we know the depths of a person's struggle just to get out of bed in the morning, brush their teeth, write their signature or read a simple sentence? Under certain circumstances these and many others can be as difficult as climbing a mountain, but because these things easy for us we assume that everyone must find it easy. Without honoring the struggles of the poor, disabled, those down on their luck, single parents or the innumerable efforts so many people make to advance even a little it is easy to look down on those in difficult situations. Honoring a severely depressed person for taking that first step or cheering the dyslexic for reading something correctly honors their great effort and success. How often do we fail to do this in our expectations that people will run before they can walk. If we really wanted to support growth and change we must come to understand and support whatever efforts people make to overcome the challenges in their lives. How often do we write someone off because they do not always fulfill our immediate expectations and in this we suffer the loss of the vast potentials that exist in all of us.

  86. The hill is just as high over here, but in the European Union we do not accept that anyone should remain at the bottom of it - we give them a helping hand by providing free medical care, free education, subsidized leisure activities, a minimum standard of living that provides food, warmth and shelter, free childcare and a minimum of five weeks vacation every year. That is a long way above the bottom of the American hill. Those that can afford it pay more for their food and shelter and childcare, but we all pay for the safety net by paying the tax rates this requires. Public squalor and crimes driven by inequality both decrease, so we all benefit. Our tax rates do not prevent private affluence, they make it more rewarding. This is not socialism, it is common humanity applied to the modern world.

  87. I hope you don't read the many comments in here and particularly in other more conservative sites mocking Europe and their economic policies. We are always being told how the 'socialists' in Europe are bankrupting their countries.

    Vive le France.

  88. "This is not socialism, it is common humanity applied to the modern world."

    It is also very much in line with what the Christ, Jesus, urged us to, according to the Gospels.
    How ironic that the voices most stridently insisting that (all historic and demographic evidence to the contrary) the USA is a "Christian" nation, are also the ones most opposed to a politics, and an economic system, based on such clearly Christian principles.

  89. France has an admirable social contract I agree. France also has many challenges (yes?). Canada also has a strong social contract - and many challenges as well. I would suggest the hill still exists, but our government policies reduce the slope somewhat. Yes?

  90. Whether all the world's a stage or whether all the world's a hill, it boils down to much of the same thing. We're all born into a life that was not of our choosing. Some are born into more favorable circumstances, some not.

    Those born into circumstances at or near the bottom of the hill have to work harder than those born at or near the top of the hill. Whether the people at or near the top of the hill actively conspire to deny those below access to the top is debatable. It certainly seemed that way to me during much of my climb up life's hill, but I confess to living much of my life with a chip on my shoulder. The key point for each person is what choices to make to change their life circumstances for the better.

    Mr Blow chose to achieve. Whether motivated by defiance or ambition, his choice was a commitment to study and work and make choices to further his progress up the hill. His act benefits not only him, but also his family, friends and even strangers who may view him as a role model.

    As Mr Blow aptly demonstrates, individuals who focus more time on choosing to apply themselves rather than fixating on oppression conspiracies, can achieve progress up life's hill.

  91. "Actively conspiring" is nearly irrelevant if the structures are set up to produce those hills. And most of us don't even see those structures.

    Interestingly, the game on which Monopoly is based, created by 1902, seeks to point out those structures. It is called the Landlord's Game.

  92. subtle difference; you can try; progress is not assured.

  93. Nicely observed and written. The only thing missing is the distinction that the bottom of the hill isn't merely economic. Regardless of income, people who are born with sparks of intelligence, drive, charm and talents athletic and artistic begin life with advantages that others don't possess. One of my most successful friends grew up housing-project poor. He credits his success to hard work and talent, yes, but also to the gene he was born with that gave him the desire to work hard.

    We should do more to provide easier trails to success for those who have the desire to climb them. And for those who do not wish to climb we should provide the basic minimums for a life free from gnawing worries about food, shelter and health.

    And, in fairness, we should also reduce support for those at the top and enable them to fall more easily and further when they fail. If we reduce support for those at the top, there will quickly come more support for those at the bottom.

  94. Sorry, there's no such "gene" to "work hard". Only a gene that allows Whites to hate and oppress people for 450 years based solely on their Race. The notion that those who are destroyed by hate and discrimination don't have the "work hard" gene is simply an excuse, a justification for discrimination and while we do our best to avoid such people let's not fool ourselves as to what their vicious game is.


  95. The will to be and do better is all well and worth the effort. And some succeed, and those are highlighted and praised. Others, devoid of love and family, even out of ignorance or lack of will may not;instead, 'choose' an apparent easy way out with the elements available in a hostile environment, drugs, violence; even prostitution, in their own flesh or by pimping. No diversity in a ghetto; despair and anguish are ubiquitous, no possible escape envisioned, no diversity to speak of, with a contrasting high society 'next door'...but closed, or at least perceived to be off limits as long as poverty gets in the way. It has been shown that, once homeless, it is almost impossible to escape it; we cease to belong, we become the 'other', the 47percenters of the 'romneys' of this world. There is a remedy of course, a government that shows empathy and help the poor learn to help themselves; fully recognizing that a job is what is needed, affordable housing, a decent salary to reduce inequality; proper education and health; and consider them part of us and not the 'other' (our current predicament). In brief, there are few who wouldn't want to improve their lot in life, if given the chance. Constructive criticism if you have to, by all means; but try walking in their shoes first.

  96. I agree with all you say here, Charles, but what about the institutional impediments to success?

    With a tax code that allows super wealthy individuals and corporations to avoid paying their fair share of taxes while imposing severe burdens on the middle class, a criminal justice system which incarcerates mainly the poor and powerless for non-violent "crimes" which are mere lifestyle choices for the moneyed class, a political system driven by big money in which the working class citizen has next to no chance of being elected, or even getting on the ballot, and job opportunities rare to non-existent because it's more profitable for American owners to move their companies overseas, what chance does a poor boy or girl have to climb that hill and become self-sustaining and productive?

    Yes, there are encouraging exceptions who manage to make it, but the deck is stacked against the vast majority of Americans who are not making it and can see no light at the end of a long, dark, cold tunnel.

  97. Excellent comment, Isabella. "A criminal justice system which incarcerates mainly the poor and powerless for non-violent "crimes" which are mere lifestyle choices for the moneyed class" - a huge amen to that! In our small town we interview many people at our local food cupboard who have a criminal record and cannot ever get a job because they were caught smoking marijuana or with a small amount of other drugs. They are stuck. When will the law change? If we could get rid of illegal drugs life would improve drastically for so many, especially for the poor.

  98. I would also like to add the following

    We push kids along in school, even though they don't meet the minimum requirements. What chance will this individual have? Will they learn how to write a paragraph? Fill out a job application correctly? Will they be able to read a loan application or understand the language on a lease?.And when it comes to college? What do they look at so often?Their SAT or ACT. To think that people are defined and relegated by a teach score? If there are some who received a poor education what chance do they have to get into a college?

    (1) Any Fortune 500 company would be required to set up scholarship funds for people in impoverished areas.
    (2) Majors would be tailored so that students would receive practical, relevant concepts that would translate into jobs
    (3) Employees would required to see up college funds through payroll deduction.It would be deductible
    (4) Anyone whose accepted by a school get's laptop.
    (5) Fortune 500 companies would give 25% of all profit for building schools, funding teachers. They also should require internships for college grads and upon completion a job in the company.
    (6) REALLY do away with all pork projects. ALL that money goes for improving schools, upgrading computer labs
    (7) They must have some type of activity which promotes teamwork and unity. Sports in an obvious start. After school clubs that are actually interesting and something they'd want.

    Pie in the sky? Perhaps but any ldea can work. If you try

  99. I would say I started out pretty far down the hill, but I'd say I did all right. And for what it's worth, here's a little advice I'd give to young people starting out far down the hill. It worked for me:

    Avoid going along with what the crowd says just because they say it. Or doing what they do just because they all do it. Listen to others' opinions as a source of information, but then make up your own mind giving NO weight to how many others think this or that per se. I would recommend stopping every once and a while and asking yourself two questions:

    1. What do I myself think is actually true, as best as I can figure it out.

    2. What do I think is the right thing to do, as best as I can figure it out.

    Cogita Tute.

