For Some Folks, Life Is a Hill

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

Comments: 81

  1. this is wonderfully written. Still it would be great if it were taken to heart by the people at the middle or top of the hill who make it difficult for those at the bottom to make the climb. Why are the people with advantages so often opposed to leaning down to offer a hand, or a rope, to help pull others up now and then?

  2. These are eloquent and moving words, Mr. Blow.

    But I also would like to suggest that years of heartless and uncaring neglect may have sapped energy from millions, who have been poor, persecuted, deprived and “under assault” for generations.

    Yes, doing one’s best by trying and working as hard as one can, may be “its own reward.”

    Yet for millions of “downtrodden,” who were “born at the bottom,” the “hill” may be so steep that they may be doomed to remain at the “bottom,” not because “the bottom was born in them,” or because of lack of trying, but because “the bottom” was born in society.

    May the spirit of this season echo your eloquent words far and wide! May your words help remove all callous unfeeling from all branches of our government.

  3. Even the folks born "at the top' have their own hill to climb .....and so life goes on.
    Damming others and complaining about our own troubles never got anyone anywhere.

    The real crime being committed is how our elected officials continue to divide us into small groups and pits them against each other for their own purposes.

    This nation became great by empowering the individual....up to a point. We should go back to that philosophy

  4. So, I guess what you are saying is that if you climb the hill you too can join the 1%. Brilliant!

  5. No - but you can make life better for yourself and your family. What's wrong with that?

  6. Loved this! Thank you!

  7. Life for me also was an uphill struggle!I know what its like to be hungry,to live in a house with rats, to be raised by a disabled father&mother who tried to make ends meet! But I became an avid climber striving to go to the top!

  8. Charles, you are an inspiration. Thanks. I trust you will not find this a cliché:

    "You may write me down in history
    With your bitter, twisted lies,
    You may trod me in the very dirt
    But still, like dust, I'll rise."

  9. Mr. Blow, you never cease in your ability to get it exactly right and today's column is no exception.This is as well said as it can be said. I am deeply grateful to you for the way you have chosen to hone and use your considerable talents. Those of us who were born at the bottom must work harder and longer and be smarter than those born further up the hill, but we do develop empathy for others and find joy and meaning in that journey that makes much of the struggle worthwhile.

    Thank you for the work that you do and the way that you do it.We need you to keep reminding us of this message.

  10. Here's the irony of this column. Stripped to its essentials, the message of the column is: Stop whining. Stop being a victim. Work hard.

  11. AndrewH, this is a perverse reading of what Mr. Blow wrote. Blow is a pragmatic, realistic liberal who encourages people born at the bottom to struggle, even be defiant as he has been. But he is not blaming the victims like Republicans and too many Democrats and Independents do. Did you read this part of the column? "Success is often a fluky thing, dependent as much on luck and favor as on hard work. But while hard work may not guarantee success, not working hard almost always guarantees failure." What about those who are struck down with an illness that bankrupts them(before Obamacare) or were born with a severe disability that greatly inhibits their climb up the hill (especially before Social Security and the Disability Act)? As Charles says, working hard and doing all the right things doesn't promise success, but realistically those few who don't work hard are likely stay below. However, giving the majority at the bottom who work hard a hand up instead of a handout makes sense for everyone. It also the Christian thing--fill in any other religion--to do.

  12. Mr. Blow I bet you would take a look at me and judge me in a minute flat.. You seem infected with judgementalism of the most refined kind. I went to a mostly white prep school on Long Island in the 60's. I was a member of some off its athletic teams. We trained on hills, starting at the bottom and running to the top, then back down and up over and over."If you quit on the hills you'll quit on life" our coach would say. I don't know what company you keep, but that's how life seems to me and most people I know. If you think you don't need to worry about hills, just run on a little further.

  13. aren't you doing exactly the thing you condemn: blaming the vicitms by implying they've chosen to remain at the foot of the hill?

  14. Great column, (if I may call you) Charles and thank you.

    I also have been at the bottom of the hill, while seeming to some to be closer to the top.

    Your words are inspirational.

  15. Mr. Blow, Your column started off well intentioned and then skidded off the path into the same old, "if you work hard enough then you, too, will succeed like me."

    For you, preparation, opportunity, timing, luck, and a support system all collided, providing you with unparalleled success. Good for you. Not everyone has lofty dreams of writing columns or giving interviews and speeches. So be very careful how you define "downtrodden."

    Suppose the hill is the $8 an hour Walmart pays you to work "full time," which in Walmart parlance is anything from 12 to 20 hours a week. Suppose your employer, instead of paying you a living wage, conducts a food drive for you or advises you to apply for food stamps to make ends meet. Who's at fault? The worker because he's too stupid to just chuck it all and get that degree in engineering, or Walmart for not paying a living wage?

    Take your message to Walmart or McDonald's or the Koch brothers. Advise them on how they can help their "downtrodden" employees gain an economic foothold.

  16. He's not saying working full-time and still not being able to feed your family is right - Mr Blow has written many columns urging raising the minimum wage. He's saying that at the same time as you work for better conditions and a living wage, people who are stuck in minimum-wage jobs should not give up trying to make life better for themselves.

    That doesn't necessarily mean getting an engineering job - it could be looking for a better job, taking after-work classes - he's saying just don't give up. He did it - so did I. I went to school while working full-time and taking care of a family. It's not easy - but it's possible. And guess what, my kids saw me working to get us out of poverty and helped.

    I still think Walmart is wrong - I don't shop there. But if I had only 'blamed them' for their anti-worker policies, I would still be stuck in a job where I had no choices and would have had to shop there.

    President Obama has given the same message many times. We may have been born at the bottom of that hill; it wasn't our fault; people born at the middle or top of the hill aren't better than us. But we don't have to remain victims of our circumstances.

  17. A really inspiring article, as one can still better appreciate after reading so many inspiring comments

  18. Dammit, Charles Blow! You do it every time. Another gem that needs to be etched in stone. Now what the heck did I do with my chisel....

    Whenever I start to feel sorry for myself (whatever the reason) I am reminded that, all in all, life has dealt me a pretty good hand. I had multiple choices where to have Thanksgiving dinner. Some of us have nowhere to go; no one to share this day with. Those are the people we need to remember on the weekend following Thanksgiving. Keep your fingers crossed and your hands folded for them.

    I know that tonight, when I lay myself down to sleep, it won't be on an empty stomach. I'll go off into dreamland in a warm bed with a roof over my head. Life is pretty good.

    Tom Degan

  19. Hamlet couldn't have said it better. Mr. Blow appears at war with himself. The first half of his article was the typical liberal mishmash that flies in the face of the trillions spent (wasted) and hundreds of government programs (misguided) aimed at improving the lives of the "disadvantaged." To a conservative reader it's enough to make one discharge a breakfast.

    And then, yes, and then! Mr. Blow switches, making one's head spin, to a creed that Ayn Rand might have espoused. Delete the first half and Mr. Blow's column could grace the walls of the Heritage Foundation. As an admirer of Mr. Blow's writings I believe he finally came to his senses.

  20. Through the filter of your own ultra-conservative beliefs, you have misread BOTH halves of Mr. Blow's commentary.

  21. I never knew I had it so good! 8th of eight. Parents who provided all they could. Lesson, oh yes, to be kind, helpful and observant to those who don't have it as good as you do. Many a morning, a stanger at our breakfast table. Usually a sailor (My Father served on the USS Texas in WWI) down on his luck, or a women with children in tow and a drunk at "home". Simple lessons of compassion and the desire to see things go better for my/our lost brothers and sisters.
    If a political party can provide that type of training bring it on and I will join in. Sadly, very truly there are those doing their damndest (sorry about the spelling) to never pass it on. Wouldn't it be great if we were all quaterbacks?
    Mr. Blow; you can lead the huddle and call the play. You need no help in the form of signal calling from the bench...

  22. For some people doing hard work the goal is not necessarily climbing the hill. These are the folk who take great pride in their work. We are the benefactors of the underpaid janitor who makes sure the floors of the school are as clean as can be for our children. Many people at the bottom of the hill work for our benefit and it's something everyone, no matter how far up the hill, should remember.

    Thank you, Mr. Blow for yet another vivid column.

  23. There are many kinds of hills. Another one not mentioned is mental illness. People with mental illness are expected to not climb the hill, to stay at the bottom, unemployed or underemployed when, with proper treatment, many can and do work. When I see people with mental illness struggling with the side effects of their medications and going for therapy and working hard to do the same things the rest of us do so easily, I think it is like they are climbing Mt. Everest without an oxygen tank. Yet, many of them do it. They climb, they work hard and they try to fit into a society that stigmatizes and rejects them. God bless each one of them for climbing their hills and inspiring the rest of us who have it so much easier than they do.