  100. here's the issue-- many people born at the bottom are not given any sort of roadmap as to how to get to the top. many work like fiends but realize too late that they've actually been digging a hole in the ground. meanwhile-- most at the top are born with tethers that catch and yank them back to the pinnacle each and every time they start to fall. the american dream is (mostly) dead, and the vast majority of us will never leave the class we are born into.

  101. I admire your optimism Charles. Now if we could just rid humanity of the concept of money. Maybe even religion!

  102. Mr. Blow, you are an inspiration. Thank you for the graceful simplicity and eloquence of this fine piece of writing. Keep em' coming.

  103. "If you know that you are under assault, recognize it, and defend yourself," is another set of powerful words,like words are written on my consciousness. The fact that many cast there lots in with apathy rather than defending themselves is sad. That they too can create their own luck no matter when or where they came upon the hill is a simple truth that readers know.

    The metaphor of the hill is apt because the capital one seems occupied by people incapable of creating anything that does good except for those who dwell at the top. Let us make sure we can make the climb possible by denouncing the illusion that corporate entities are people. Let's make sure no one is going hungry and all people can open up vast new worlds by knowing how to read. It is not magic but having the right foot ware sure does make treading the path up the hill easier.

  104. Well, one thing you missed is the irony of these particular times. People of color are more 'free' and 'empowered' and so are gay people and women, too. But, at the same time, I would agree with President Carter when he said that America is no longer a functioning democracy. It is less one person, one vote, and more one dollar, one vote.

    How did this happen?

    Americans, in general, are lazy citizens, and we need a higher vision and a much greater plan, more of a functioning and viable populist democracy and less of a corrupted representative democracy.

  105. Our political process has been corrupter by special interest groups, money and the influence of billionaires who can contribute without limits and still remain anonymous!

  106. Maybe it happened because Americans have been assured for decades that they are the best, biggest, bravest, smartest.... Thing is, when you're the winner, what's to strive for? When your best, what's to improve?

  107. One of the saddest things about US society is that a person's financial success is determined almost entirely by his or her parents' financial level. With the exception of low income blacks, statistics show that education has almost no effect on financial income.

    In other areas, like roads and education, we give everyone the same opportunity, and are proud of it. Almost everyone can go to public school; almost everyone can walk down main street. These things don't reduce anyone's opportunities, but they do make everyone more equal.

    Some folks are given a lot of money by the 'lottery of birth.' Let's give everyone some money, every year, to give a real chance to those at the bottom of the hill. There are several ways to do this, and several experiments have been done -- and they have succeeded.

    A town in Canada, the city of Denver, some villages in Africa, and others have all been tested with free money. People have not stopped working, but more new businesses have been started. The facts are easily available on the web.

    Today in America the poor get welfare. So do the rich -- farm subsidies, low capital gains tax, no tax on inheritance. The middle don't get anything. Let's have welfare for all -- it will help everyone and will not hurt anyone.

  108. I feel that to be born poor is one of life's many distractions,
    All one needs to do is to change the mindset to conquer our circumstances,
    We must understand that we can't expect out lives always to be hunky dory,
    However, Mr. Blow, conquering poverty will certainly lead to our crowning glory.

  109. Thank you, great column. As a former teacher and a parent it always made my day when another parent, child, teacher or really any human stopped another and noticed
    them being "world class" in any endeavor. We need to encourage and compliment
    each other because the fact is that we are all on the hill, one way or another. Too often in America the main score that is kept in a life is how much money or success one has either created or even grabbed. Such a tiny aspect of a "world class" life.

  110. Thanks Mr Blow, as always, for a very thoughtful, insightful column. As many others have written in comments, we are all in this together, a concept which seems to have escaped the notice of our friends born at the top. I wonder sometimes how much effort is expended on demonizing government by these zealots, how many hours they spend on dreaming up new ways to disenfranchise the poor, the downtrodden. It isn't easy climbing up the hill but we all try. I am reminded of a book I read many years ago, "The Woman in the Dunes" by Kobo Abe, in which a man is placed at the bottom of a vast sand pit and attempts to dig himself out. There are no steps in the sand, there is no ladder to climb, simply tons of sand on which he continually slips back into the pit, but he keeps trying. I don't want to see the less fortunate attempt to climb up out of a sand pit created by the uncaring politicians who believe that only a few of the fortunate count for anything and that every obstacle must be placed in their way.

  111. Mr. Blow's advocacy of resolve and creative determination reminds me of some country rhyme from my childhood:

    If an oaken wall blocks your path;
    Do not respond with bomb or wrath.

    To quietly, calmly clear the way;
    Insert a termite day by day.

    A Southern Bro

  112. The best comment so far!

  113. Feel better, Mr. Blow? What about one million poor new yorker's out on strike until the new york school system fires most of the administrators and turns that income into help for students? How about a massive boycott of the new york times until it sacks most of its writers who have one part of their work writing for the public while double and triple dipping off their new york times affiliation? It's not the hill, Mr. Blow, it's all the structures built from the bottom of the hill to its top which require systematic demolition so as to create a path.....up.

  114. A very worthy sentiment.

    And for those born halfway up who find themselves thrown down by unexpected adversity, get back to your feet and climb.

    We are all of us worthy of self respect. At least until we forsake it willingly.

    But for those born at the top a warning. Fear of loss is no excuse for rolling boulders over the edge.

  115. Right on Charles! And that is why I continue to write comments to articles and op/eds published by the Times even though I must start from the bottom of the hill far below those with the green checks. Yes their comments start on the top of the hill, and mine are often relegated to the scrap heap of lost in cyberspace, but like Sisyphus I keep pushing up the hill of commenter obscurity because we all have the right to write and be heard. After all, even the bear got over the mountain.

  116. To you and Mr. Blow, “One must imagine Sisyphus happy.” Thanks.

  117. "It is infuriating when people offer insanely naïve solutions to our suffering: 'Stop whining and being a victim!' ”

    In that case, you may have an issue with our president: "Stop complainin'! Stop grumblin'! Stop cryin'!" I know I do.

  118. Well, it goes both ways, really. We can acknowledge that the world is very unfair and do our best to climb. But, whining and crying doesn't help one's situation, and in fact, it causes others to distance themselves from us, so it is pointless to do so. We need to work to help inequality and help our fellow man, but whining and complaining doesn't accomplish these goals.

    I have met many a "victim" type and those people are toxic. By the way. I am currently a single mother living under the poverty line but I choose to make my life and my children's lives as positive as possible.

  119. I'm confident, Mr. Blow, that you know of William Raspberry. Over the years, you have each eaten up a lot of ink with your opinions. Your achievement and his are/were both acts of defiance.

    Bill was colleague of my mother, and a neighbor across the street to me.

    Bill is gone. You are here. We could pick all day at the differences in your opinions, but not at your respective insights.

    Never met you, likely never will. By accident of birth and geography, I'm well-acquainted with those at the bottom of the current economic heap. Though I never helped you finish mowing your lawn when it started to rain (Do you have a lawn?), you took Bill's place as my touchstone to those less fortunate.

    He was a climber, too.

  120. I worked for a staffing agency that focused on getting jobs for people with "obstacles" to employment--spotty work histories, criminal convictions, little or no education or training, refugees. Do I need to say which of those populations were most in demand by employers? Refugees are viewed as "hill climbers" par excellence--they showed up for work, on time, every day, and did the job without complaining. Often, those were pretty lousy jobs, but viewed as a start by hundreds of Congolese or Nepali applicants; in part, of course, because of what they'd already been through and their scaled down expectations.

    It could be much more challenging to place Americans who had been struggling around the bottom of the hill. I would ask applicants if they had a friend whose address they could use, because their own address was an immediate negative tip-off to employers. Employers took one look at that address and thought: drama. Show up late, have lots of "family emergencies," complain, cause trouble. As someone on the far left of the political spectrum, I would like to say those presumptions were completely untrue.

    It's hard to get excited about a $9/hour job packing nail polish into boxes. Especially if it took two buses and a half-mile walk to get there. And yet, at this lowest level of the economic landscape, it is the unvarnished reality if you want to move up the hill and you have nothing to offer an employer but stamina or dexterous fingers.

  121. By the widest measure of inequality, the Gini coefficient, the US is close to the top amongst advanced economies. By the measure of intergenerational mobility, we are close to the bottom. And both measures have significantly worsened since the late 1970s. Other advanced countries have also experienced increasing inequality, but have ameliorated gross inequalities through tax policy. Before taxes and transfers the US Gini coefficient is only 6% above the average of the OECD countries. After taxes and transfers the US Gini coefficient is 20% above that average. Conclusion: tax policy in the US since the late 1970s has been a significant contributor to inequality.

    The question as to whether or not this increasing level of inequality has also led to slower economic growth is still open. Krugman and Stiglitz have disagreed on this point. IMF economists have found that those with lower income tend to try to keep up through borrowing as inequality increases, thus increasing the risk of major financial crises. Research has indicated this contributed to both the 1929 and 2008 financial crises. The big question is: why have we allowed this level of inequality to get to the point where it's a drag on everybody, rich and poor alike?

  122. Life is a hill, and a steep one, when one class is hostage to economic policies at the national level, such as tax policy that favors higher income citizens and corporations, and a refusal to raise the minimum wage, and to work toward establishing a "floor" of compensation that is in fact a living wage.
    This nation in many ways tries to live under the illusion that only minorities and immigrants are lower income. Wake up, folks, look around and acknowledge that people of all races, including white, in many parts of the nation, and of all ages, from children to seniors, can be caught in this dragnet.
    Having to live going uphill is a class issue, and many of our politicians are adept at keeping the victims divided.

  123. There is much to commend here in Mr. Blow's piece. I would add that in numerous studies, from Social Justice in Member States, by the OECD, to recent studies of black/white mobility and income gaps, there is a massive amount of data suggesting that "climbing the hill" is a lot harder than it used to be in the U.S. Poverty and inequality are potent factors in keeping different segments of the society locked in place.

    Whether or not we can ever establish a stronger middle class is one of the great questions we face as a country. The individual effort Mr. Blow describes is certainly important; nonetheless, we must have substantial investments in restructuring the middle class, making it possible, and easier, for the poor and working poor to reach this higher plateau.

  124. "restructuring the middle-class"can only be accommplished by providing an educational system that encourages the development of the new skills required in our present world and to developing a political system that encourages the private sector to innovate and invest and provide the jobs necessary for people to climb up the economic and social ladder.

  125. I can definitely understand the argument that life is a hill; I didn't come from a privileged background, and so I can understand the argument: "You can either climb or stay at the bottom," for this is how my parents raised me. Yet, what I find is that my very own background in this rhetoric arguing against "the breakdown of the family" puts me within a privileged class, when in reality, my type of background: two married parents capable of delayed gratification and planning for the future, has been typical of many families across cultures for generations In addition, it is troubling to hear, during the course of this holiday season, relatives who should know better, say that they believe in socialist type policies. They forget that socialism will look at their hard work and struggle to better themselves as some mark of unfair privilege which must be shared with others (ie., via tax policy). I don't mind helping, but I believe that there are people who will make substandard and poor choices because they expect to be bailed out, or they figure "it's someone else's problem." However, I believe help should be local; I help within my community: geographically and within the community of relatives and extended family. These are the people I see all the time, I believe my help will be most effective here, not through some distant government bureaucracy. I would rather keep my money at home: in my pocket or into the pockets of those I know and whom I want to help.

  126. " I believe that there are people who will make substandard and poor choices because they expect to be bailed out, or they figure "it's someone else's problem." "

    Yes, we know this for a fact. Goldman-Sacs, Bank of America, and every other big Wall Street bank heads the list. Their poor choices became every American's problem. They gamble with our money. When they win, they keep the profit. When they lose, we bail them out.

    That's the difference between being born at the top of the hill, vs being born at the bottom of the hill.

  127. The persistent victimization shown by Mr. Blow is demoralizing. I was born to a lower middle class family, but there was an emphasis on education. Through hard work, I was able to attend school, get a profession and make a success of myself. Given the persistence of affirmative action (of which I was one of the original victims 45 years ago), it is simply untrue that any poor bur bright and ambitious student, especially from a racial or ethnic minority, can not get ahead. I doubt this will be published since it doesn't follow the party line, and in the unlikely event that it is published, don't bother to reply with the usual platitudes.

  128. Your inspirational saga of triumph over adversity does not invalidate Mr. Blow's message, which is not one of victimization, but simply one of truth.

    As somebody born into similar circumstances, it's easy to recognize somebody who has been feeding at the conservative propaganda trough for too long.

  129. So you achieved. Bravo for you. What about other people? Perhaps they did not have a family that valued education. Perhaps the father was a pedophile. Perhaps the mother was an alcoholic.

    People come from different circumstances. I'm so glad it all worked out for you. Maybe now that it has, you can focus on learning compassion. Especially since it's Christmas.

  130. My career was in welfare/social services work, a couple of years in London, the rest in Alabama. My observation is that it is certainly true that early unwed child-bearing creates an enormous hill in itself that can handicap the chances for the mother and the father. Typically the mother struggles with survival for herself and her child and the father, if poorly educated and unskilled, is hounded forever to pay child support he cannot possible pay.
    Conservatives and progressives can agree that these things are true but progressives recognize that there are underlying causes, that can be gleaned from Mr. Blow's column, and don't make matters worse by humiliating the people we seek to help.

  131. How very,very true. How many clients have I served who were desperately struggling because they owed thousands in back child support and their already miniscule paychecks were garnished to the point of having nothing left to live on.

  132. What a horrible metaphor! Using it, though, I want to praise life at the bottom where I landed after being outed by a Unitarian minister (of all people) and fired from my position as a history professor. Washing dishes for the Rotary I discovered waitresses more interesting than any Rotarian I'd ever encountered; cleaning house for the wealthy I learned to marvel at the callousness wealth bestows, once having to jump out of the path of a wealthy man who literally did not see me dusting the table he was passing. I spent the rest of my working life at an organization ( run by and for very low income people. I discovered that although everyone treated me well, that it took years before people trusted me. My diction betrayed my class origins, a class life had taught them to distrust.

  133. Karen, This is so good that you wrote it.
    Thank you.

  134. No mention of an undefinable disability. It can't be seen; no tests reveal it. Year after year I labor on, yet I know this malady that has laid me low steadily digs deeper. No one—especially today's doctors with their easy making protocols—believes and so I continue on as best I can and try to not let on to family, friends, neighbors the horrific pain I deal with every moment. As to not appear a slacker I seem to have no choice but to fool as many as possible, but I know that without this hidden attacker I could have done so much more during my time here on Earth. And the more I try to explain to those doctors, the more harmful pills are handed to me as they quickly move on to the next appointment.

    Blow should have mentioned those held back, held down by unknown, hidden forces within the body. No amount of trying triumphs over them. Yet I submit that the continual attempts to conquer even with a strong mind and will sometimes cannot overcome when the body says no.

    I am disappointed the knowledgeable author ignored a body that says no to a spirit that says yes.

  135. As I read your comment, I see you as doing exactly what Mr. Blow described. You keep assaulting the hill of your adversity, with courage. Having been dealt the harshest kind of difficulty, you struggle on. You insist on the truth of your experience in the face of all denials. What hero could do more?

  136. Sorry, Mr. Blow, but it is time to drop the hill image.
    The "City on a Hill" is central in Christian and American imagery. Governor Winthrop, in his sermon delivered on board the Arabella in 1630 on the way to the Massachusetts Bay Colony uses the imagery (his sermon is known as the City on the Hill sermon):
    "God in His most holy and wise providence, hath so disposed of the condition of mankind, as in all times some must be rich, some poor, some high and eminent in power and dignity; others mean and in subjection".
    It became a major and defining image of the new nation being built in the western hemisphere and is now central to the GOP notion of the US, and it should be abandoned. It is a limiting and narrow vision, unsuitable to a modern nation. "Simplistic" is the best way to describe it.
    A better image would be of just a city, period. One that requires services, transportation, education,housing, jobs, judicious management, safety for all citizens, and equality for all.
    We manufacture our myths, and they then limit our sense of ourselves.

  137. This at a time of great religious upheaval in Europe, as the branches of Christianity fought over whether they would create and enforce the social conditions necessary for capitalism or feudalism, where there were intractable contradictions.