  24. What I'm hearing here is "Stop whining and being a victim" but in this I actually agree. Life is unfair and likely to stay that way. We should certainly act and aspire towards diminishing these inequalities and injustices but never throw our hands up in despair that they exist. Great advice and hill analogy.

  25. nice message.having set it up in the first few paragraphs, it's interesting that the advice you give is what conservatives at least say they believe. i think another facet to this story is that most people that call themselves conservative are happy to embrace this simple message of self empowerment but are oblivious to the fact that the people who lead them are more interested in gaming the system than allowing the underclasses a clear path to climb the hill. someday, too late, they will awake to the fact that the hill has been privatized.

  26. Bravo Monsieur Blow. Bravo. What would be wonderful - is if the nytimes circulated a copy of this piece to schools in the lower incone sections of ny and Washington and the predominantly red states, requesting the schools to post them up. It would be a wonderful life affirming message for kids who cannot afford a subscription to the times to see how far you as a climber have come, and how very critical a persons attitude is when destiny looks upon their worthiness to get up the hill. That last part is admitted speculation on my part, but it is, i would venture, logical in light of your own life circumstances and those of others who succeed despite odds.

  27. Ah, hold a minute here. There are a bit too many obstacles, real and imagined, in the pathway up that hill.

    There are too many "heteronormative ideals" blocking the way up? What this says to me is that not being gay has become, in the view of Mr. Blow, not quite good enough. It has been turned into a negative, because, you know, there are all those ideals associated with it.

    Let's not confuse discrimination and poor treatment of people with the ordinary facts of life. Most people are not gay. Most people don't see anything wrong with not being gay. Most of those people, in turn, don't believe they have done anything wrong to others by believing that their "lifestyle" is in some way "ideal".

    The many and varied efforts at equality in our society have a way of transforming themselves into attempts to demonstrate superiority. That was always, in fact, an underlying, sometimes unspoken argument of the women's liberation movement of the 1970s forward and it seems now that Mr. Blow would like to make it implied in the gay rights movement too. If not superiority, at least gays should now be considered "more equal" than non-gays?

    What the first half of this column says to me, in a positive sense, is that the most important thing people could do is to mentally escape the society around them and realize that they are not defined by their beginning life circumstances. In other words, do what your heart and mind says and believe in yourself.

  28. A recent story I heard on NPR about a 60-yr old Japanese man who was switched at birth by incompetent hospital staff (in Japan), and lived a life of hardship all his life, until the mistake was identified a couple of years ago. This man chose not to be a victim, and chose to strive to overcome his circumstances in whatever small way he could, and showed grace, forgiveness and courage in the face of a lifetime of needless suffering. It is an example every one of us can emulate, and echos the thesis that being born into disadvantaged circumstances (at the bottom of the hill) is no reason to live at the bottom of the hill. Climbing can be fun!

  29. When I entered the workforce in the 1970's, I had a union job that paid good wages, provided health care, paid holidays and vacation, and a defined benefit retirement plan. My wife and I were able to buy a home, create a stable family and see our three children get college degrees.

    For the last 30-40 years, I watched sadly as one by one, the pillars of a stable middle class society have been attacked and torn down by anti-union, anti-tax, and anti-government crusaders. The jobs have been shipped overseas, the class warfare is over, and those at the top of the hill have won.

    Now, the working class struggles to find part-time jobs that pay subsistence wages, with no benefits. And the elites at the top of the hill preach "family values," when it is their policies that create the economic pressure that breaks families apart.

    It is much harder now to make from the bottom of the hill to the middle, because of those at the top.

  30. Human suffering is universal in this country or outside this country, black or non-black. If only we can accept this premise, we can move on and improve our lot. We all empathize the black people had suffered in the past, so were ethnic group. Mr. Blow should stop dwelling in the past and move on like everyone else.

  31. I highly recommend reading "The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration" by Isabel Wilkerson. Explains many of the factors acting to help break down the black family. If only some understanding could influence the right people.

  32. What a beautiful affirmation of dignity.
    This reminds me of my father's success story. He was one of five siblings, born poor and raised by his grandmother, but with a good head on his shoulders. Education was his ticket to a better life. He was the first in his family to go to college and he pursued his field to a Ph.D. Admittedly, he did have some windfalls along the way, namely coming across people who were able to help him with fellowships and jobs. In essence, this column is the story of the American Dream.