  138. I found Blow's analogy neither simplistic nor suggestive of Winthrop's description of "the new Jerusalem." His words were instead a reminder to those with the least among us that there is great dignity in persisting even in the face of insurmountable odds, a notion alluding more to King's message of the redemptive nature of unearned suffering than Winthrop's "shining city on a hill." Human dignity is no small thing. it is, rather, something that even the 1% can't buy with all of their billions of dollars. Oseola McCarty had it; Donald Trump does not. And to be reminded by Mr Blow that, if nothing else, we can have our dignity and self-respect is a powerful thing. Were his column addressed to members of Congress or think-tanks, I would perhaps agree with your recommendations, but it is not. Instead, he is clearly reaching out to those who are already painfully aware of the need for better "transportation, education, housing, jobs..." and "equality for all." What they might appreciate in the face of such a bleak reality is Blow's eloquent reminder that those qualities of " spirit and endurance" in each of us "written in the tracks of tears and the sweat of toil" arm us with the strength to "bring honor to ourselves in the trying."

  139. Your article is all too true but does it reach the people it needs to reach? Can you use your talents and success to get the message home? One of the problems with being at the bottom, is that too often folks don't know how to take that first step up the hill. Being a single mom in the early 1970s with two small children, no child support and only a high school education, I never broke any glass ceilings but through night-school I was able to at least touch a few. But that was because coming from a working-class family, I knew education was the key. Though unaware that it was illegal to do so, I left my children alone to go to work and to school. Today, one need not risk jail to take the first step--there is help...on-line courses, tuition assistance, other with time and effort, lots of effort, one can climb a mountain. To this end, perhaps you can use your influence to garner assistance for low-cost transportation, the availability of 24/7 day-care, and badgering box stores to give employees fixed schedules so that they could use their non-working hours most productively. There is plenty of room on the mountain for people to move up given the aging population. With proper education and training, those at the bottom should be able to find a comfy mountain perch, even one with a view, via work in the medical field.

  140. Mr. Blow, what does a person do when they work like a Trojan to achieve, only to find their peers and even their own family doing their utmost to break you down? When envy and jealousy results in dependency to the point of open robbery?
    When your own gender (female) works against you?
    Upon retirement from that workplace I thought I had finally risen above the pettiness that shadowed me all those years, but no, the mere fact that I retired in modest comfort makes me a target yet again.
    I often wonder how many women have suffered from gender inequality and the green envy monster even among their own sex.
    At the very least, such experience has imbued me with compassion and empathy with those who are less fortunate, especially towards those who strive to do better only to fail yet again.
    Today I deplore the Tea Party and GOP war against the downtrodden if only because I have been there myself.

  141. I think you choose your friends and ignore your enemies, even if they are your relatives. It is totally okay to separate the mean and envious from your life. Sounds like you have made a wonderful life for yourself. Happy holidays!!

  142. Mr. Blow, I first read your column late last evening, but decided to wait until this a.m. to weigh my initial response.

    I awoke still troubled by the phrase "world-class climber," which calls to mind a scene in the movie GANDHI where a young Jawaharlal Nehru suggests that Gandhi is "an ambitious man." The Mahatma responds that he hopes he is not.

    Perhaps I've grown weary of climbing or maybe I've simply come to reject a competitive, zero-sum model of society where some have to climb over others to succeed -- a colossal, competitive, capitalist pyramid where many have to wither for a few to flourish.

    Hopefully it's not an overgeneralization that African-Americans encountered in my own life -- from policemen, postal workers, steelworkers, teachers, nurses, and other government employees to accountants, doctors, pharmacists, software developers, and other "professionals" -- could be characterized not only by personal and family histories embodying patience, long-suffering, and perseverance, but by a relative absence of acquisitiveness. Not just vs. "crazy white people," but vis-a-vis Hispanics and other ethnic groups, these comprise many of the sanest people I've known.

    So, can we please find a better metaphor for existence than a zero-sum game? Might we strive for peace and security for ourselves without undermining them for others? Maybe the last thing climbers should be telling others is "Do as we do," for "dog-eat-dog" competition is tearing us apart.

  143. I just watched videos taken yesterday by shoppers at various outlets across the country showing Americans fighting with other Americans over electronic devices.

    When I say 'fighting', I don't mean the usual shoving, pushing, elbowing, common among stressed, frustrated shoppers during the always hectic Christmas season.

    I mean fighting as in punching, kicking, rolling on the floor and, in one instance, someone pulling out a taser and shooting a fellow human being.

    What's next? AR15 battles in Walmart over flat screen televisions, I suppose.

    If only enough citizens fought with the same vigor over education, good jobs, fair wages, affordable housing, etc., maybe our society can reach the levels of most first world nations.

  144. It's the modern day version of survival of the fittest. Although at Walmart, fittest might be a stretch.

  145. In case you think the big boys don't like this kind of violence, note that Macy's ads call their sales "door busters." A little breakage, human and otherwise, is the cost of doing business.

  146. Mr. Blow, this column is inspired, inspirational writing. Years ago, I was sitting in the office of a black colleague who had become a close friend, and noticed a photograph on the wall behind his chair of a huge black man harnessed to an impossibly large and overloaded cart. He was in obvious agony as he pulled that cart through heavy mud, the sweat shining on every fiber of straining muscle. I asked my friend where he got that photo, and he told me his father had given it to him. I then asked whether he knew anything about it, and he said "Yes, quite a lot, because the slave in that picture is my great grandfather. My father gave it to me when I went off to college, and told me to look at it every time I became discouraged, and draw from his strength. And I have every single day since." My friend climbed that hill, obtaining his MBA from one of the Ivies, succeeding in corporate finance, and raising a beautiful family. And I, too, have since found inspiration every time I think of that photo, one that I will never forget.

  147. This reads like a college address, which I suspect it is--and it is wonderful!

    I don't know what's happened to empathy in this country, but I sure hope we get it back soon, before historians look back on the erosion of American values, killed by a culture of cruelty that blames the oppressed for their oppression.

    Comparing today to 50 years ago, which I can do because I'm of an age, well, I only have this to day: it was easier back then, it truly was. Not that I had to struggle, I didn't. Born to college-educated parents, my way into the world was in a sense predestined--and all I had to do was show up, study hard, and success, even moderate, would come.

    Today's kids face obstacles that simply didn't exist back in the 40s and 50: A level of bullying that has jumped from simple taunts to ferocious taunts in social media and pranks that drive kids to suicide; a raw, materialistic culture that judges people by their outsides instead of the interior; am economy so stagnant it appears to be going backwards; and political leaders hell-bent on cutting "handouts" to the poor while increasing subsidies for the wealthiest corporations and individuals.

    Charles, I get your message that "virtue is its own reward." But I also wish that the playing field of life were more level, that virtue could produce rewards commensurate with effort.

    Telling kids to keep climbing (without bitterness) when they're getting pushed backwards is a herculean request to make of them.

  148. Christine, I agree completely. Due to both economics and family dysfunction, I grew up on the bottom side of this hill. I was able to climb my way up via education. I worked two jobs and went to a state college full time, enabling me to get a bachelor's degree with hardly any debt. I finished law school with more debt, but a manageable amount because it wasn't compounded by undergraduate loans.

    I've done the math. These options would not be available to me today. The tuition at state schools has increased to the level at which there is no way, with the same type of resources at my disposal (no family assistance but a willingness to work exceedingly hard) I could graduate college without crippling debt. I may have found other workarounds, but those options become more limited every day. Even with the education, the job market is much more difficult for people at the bottom. In my era, family connections and having the ability to accept an unpaid internship helped secure a path upward. I can only imagine this is more the case now, in these challenging economic times.

    I agree with the conclusion of the article, that at the bottom your only real choice is to at least attempt to fight your way up. I also agree with your point, which is this society must develop empathy. My own conclusion is that we must do better at providing that path up, because this is a key part of our infrastructure that is necessary for our society to survive.

  149. And all one has to do is look at the frenzy of Black Friday, coupled by the outright hatred against the President and his Health Care plan to see that something has gone wrong in this country.

  150. I promise that children were driven to suicide back in the '40s and '50s, but no one made the connection. And people didn't talk about or suicide back then as much as is done today. Bullying - and its consequences - have always been a thoroughly integral part of North American culture.

  151. Brilliant. This should be required reading with essay assignment for every 7th grader. Having grown up as the poor white minority in a ethnic neighborhood I was blessed with a loving family and invested teachers. Reading was the salvation. Anything and everything. An 8th grade educated father who the gang bangers would run to carry his groceries. My skin and religion Jewish opened doors I wont deny but the lessons of hard work and humility were also learned. Put myself through college working days, school at night.Ultimate result, a son about to enter graduate school for community developement and works with non profits in Camden NJ. Couldnt have have rolled up that hill with a bigger grin.