  33. Beautifully written, as always, Charles, but don't overlook the new research on the "cognitive tunnelling" that stressed, overworked, sleep deprived people who are having trouble meeting the needs of existence face. Folks in these conditions are so focused on filling their immediate needs that it crowds out judgement, higher reasoning, and the other cognitive tools necessary to overcome the huge barriers they face on their way up the hill.

  34. As at least one commentator noted, Mr. Blow's column, after describing historical and institutional obstacles to success for many people, shifts ground and recommends individual effort. One can't deny the importance of individual effort as one can't deny individual responsibility. But if you are born at the bottom of a hill and those at the top keep rolling boulders down on you, it's only the rare--and very lucky--individual who will not be stopped. More power to those extraordinary individuals like Mr. Blow himself. But all the rest of us--those of us, let's say nowhere near the top but, fortunately, not at the bottom either--have got to do what we can to level out that hill or clear pathways to make the ascent more possible for more people.

  35. Much of happiness is internal satisfaction -- survival is different. Survival depends upon physical needs.

    Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs theory correlates with the metaphor of "The Hill."

    It's not so much based on the methods, but the changing challenges of all needs, and how one precipitates yet another need.

    I agree that education is the magical tool, said by others. But education is much more than formal schooling.

    For example, I noticed that those coming from turmoil in the home often escape through imagination and reading. It's no wonder some of our finest poets faced "The Hill" and serendipit(l)y escaped.

    Others, using reading found vocabulary escalating and writing becoming more natural -- then entered the formal education area and excelled.

    Pre-school and tutoring programs are much more civil approaches to education.

    Those with money hire tutors. Churches need to organize tutors in the parish.

  36. I have to say that it depends on what kind of a hill you have to climb. For example I am working with a young woman who had triplets when she was 12, and whose parents married her to the extremely abusive 40 year old father. after years of abuse she is trying to climb her hill but she is now battling mental health issues, addiction, physical health problems, and no high school education because she was forced out of school in the 7th grade.

  37. This doesn't seem to address the fact that to fight, you need support. No one can fight those battles alone. That's why the breakup of families is so devastating, and it's all families, all demographics, globally. Our economic system makes moving to find work necessary all over the world. Even if it's just a few towns away, the effect on the family is devastating, and might even explain the sick maneuvers of the ultra-rich and powerful to keep all the marbles.

  38. Thank you. Your words ring true in the "achievement gap" school where I teach. I witness the less privileged students overcome or fail to scale an almost insurmountable hill. I try to give them the tools to climb but those who have succeeded have done so due largely to their own tenacity. A current student embodies your achievement as act of defiance- born to a 15 year-old mother who gave up custody when she was very young, raised by her "second mother" until she was an adolescent. Her paternal grandmother is currently raising her and has been a source of loving discipline that she had not previously experienced. This young woman is SMART and particularly adept at understanding others and recognizing racism and condescension. When a white classmate who had dropped down from an honors into her regular class called her "ignorant" for speaking out against welfare, she nearly hit him. She told me later that she had noticed his condescension from the time he entered the class. She introduced herself and he ignored her. When she said her grandmother was a professor he sighed as though that could not be possible. She is still working on containing her outrage when people deny her experiences. She was kicked out of her English class one day and told me, "What really made me mad was when someone wrote a story about their parents hitting them and this boy said, 'That doesn't sound true.' Who is he to say that's not real life? That IS real, I've seen it." She just got a 27 on her ACT.

  39. I agree, with this proviso: there seems to be only two kinds of work left in modern economies, (1) low wage service jobs, and (2) skilled work that requires an IQ over 100. In the absence of manufacturing jobs, one can really only climb the hill if born with a better than average IQ.

    While I am a fan of meritocracy, we have narrowed the definition of 'merit' quite a bit.

  40. Instead of urging the marginalized and excluded to start hill climbing, Mr. Blow, call for the hill to be leveled. The hill was constructed artificially with the blood and sweat of those who live below it, and it is inhabited by those who are there because of the work sacrifice of others. What righteous person would want to live on this artificial hill, cohabiting with the privileged usurpers? Instead of urging those who have been excluded from the heights to start climbing, Mr. Blow, urge that the hill be removed. Tear down the hill.

  41. I salute your bold statement that we construct life as a hill and critique individual climbing attempts and prowess without acknowledging that people are born in hill placement classes. I wish, though, that you'd indicated how those at the hill's top can change the terrain under the feet of climbers. Excellent climbing when traction is removed does not result in achievement.

  42. People at the bottom of the hill also have the boot of politics on their throats. We've been told these people lack ambition and personal responsibility, that they've developed a comfort level with their dependency on "us." Or, as Paul Ryan describes it, we've given them a comfortable hammock to live in. Yes, we've purchased their hammocks for them, and they have no interest in giving them up. Yes, the blame game. And it makes terrific politics. There's got to be a reason the guy half way up the hill can't get to the top. And, for many, the reason is the guy at the bottom of the hill.

  43. The author's solution of "trying hard and working hard" as a means to success negates his premise. As if success is easy for the groups he designates as the oppressors. Rablerouser, unworthy of the New York Times.

  44. When I was 20, I was very poor. Often my first wife and I had no food in the house. However, being broke was novel. It was hard to believe that I'd always be poor. But what if I felt differently? What if grinding poverty looked like a long-term reality?

    How can people who are financially secure dictate morality to those who aren't? What a convenient way to eschew any responsibility. If you've ever sneered, "Why don't they just get a job?", have you seen the news? Some full-time Walmart employees require government assistance. At the Columbus, Ohio, Walmart, customers were asked to donate to help some of the store's employees make ends meet.

    So, perhaps there aren't jobs to get. At least if you like pay.

    The Atlantic article Rima cites ends thus:

    “All the data shows it isn't about poor people, it’s about people who happen to be in poverty. All the data suggests it is not the person, it's the context they’re inhabiting.”

    You said: "These are all arguments based on shame, meant to ... allow for draconian policy arguments from supposedly caring people."

    Historically, shame has proved a worthy tool for keeping people from rising up against governments and theologies. Make people feel bad enough about themselves and they won't be any trouble at all.

    When the naifs on our Supreme Court declare racism over, they embody the unashamed Romneyesque attitudes that continue to siphon away this country's resources with unending war and M.C. Escher-like financialization.

  45. I think that Charles Blow is one of the best commentators I have ever read. He discusses subjects from his unique perspective and always makes a logical case.
    It is always refreshing to read his views.

  46. Keeping it simple, Mr. Blow's words that grace the page stir the teachings of my youth and leave me wondering why. How is it that so many turn from our fellow man? The hypocrisy of this nation is overwhelming and frankly, sad.

    Once again Mr. Blow gets it right and proves he is the smartest guy in the room. I gotta believe that room's a big one, able to welcome more if only we try.

    Thank you Charles Blow.

  47. I have always thought that the best way to climb that hill is to simply not have children until you have completed your education and gotten some decent work experience behind you. Conversely, starting your family at age 16 almost guarantees staying at the bottom.

  48. Some of us were taught to believe that our place was at the bottom of the hill. By the time we were old enough to know better life pretty much had beaten us into submission, maybe once too often. Suddenly, you're old. I will pass this article to youngsters I know.

  49. Indeed a hill, but you recently pointed out those that helped you climb it. Hill climbing cannot be a solitary affair, we need also to build a community effort to assist in the ascending.

  50. Some are born at the bottom of a hill with the top-dwellers rolling boulders down at them.

  51. Maybe we are all suffering from life is always greener on the otherside. (it's not)

  52. Going uphill is infinitely better exercise and will build better strength in the legs, back and core. Those at the top or mid-level will be flabby and we can chase them with sticks!!

  53. Mr Blow. Sadly it is not as simple as climbing a mountain, the rich always seem to put obstacles in the way. Like if you work hard and do a good job for someone, they will not pay you a decent salary. Also if you have bad credit you pay more for car insurance, and banks always find a reason to overdraw you to get a $37 fee because you live paycheck to paycheck. If you drive an older car because you cannot afford a new one, the police will profile you and pull you over, because they know you are poor and an easy target. I know because I lived it and seen it with my own eyes. The only way I know how to escape poverty is college. If people on the bottom do not use education, they will always get kicked back down the hill. The rich always want to be king of the hill, and would stop at nothing to stay on top. It is up to us all to make sure we all have an equal share of the pie.

  54. Other than your obligatory, racist, "blame the non-Blacks" second paragraph, Charles, this is a very fine piece.

    It should be required reading at every dinner table, everywhere, for all folks.

    It would be great if the kids at the table could read it for themselves. But, sadly, many can't and don't care. That's one of their "hills."