  152. One of the problems of raising oneself up these days is the cost of college. Years ago many colleges had no tuition. Yes they were not elite, but City College in New York and New York State college had no tuition. Poor families could afford this and their children were able to get really goood educations.
    My brother and I were 2 of those children. We entered the middle class and were able to afford our 5 children college educations, although no longer free of tuition. Now my grandchildren, even at State schools face huge tuition bills.

  153. A wonderful essay which spells out the challenges facing many. I would offer two extensions. There are some, perhaps only a few, who start somewhere up the hill and then fall back due to some failure of character. Some climb back up while others don't.

    What I see little of in the various comments is this. Many people, the large majority, are born somewhere up the hill. They are supported by a traditional, or modern, family. They receive an education and some help from their family and they proceed to move up the hill. They are then pulled back down the hill by a growing tax burden that supports a list of programs which support the people farther down the ladder.

    I think most agree this right thing to do but how much. Food stamps, Medicare, expanding Medicaid, aid for this, aid for that. How much is enough before those born in the middle of the hill have no chance to move up.

  154. Federal taxes are at the lowest levels since the 1950s.
    It is not a coincidence that both incomes for everyone below the top 10% and social mobility are stagnant or dropping as well.
    You have clearly been listening to, and sadly, buying into, self-serving, and completely fallacious, propaganda from the corporations and the top 1% -- those who have benefited the most from all of these phenomena.

  155. How about we reduce our Military? We could then take care of people who need assistance. It's called prioritizing our values. What kind of country do we want to be? A military Empire who throws billions away - mostly at corrupt contractors - deserves to fail. And we will if we don't change our ways. How about we pay teachers and garbage workers better? How about we demand Walmart pay their workers a living wage so that taxpayers don't have to fund the extra assistance these workers need? There's so much we can do. We just don't want to. Easier to blame people, make them scapegoats. Works out well for the Military. But not for the rest of us.

  156. One solid example of a person pulled down the hill due to taxes supporting those further down the hill? The person who received education and help from their family, can't continue to hold their status, yet you would expect those who's families are in no position to give help ($$) and who do not have access to higher education, to be able to pull themselves up. Or is it that the downtrodden should just be satisfied with their lot in life?

  157. The first half of the column excoriates those who blame those at the bottom for their predicament. The second half extols-self help! How sad to fall into the same trap as the scolds. Be a "world class mountain climber?" How many of us have that ability? It seems to me that those born into poverty have the entire system working against their success. You have to be extraordinary to overcome such barriers. There just aren't that many extraordinary people out there. Better to urge more opportunity for those who need it, or at least to remove the barriers to success, however quixotic those goals may be. Of course, that would require work and sacrifice. Far easier to repeat the old bromides about pulling one's self up by one's bootstraps.

  158. Less extraordinary and more persistent. What are the poor supposed to do? Accept that they are helpless or find their power? I was born halfway up the hill but have certainly experienced attempts by others to push me to the bottom because I am a woman who doesn't believe in "because we've always done it this way." I have had to say NO a lot and push back repeatedly again others expectations. None of us can let others define us.

  159. not sure which is more baffling -- Marcko's missing of the point, or the NYT pick.

    Of course the system is stacked to work against those at the bottom and funnel all good things to the people born at the top of the hill. Apparently, you missed the fact that Mr. Blow makes that point very well. Mr. Blow then addresses, for those who are born at the bottom of the hill, what to do...? Yes, we need to change the system, but that won't happen overnight. Meanwhile, should those born at the bottom do nothing? "The system needs to be changed, and until that happens, I'm staying right here at the bottom of the hill!" Seriously?

    Thank you, Mr. Blow, for another great piece.

  160. I think you have missed the point. We all have the ability to look within ourselves and be better, stronger, more resilient. Mr. Blow (it seems to me) is suggesting we all build a force field of resolve around ourselves as we try to climb the hill. Seems laudable to me.

  161. Mr. Blow, I almost completely agree with you; except I think that we, American society, should change our individual and corporate tax codes so that we nearly completely eliminate poverty here.
    I was born into poverty, to parents who were not capable. I was able to get into an all city high school in NY because the school was accepting less fortunate students. Entering that culture, with students from all over the boroughs, with different kinds of families, a truly diversified place, started altering my foundation and setting my direction.
    At 18, 1959, I volunteered for the Lighthouse For The Blind, and felt that helping others was something I would like to do. I went to work at a summer camp. The director's wife was a professor of Social Work. She recruited me and others and expected us to work as group workers in community centers. I did this, stopping working in the garment district, and I worked at the summer camp, for the next 4 years, while I struggled through night school, and finally matriculated in Hunter College in N.Y.
    I majored in English, in order to teach myself to read and write.
    I went on scholarship, thanks to the Great Society legislation, to earn a M.S.W. After that, I worked as social worker. I became a social work professor. I earned a doctorate in social work.
    Now, retired, I volunteer helping those who are poor; and I am active with the NAACP.
    Shifts in contexts, supportive people, legislation, along with my efforts helped me. .

  162. One of the most profound elucidations of the work ethic I have read in some time - thank you. The same truth has been uttered in so many ways - when life hands you lemons, make lemonade, etc. It's a paradox many of us fail to grasp: yes, life is horribly unfair but yes, we always have choices, and those choices are what define us.

    The fact that most of us truly abhor is that no one has the power to take away our choices, and the natural consequences of those choices. Nelson Mandela was wrongfully imprisoned, but he made the conscious choice to pardon his oppressors. Most of us do not have the strength to do that; consequently, most of us suffer as victims, failing to understand that we are suffering the consequences of our own choices.

    The natural laws remain immutable; gravity does not pardon a blind man who stumbles over a cliff - and the universe does not reward bitterness or hatred, no matter how justified. As you have pointed out so eloquently, it is not the world's notions of success that will define us - it is the effort we make.

    To extend your hill metaphor just a bit: we should not be forced to push a rock up a hill - however, when we find ouselves in that situation we have but two choices. We can keep pushing the rock up the hill and hopefully gain strength in the process, or we can curse the rock, the hill, and life itself, and allow the rock to roll over us.

    Either way, the rock really doesn't care.

  163. Excellent commentary once again Charles.

    Conservatives are not wrong that success in life is a consequence of the choices we make. It's true for everyone. The difference is that those with access to wealth and privilege will avoid the crippling outcome of poor choice that those without cannot escape.

    Race and poverty limit choice. The obstacles that must be overcome to escape their circumstances have no equivalent for someone born into wealth and privilege. For them, the road to prosperity is already in place and they only need to keep it on the road. But for the poor and disadvantaged, there is no road and no vehicle. At practically every stage in life they face choices where the wrong decision could leave them bound to the lifestyle they were born into.

    While conservatives seem to only want to scold and punish poor decisions, liberals shouldn't be patting ourselves on the back either. We need to stop patronizing and make and effort to understand the obstacles that they need to overcome and why so many make poor choices, and help people see the outcomes of their decisions before they make them. But it will take a bold step to tear down the obstacles to a real discussion of race and poverty to make it happen.

  164. To Craig from Pennsylvania,
    It's generally not the tax burden that pulls people further down the ladder -- it's the structure of the economy that is heavily weighted toward protecting the capital of those furthest up and giving them opportunities to increase their wealth. Another big contributor for many in the middle class is unwise spending choices, conduct that they are quick to attribute to the poor and unable to see in themselves. At some point the too much aid question might become more relevant but we are nowhere near that today if our goal is to create a humane society with something approaching equal opportunity for all.

  165. The tax burden is a huge part of the problem when it is as highly regressive as it it is in this country. New capital formation is inhibited while existing capital is coddled, protected and inherited. This structures the economy making the climb so much more difficult than it needs to be.

  166. With a hill the contours are spaced, steep but still with a pitch that many, with effort, can attempt the ascent. With hilltops we find their its summits broad enough that many can share its view. Even those who don't or can't make all the way up, the hillsides are not so steep that they too can enjoy the better view their attained by their efforts.

    A mountain, however, has narrow contours, its flanks steep & shear. Without the proper training, equipment & experience, few can safely ascend to the summit, much less embark on the expedition. Even the lower elevations can be hazardous, fraught with peril and dangers, & the costs of gear etc being enormous, these form barriers in of themselves. Few without these prerequisites can even hope to attain the summits, or even intermediate heights, as the ledges are often few & narrow, the summit itself having room for the few who had the perseverance, skill and luck to attain it.

    But some have found ways to attain that summit, having engineered hills into mountains as well as their own ascent. Perhaps it's more like taking a cable car, capacity and access limited to those who can pay the fee, or who know the gate keeper, ensuring their preferred positioning. Their ascent to the top being rapid, they do not even know the types of efforts made by those who attempted to ascend the hills much less those who climbed the mountain on their own. Yet they now occupy the summits, enjoying its view while crowding it out so others cannot.

  167. Yours is a great attitude, yet it comes from someone with above average ability.

    What happens to struggling people with below average ability?

    These must depend on society's generosity, which is often not forthcoming for people who are different.

    The rich will always be all right, as will their children, including those with disabilities, who will always be protected by generous trust funds.

    The ability to live in dignity for the poor, especially those who are not white, straight, or Christian, and who may have limited ability, depends on the rest of us fighting for social justice.

    That, too, is an uphill battle.

  168. Recognizing that there is grey in life is difficult enough without one's tribal allegiance being determined by whether you're on the "white" side or the "black" side.

    It's too bad that admitting even the possibility of there being some "grey" is automatically seized upon the "other" side as a sign of your side's weakness.

    We really need not only to grow up but to recognize the extent to which the positions we take may be informed by something other than reason. And, unfortunately, that "something other" is, too often, too much fear and too little empathy.

    But those who are more open-hearted should not themselves let that empathy blind them to the possible dysfunction of those with whom they empathize. And I think that Mr. Blow's column get's it almost exactly right in determining that balance.

  169. Exactly how has "this country for centuries has endeavored, consciously and not, to break it (black families) down." The horror of slavery ended 150 years ago Mr. Blow. Almost 75% of black babies are born to unwed mothers. I won't bore you with the statistics that reveal what the odds are of those children having all sorts of problems as they get older. It is insulting to the many good, hardworking black parents who raise their children in a traditional family that it can be defined another way.

  170. I will bore you with the statistics that there are far more white people on welfare and baby momma and baby daddy than there are black. See "Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960-2010" Charles Murray

    And there are more than twice as many white criminals for all classes of crime than there are blacks. More white criminals for each specific category of crime except for gambling and robbery. See FBI Uniform Crime Reports.

    While the proportion of blacks living in poverty is higher than whites there are 5 times as many white people. The current white poverty rate is at the same level as the black rate when Daniel Patrick Moynihan defined the black family " as a tangled web of pathology that would benefit from a period of benign neglect'.

    Our prisons are mostly full of blacks particularly poor non-violent drug offenders because white offenders get a white pass.

    It does not matter how a traditional family is defined each family is it's own definition and reality. Neither white people nor their colored house slave enabler apologists get to decide who is insulted.

    Poor POTUS Obama overcoming a single parent absent father managed to get by. And many thousands like him came before doing and after. We shall over come!

  171. slavery might have ended 150 years ago but equal rights still have a long way to go, especially ethnic discrimination.

  172. Mr. Blow characterizes the majority of Americans as victims based on race or being female.
    That is counterproductive thinking that leads to nothing good but does promote divisiveness.
    "Life is a hill" for all people in the world not just Americans.
    Without developing thinking and work skills, an individual will not be successful in any country in the world.

  173. I was just talking to a woman I know and she was telling me about her daughter's lovely new house on a remote and beautiful island in Puget Sound. I asked her what her daughter did for a living there. She laughed and reminded me that her ex husband had given their children enough money that they would not ever need to work. For people like this young woman born at the top of the hill thinking and work skills are utterly beside the point. All she needs to do is not squander her trust funds.

  174. All 4 of my grandparents were immigrants from southern Italy. My paternal grandmother was illiterate. I grew up in a blue collar environment, with only two, older cousins having graduated from college.

    Who went on to become middle class, and who did not? Those who had the most material and professional success had the following: high intelligence, social skills, reasonably good looks, iron determination and - surprise, and interesting given Charles' column - a complete disdain for convention, tradition and "the rules." They obtained quality educations, ignoring the envy - double messages - of their family and peers. They ignored or dumped employers who might have held them back. They were oblivious to prejudice and most criticism - particularly when they suspected that those criticisms were prejudice-based.

    Back in the sixties, one of my cousins quit a safe, well-paying bank job after being denied a promotion. He knew that he had been passed over because of his ethnicity, regardless of what his employers told him - or themselves believed. People said he was crazy to leave. He went out on his own and died a multi-millionaire.

    The playing field is filled with mines, just as Charles says. He leaves out one important element in the fight for success - I.e., ignore everyone. It's not your fault if you fall - it's a steep hill, and meant to defeat you. Saying "no" to the enemy, however, is a key psychological element in success.

  175. To put it more simply, not worrying about what others think of you is a "key psychological element in success".

  176. Honestly, it is those who complain about the poor, those receiving government assistance, etc whom I find whiny and entitled.

    You make 100K but have to pay taxes that go (in part) to helping those who are less fortunate than you? Poor baby. You don't like government handouts? How about your mortgage interest deduction, child tax credit, student loan interest deduction - all costly to the federal government.

    I went to an elite undergraduate institution, and then earned my grad degrees from the best program in my field. I earn maybe half as much as my college friends who became doctors, and twice as much as my friends who became teachers. We are all intelligent, hard-working people who put in many years of school and hard work. I work in public health, and I don't think I bring twice as much value to society as my teacher friends, or half as much as my doctor friends. Our salaries are based in large part on who is paying us (insurance companies, grants, local government) and how much they can afford.

    If everyone became a doctor or lawyer or C-level exec, this country would not function. We need to provide sufficient support so that people in all walks of life can have a good quality of life and to provide their kids with opportunity. If that means that I pay more taxes, so be it. There are much worse things in life than to have to give to others.

  177. Stop beating up on physicians. Most are in their late 20's or early 30's before they can even begin to earn real wages. And most have hundreds of thousands of debt from Medical School.
    No, I am not a physician.

  178. Amen.

    Our society undoubtedly has incredibly serious and complex problems, but they are not ones without solutions if there existed the real political will to honestly try to find them.

    How about raising the minimum wage to a living wage for a start?

    Somewhere between $13 and $15 an hour would make a world of difference in peoples lives.

    Things like that should not be thought of as impossible or impractical, we need to find a path to make them a reality.

  179. Out there is a populace that enjoys the lower rungs being set firmly in place. To denigrate those who are poor or uneducated or "different" from us is to constantly keep our own lives elevated above the crowd. But give anyone a chance, whether it is the student who was always considered "not bright enough to succeed" or the young parent without the skills to be mother or father, transformation can take place.

    This is where the rest of us come in, those of us whose childhood fortunes or other circumstance has placed us on solid ground. I think we, as part of the human race, need to reach out to someone else -- even if it's just one person who needs to learn the skills to read and write or handle family finances or recover from a disaster or ably raise a child or is the target of discrimination or neglect or disdain, rather than using that hand to scold, chastise, wave them away or push them down.

    There's another cloying and pitying populace that likes to look at those who are the target and cluck and say "ain't it awful" but never get off the couch to help change things. In some ways, they're just as culpable as those who like to disparage. I believe all of us can change "for the better" with a little guidance and compassion. Isn't that why we're here on earth? To reach out and make things a bit better?

  180. I am profoundly grateful that I did not have to start life from the bottom of the hill. That being said, my political and personal value system is informed by the core idea that we all have a collective obligation to try and climb that hill together. I am honoured, humbled and motivated by the accomplishments, grit, and determination of those in my community who have experienced a much tougher climb than I have.

  181. In a societal sense however it behooves us all to strive, mandate equal opportunity in most matters of freedom, education and health. By doing so individual excellence is large and diverse for the betterment of all.

  182. thank you , once again, for an illuminating work of words that
    are inspirational. It should be disseminated to all of the right
    wing nihilists that have been holding our country hostage for
    some time now. It may not work with the criminally insane among
    them, but it surely counters their ideology. We can only hope for
    more compassion in the country, but getting out to vote is a key
    to making the changes we need. And taking to the streets -
    giving the people a voice as a counter force - can make a
    difference. It's worked in the past to achieve equality and
    good governance.