    Try to find someone they respect to read it for them. Read it with passion. Read it with love. Read it with positive expectations. Check their "hill" progress every day. Let them know you love them and care about them.

    Most important, be certain it is read it with a tone that doesn't blame everyone else for the hills we all face. Those are our own hills to climb, regardless. Don't waste time on the nay-sayers.

    Hating and blaming others won't fix anything, and only make the hills harder to climb.

    As you say, we must ALL become world-class climbers. Nobody can do it for us. It's ours.

  55. Life is a hill. Is it an ant hill? If so, then there is only so much room at the top, and the way we get to the top and stay at the top is to stride up or stand on or stomp down on the shoulders of the many beneath us.

    Metaphors. Dang.

  56. I agree that the hill should be attacked with spirit and gusto, but if you start looking too content with your progress, someone will come along and take something away.

  57. Great sentiment...I really appreciate the writing...However, let us not forget, misogyny and sexism are blights that lie within all ethnicities and cultures. Minority cultures and ethnicities should fight against these crimes within their own communities , while concurrently, fighting any injustices being promulgated by majority cultures and ethnicities against them.

  58. "No doubt "Life is a hill", but man am I tired

  59. Mr. Blow, you've hit a home run. And, I suspect that some of the commenters have trouble understanding what you say because of their different experiences and life station. Many--clearly not most commenting here--have no real experience of being born at the bottom, without family support, either emotionally or material, those born barefoot and without boots to assist them in their climb. .

  60. The single best way of enhancing opportunity and equality in the U.S. today is by restoring compulsory military duty, with an option for service as a volunteer.

  61. Charles, you chided others for suggesting simple solutions and then you suggested a simple solution. You said that Horatio Alger is a myth, but do it anyway. This really is not very helpful. What you did not say, but should have said, is to work to change the system to rid it of all the injustices that you cited. Work itself, just work, especially pointless toil is not uplifting. Useful work is. Working to make life better for oneself and others is uplifting.

  62. Great article. But: "History is cluttered with instances of the downtrodden lifting themselves up..." Not cluttered--adorned.

    Another analogy: when the starting pistol is fired, some runners are half-way round the track while others are looking around to borrow running shoes. But they run, and sometimes win.

  63. For some, that hill is more like a well, which is impossible to climb out of without a rope.

  64. Mr. Blow,

    Good essay. Can I assume sir you're a huge fan of Clarence Thomas? Now there's someone who truly climbed a very big hill. I congratulate him.

  65. In a plutocracy you have to know how to suck up to the right people to climb the hill.

  66. Powerful truth here. In this "season" of Thanksgiving, I am thankful for Mr. Blow's words.

  67. What if the hill is Mount Everest? Few can climb it.

  68. Excusology. If you're poor you must be downtrodden. Wait there for someone to come help you.

  69. It's a testament to the virtues of not accepting things as they are. At the same time, we have to create a path up that hill and no block it, intentionally or otherwise.

  70. Well nuanced. Thanks again for your clarity of thought. I would like to add that aging throws another curve ball into the equation. When you are over 50 and are battling age discrimination and health issues, even if they don't interfere with your work, standing at the bottom of the hill is daunting. Although many are heroically becoming entrepreneurs or finding other ways to beat the system, having already climbed the hill and accumulated significant experience, work history and credentials may mean nothing unless there is outside the box support to keep moving forward. And there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, in this position. Being in this position can, at its best,.engender more empathy for those just starting out and are experiencing the systemic encouragement of failure. Wouldn't it be great if all those in the more experienced category could band together en mass to help create a better world for those just starting out, not in a divisive way but in a way that we all gain? In a way that acknowledges the shared humanity and responsibility all generations have to each other to keep the world a place we want all children to grow up in? To cut through the polemics that require pitting one group against the other and expose a dysfunctional systemic core that it needs to put forth an agenda of inequality in order for a few to gain? Many truly good, healthy things are happening in this regard on a micro level. How can this movement be sustained?

  71. Defiance was a good strategy for me, too. In 1945, as a barely 17-year-old freshman at the University of Kentucky, I chose chemistry as my major. Although I was making nearly all As, my department head consistently urged me to become a technical secretary (I've never learned to type!) or a chemical librarian. I smiled and went on to graduate school at Purdue, where, after I married and had a child, my major professor neglected to read my dissertation. Why did I need a Ph.D. if I had a family? But I hung in there until he read it. I have been retired for nearly 20 years, after teaching physics (my minor) at Auburn University for more than thirty years, and raising four wonderful children with my (almost) perfect husband, a fellow chemist.
    So my advice to all of you out there who are not white, male, and privileged: just show 'em what you can do
    Charlotte Ward!