  183. I find myself congratulating you as I usually do for what I consider an insightful, humane and thought provoking article Mr. Blow. The piece that I would like to have considered is that despite a person's personal traits (many of which both you and your readers have offered), we live together. We are no longer, if we ever were, independent of one another. Rugged individualism, independence and personal traits are foundational. And in our complex world, even at or may especially at the local (family, school, town, etc.) it takes traits of cooperation. With the loss of institutional (communal) integrity (church, government, and yes family) integrity, the hill is higher for even those with many of the personal characteristics extolled in your article and by your readers.

    So, what's missing? Caring. Caring for one another in a way that acknowledges the need for and value of individual effort. Caring in the context of a world mostly too complex and challenging to navigate by oneself. Let's lend a hand on the way up, so we can be assured of having a hand to grasp if we should slip. "It takes a village," and "You didn't do that yourself," are simple acknowledgements that NO ONE makes alone. Lending a hand is not the same as a handout.

    Thanks for keeping us thinking, Charles.

  184. Barbara, what a lovely comment. Yes, caring is it. And the way to get caring up the hill with you is to LISTEN. If people would listen more, not just to the words, but to the feelings behind the words (i.e. empathy) we would all stand a better chance to make it up the hill. Together.

  185. I would like to add something to this moving column. We have to remember, if luck and circumstance help us climb the hill, to look behind and help those below to make it up to the top and never forget one's origins.
    Give voice in any way possible, to expose those who oppress and join with others to share the strength to make change possible. Remember the spirit and message of Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights march to Washington those many years ago. It is an unfinished project for all the people now, which desperately needs revival.

  186. Charles,

    I completely agree with the second half of your column. Your attitude is perfect, and I would like to think that it is the attitude with which I approach life. Thank you for your profundity and your eloquence on this matter.

    However, I find fault with the first half of your column. You imply that it is only certain groups within our culture who face uphill challenges, only certain groups who face unfair discrimination or bias. This is simply not true. People are discriminated against because they are short or overweight or because they belong to a certain religious groups, and for a myriad of other reasons. If President Obama had had two white parents, but he only attained to a height of 5 feet, 5 inches, he almost certainly would not have been president. Today, some child is being born to poor white parents in West Virginia, and this child will face incredible challenges to being successful in life.

  187. The general opinion in the USA that if you believe in GOD, then you'll be successful in life - a widespread doctrine of the GOP - is considered a kind of fun fact here in Germany. Sure, Germany is turning more and more secular, a late product of the French Revolution. The German stance vs. the USA is still very remarkable, since the roots of the GOP are German - think of who voted Lincoln in office - and Americans of German descent are still GOP voters at large. Funny thing.

  188. Victimhood is a paradox. It is true that many of us are victims. But if we believe that, we are not as motivated to climb the hill.

    So, we should leave the concept of victimhood to philosophers, and believe the fairy tale that we are the sole controllers of our destiny. Otherwise, we let up just a little in our struggle to reach the next rest stop on our journey up a very steep hill. Sometimes, when we focus on being a victim, we lose our step and backslide. It is better to keep a single focus and make progress up that hill.

  189. "This is not to say that we can always correct life’s inequities, but simply that we honor ourselves in the trying.

    History is cluttered with instances of the downtrodden lifting themselves up."

    How about finding ways to see the SOURCES of those inequities, and shine bright lights on them, so that the next generation will not be downtrodden by structural things? Lifting oneself up is a fine thing. Preventing others from being downtrodden is even finer.

    And all of us are responsible for seeking to understand the structures which produce those inequities. So far, I've not found a clearer explanation or a more important remedy than those identified by Henry George in "Social Problems" and "Progress and Poverty." I'd like to know if others have found sources they think relevant.

  190. The hills are all over this nation and, our current political parties, see very different hills. Literally, the Congress on the "hill," is lost. The Republicans in our midst are furiously creating new hills as soon as new climbers or "the others," have seen how reaching the top changes the view.

    Like Mr. Blow, the only consolation I have with this nonsense is that, such as voter suppression, these absurd policies spur more climbers to vote! This is the defiance that cannot be ignored and am thrilled, actually exhilarated, to see the lines and lines of rock climbers, with invisible picks and axes, standing against the wind.

  191. I enjoy your insights and can agree with many but the last five lines of a Robert Frost poem have always opened my eyes

    "I shall be telling this with a sigh
    Somewhere ages and ages hence:
    Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
    I took the one less traveled by,
    And that has made all the difference."

  192. Just a second thought: No matter how much you have been warped by the Calvinistic philosophy that pervades the discourse of "reasonable" conservatives, you can't argue (I hope) that small children are getting precisely what they deserve. Cutting food benefits for families teaches no one a lesson; conversely, subsidizing oil companies that are enjoying record profits speaks volumes.

  193. Thank you for this essay. I plan to use it Monday with my Grade 8 students as an introduction to Sonia Sotomayor's memoir, which I plan to make available to students to read.
    In addition to being a strong thematic introduction to the memoir, your thoughtful writing makes an excellent springboard for rich discussion and will certainly resonate with many of my students.
    Thank you, Mr. Blow.

  194. Another memoir about climbing the hill, Anchee Min's "The Cooked Seed".

  195. The most effective tool against poverty is education. Our society is so consumer focused and having or attaining wealth seems to be the goal rather than education itself. Sports figures are celebrated and rewarded extravagantly ,making them role models. I believe there is honor in all work , but the partially educated will be given the rawest of deals .This happens to them politically as well.

  196. In a bizarre twist on the "West Side Story" Officer Krupke scene, Fox News Republicans are equating being deprived with being depraved.

    This self-serving concept is a corollary to the mantra that personal "success" is evidence of personal virtue.

    For those who think that "The Divine Right of Kings" is a quaint (and ugly) medieval concept, its successful comeback as a cultural meme is being generously funded by virtuously deserving folks like the Koch Brothers, the Walmart inheritors and Sheldon Adelson.

  197. "I take enormous exception to arguments about the “breakdown of the family,” particularly the black family."

    Two comments. First, Mr. Blow, your op-ed pieces are typically filled with data to argue your point of view. Where is your data to support the argument that there has not been a significant breakdown in the family structure (white or black) in America?

    Second, over the past 30 years, over 20 million good paying middle class jobs have been eliminated in this country. They have been replaced with "service" related jobs that don't pay as much as the ones that have been eliminated. In effect, those middle class jobs have been replaced with lower class positions. Pretty hard to climb the hill given those dynamics. Perhaps a focus by our politicians on re-invigorating our manufacturing base would be a more productive use of their time and resources. Maybe the loss of employment opportunities can also be tied back to the breakdown of the family.

  198. I generally agree with Mr. Blow, but I cannot completely agree with his assertion that "the bottom was not born in you." I will concur that for most people, the claim is true, but those who suffer from lifelong severe mental illness that is resistant to treatment, most definitely have the bottom born in them. And it doesn't matter where on the hill they were born; the bottom is with them almost always. Makes it very hard to climb.

  199. Mr Blow's views need to be amplified by other poorly appreciated facts.First,part of the reason the poor are blamed for staying at the bottom of the hill is that we continue to consider the US as the land of opportunity while contrary to this belief, it is in fact harder to climb it here than in other developed countries.The lack of a safety net,free healthcare and education mean that more Americans live from hand to mouth than in many Western countries.In addition,global competition means that unlike the period following WWII, we now have to try harder to get to the same place up the hill.Finally,innovations developed by those further up the hill (technology enabled productivity enhancements,disintermediation and outsourcing) have paradoxically led to many on the hill sliding back towards the bottom.
    We need to recognize that our hill is now steeper and more slippery than at any time in living memory,requiring additional effort from all of us irrespective of our position on the hill.Government has a key role to play in creating the conditions and incentives for this to happen.Sadly,ossified and obsolete views of the hill by too many of us mean that more and more of us will need to end up lower down than hill than our parents or grandparents before we are stirred to act.

  200. I agree that for an individual born at the "bottom of the hill" hard work and a steady irrational optimism for a better future is probably the best chance for a better life. It will certainly work better than not working hard as you point out. The terrible irony is that all this striving and working long hours for little pay is what makes this unequal word go round. US workers' productivity has climbed consistently for decades. Meanwhile wages have been flat since the 1970s. The handwork of the people at the bottom of the hill is captured by those at the top. The free market dictates that as supply of hardworking educated people increases their wages will decrease. Work hard. Maybe you will be the one holding the golden ticket and will beat out your peers and advance, but as a whole you are only sending more profits to the top. I am not advocating working less. I agree with the many good reasons -both monetary and intangible- you state for working hard, only that we need to reward handwork, not take advantage of it. Only a system wide solution, like a more progressive tax structure, can truly help advance an entire class. An entire class cannot advance through hard work alone.

  201. And then there are hipsters, and other countercultural types whose choose not to climb that hill, even as they're already on top of it, out of sheer snobbery, as in "we don't want to mix with anyone except other hipsters." I can't stand people who have everything, who could be and do anything, and not want to because they feel they'er so good and important already that they don't feel the need to lean in, to be outsiders by choice. If they were outsiders by necessity, they wouldn't be so hungry for a way out.

    Mr. Blow, your column eloquently describes what I mean by outsiders by necessity. And I am one of them, being disabled. I climbed that hill, and I'm almost at the top now. And resent those who never felt they had to, that wanted life to be hard because they felt that was the hip thing to be. I have no use for people like that. Let them try walking in my shoes, or anyone else's who are outsiders by necessity, and they'll drop their smugness and hipness pronto.

  202. Good advice! One still can work their way up and that is the essence of what made America great. However, the breakdown of the family is a significant barrier-ask any single mother! One commenter suggested voting as a way up. Lots of luck with that one for as the old joke goes, "I'm from the government, I'm here to help you".
    For many, the path up begins early, because achievement in school is a good start.

  203. I have a mixed reaction to this column, but it might be useful.

    First, I bring up Mr Blow's reaction to the Trayvon Martin case. After the shooter was acquitted Blow wrote that he was so shocked that he couldn't breath.

    Now he writes how he has used achievement as an act of defiance. Just about the bravest thing to say, I think.

    However, both of these writings imply a possibly problematic belief in a clear narrative.

    My own experience of poverty is not a story of a battle, but a chaotic witches' dance. You don't have one or two obstacles in life, but dozens. When you fight two, there are seven that attack from the rear.

    Most successful people seem to have had a limited number of enemies. After their victories they explain their life as a story that is too narrow to be helpful to people who are totally surrounded.

    I suspect that this attitude interfered with Mr. Blow's judgment in the Trayvon Martin case. Even for a Finn it seemed obvious that the street fight was a chaotic situation that did not contain any real narrative, much less a clear cut battle between good and evil.

    My point is that the same attitude hampers the American discourse on poverty. You talk about people's good or bad choices, when an actually poor person knows that you need a lot of resources and stability to make any kind of choice.

    Einstein said that you must make things as simple as possible, but not simpler than that. Poverty is not a simple matter, so it shouldn't be talked in simple terms.

  204. Alas, that hill is not unlike the often-referenced pyramid; there is only a little room at the top and tons at the bottom, and the current occupants of the top are fighting like mad to insure that those below won't threaten their position.

  205. For me, I think it was the words of Colin Powell ---- someone asked him about being cast as black in the military and he said, "it didn't matter where he'd been cast or where they put him, he would be at the top of the group."

    And, for one who has been cast as poor all of her life, which I've always felt rich ----his words gave me strength. I had the unfortunate luck of mediocrity. Just enough money to eat, sleep, and afford a private school, where I spent my days trying to keep my head above water at the abuse of the, "snots!" The school was great,but I could've lived without the rich kids. I tell everyone today, I grew up poor, and my daughter reminds that wasn't necessarily so --- but who would have ever known otherwise. (it's where I was cast)

    Charles -- the key isn't money. I'm good friends with a very very wealthy lady (think mega wealthy) --- I wouldn't trade my life for hers, and she knows it. I got to know her because I worked for her. My heart goes out to her ------ her life is a constant mess of people asking for donations, her kids are targets for drug dealers, her children lack a work ethic, because, they don't have to work and it would be a sin if they did, and I know it's hard to believe, but it is just terrible.

    I've learned to pray for enough, keep it clean, (no one finds filth pleasing), and enrich your life with your surroundings, whatever they may be --- you will always be richer than some and poorer than others --- get on with it!

  206. A lot of old money got it's start in criminal enterprise. Which might explain why the policies of the elite are so often harmful to the working class .And it should not take that to make it out of the hole.

  207. Right on Charles. I was born white, lower middle class, two loving parents, two aunts living with us that loved and supported me and a younger sister and brother that thought I was the greatest. Wow what a start.
    I am bipolar. In the early 60's through the present day mental health problems segregates the person from the rest of society. Insurance companies will not accept you, people are afraid of because they erroneously think you are a danger to them and their families. Fight any form of cancer and you are a hero and brave. Fight manic-depression and you are dangerous. HA!

    It is easy to feel sorry for yourself with your lot in life. I had all the advantages but had one simple flaw and I was just another group to look down on. With the help of a great MD, Dr Hansen of the Mayo Clinic, and my wonderful family, I am back, stronger than ever.

    If I didn't have my illness I would never really understood the problems Charles and all other minorities of any kind have. I am so lucky to have suffered and to have overcome.

    Don't give up.

  208. Never before has there been such an oversupply of people for every available opportunity. It increases the effect of gravity, making it more likely to go downhill rather than up.

  209. Oh, for heaven's sake. Now you've given the far right another way to disparage the poor, as in, 'Obviously, they must be too lazy to climb the hill.' Life is not a hill; it's a village, and we all have a stake in the fortunes of others. Otherwise, you wouldn't see those at the very top of the hill living lives in desperation -- disparaging anyone beneath them with a fury steeped in fear, living in fortified apartments high above the ground, hiding their fortunes outside their own country, surrounding themselves with doormen, drivers and armed personal guards, hiding their children in heavily patrolled private schools.

  210. What's happening here is people who feel they're at the top or want to be at the top are arguing people at the top are there because that's where they should be and people at the bottom are doomed to forever be there. This is self-serving nonsense. The truth of the matter is those at the top are scared to death of those on the bottom and are doing everything in their power to keep them there. The Obama model of expanding the middle class that has little or no effect on the Billionaires at the top and doesn't take away the safety net for those at the bottom is the best model and the one that we should all subscribe to.


  211. Charles is correct that people should climb the hill.

    If only we could stop Liberals and the government from trying to convince people that the hill is too steep.

    If only the government had the foresight to ensure that people have to at least try to climb the hill.

    Alas, it is under the guise of welfare and housing support and disability and SNAP and so many other misguided programs that the government has tied people's ankles together to ensure they require constant government "help" while not escaping up the hill.

  212. Do liberals and the government really try to convince people that the hill is too steep? I don't think so, Ken. Of course, some people (people who were not raised with a good work ethic or have other problems) may not have the wherewithal to climb (and it is these people who need the most help), but I disagree with you that liberalism encourages people to believe the hill is too steep and they should stay put. SNAP and similar programs are meant to be a hand-up, not a lifestyle. As Mr. Blow observes, I think most people want to work and achieve and feel successful. You may not see it, Ken, but it is plain to the rest of us that it is conservatives and their self-interested elite backers who deliberately try to ensure the hill is too steep so their position at the top is not threatened. It is conservatives who dismantle programs intended to help people climb: welfare, education, reproductive services... . The conservative elite would keep everyone at the bottom in order to preserve their status. They would have a modern-day Antebellum America, an aristocratic society of debt slaves and their masters (living in palatial hilltop estates).

  213. Charles Blow is a Liberal - so am I.

    Making people starve (without SNAP program) or keeping them homeless (no housing support) or sick (no Medicaid) because they have to work at minimum wage jobs that don't pay enough to feed or house the workers - even working full-time.

    Liberals don't want to keep people dependent, we want to give them opportunities - like good public schools, great public libraries, public parks. I don't understand the meanness of folks who would deny people those opportunities and food and shelter.

  214. Ken?

    You're being myopic and simplistic, or maybe simply obtuse.

    Forcing people to attempt an ascent without jobs that pay a living wage is analogous to asking them to rock climb without handholds or footholds.

    Check out Jeremy Rifkin's THE END OF WORK. Anymore, we're not even playing a zero-sum game where I lose a job, but you get one (because you 'climbed' over me). Worldwide, long-term, population has been outrunning jobs creation and anyone who continues to blame the victims (as you appear to be doing) will be powerless to seriously address this issue or to offer substantive remedies.