  72. No country in the world has ever provided more opportunity for more people to climb more hills than the U.S. Why is this difficult for many people to acknowledge?

  73. Mr. Blow,

    An excellent column.

    I am aware that, as a blonde-haired, green-eyed Caucasian, I was given a huge leg up over many of my peers at birth. We still live in a society (A world?) that honors such traits. However, I have had the privilege of working with people of all colors, and from all over the globe. What I saw was that, despite their many hues and cultural differences, the traits that brought success on a relatively consistent basis were: Personal discipline, a decision to do a good job every day on the job, and enough humility to accept correction from others. Some of these folks were kind to others, some less so, but none were truly selfish.

    It is often said that there is nothing new under the sun and, in fact, the qualities that lead to success have not changed since Solomon wrote his proverbs. It is still the responsibility of every adult to instill these qualities, as best they can, into every child--and the best way, of course, is by setting a personal example of exemplary behavior. To the degree that we do this, we assist the world of the future. To the degree we fail, we condemn that future to more despair.

    From the time they were small, I always told my children that it didn't matter what job they did. Whatever course they took, they must do the job to the best of their abilities and, at the end of the day, it wasn't how much money they made but what they did with that money that would determine their financial success. This is true for all of us.

  74. Charles,

    You have again put wisdom into words, Every truly patriotic American; every truly humane person must honor the worthy ideals that are too often stated and then ignored. I lost my father when I was under two; my mother lived in shocked grief for some years when I was young. Therefore, I have some hint that one can be down almost before one has any reasonable chance to be up. I have made progress and I have had help along the way.

    Each of us needs to be willing to extend a helping hand; each of us needs to refrain from hasty judgments; each of us needs to endeavor to make real the promise of liberty, equality, justice, and prosperity for all.

    Thanks again for your clear and inspiring voice!

  75. "Pick yourself up; dust off; start over" is another ode to upward mobility. Yes-- cheer on the marathon runners.

    But at the same time make the climb, rodeo or race fair--for the benefit of all. This is not an ode to equality but to discrimination in the (almost forgotten) good sense of the word--the two ideas are often confused. Equal opportunity to compete is not equal chance to succeed or equal chance of equal outcome. Rigged races allow the worse to beat their betters--at whatever; everyone pays for that. Positions of great responsibility are not filled by the most knowledgeable and competent.

    'Discrimination' has three senses.
    1. Distinguishing similarities and differences; this is value neutral--as in 'Can cats discriminate colors?'
    2. Bad discrimination: irrelevant similarities and differences matter in selection processes-- or a failure to count all.

    The causes (often confused with the effect) are prejudice (pre-judgment), partiality (knowing only part-- one side--of the story or alliance with one party to a dispute, bias (the wrong angle or point of view), conflict of interest and simple ignorance (not knowing what is relevant).

    3. Good discrimination counts all and only relevant similarities and differences. It often requires an educated eye, ear, finger, nose, tongue or memory; thus connoisseurs.

    Simple minded egalitarianism lets irrelevant similarities matter; simple minded racism, sexism and so on lets irrelevant differences matter.

  76. This article is outstanding. Thank you.

  77. Calvinism in specific , puritanism in general, and the phony prosperity gospel, which is a perversion of the teachings of Jesus, is largely responsible for most of what Charles is talking about here.

  78. Thank you Mr. Blow, for your encouraging, inspiring words. And yes, as one reader suggests, we can lower the mountain with better education. Another leveling idea would be to eliminate sales tax and place a bottom starting point for the social security tax. Here in California, we pay 12.4% (employee and employer total) and then around 8.5% sales tax. These taxes are right off the top, with no exemptions. This discourages those at the bottom of the hill from getting started. Let's shift them upward and give those near the bottom a chance.

    Of course, a better idea would be to eliminate large inheritances by heavily taxing estates, a la Marx. This would give every child an even start. But that idea seems to be not in the cards in today's world. Gates and Buffet are the exceptions--they have the right idea.

  79. Very inspirational article. I want it printed out, signed by the author, framed, and hung on my office wall. As someone trying to start a scientific business in a rapidly changing industry, the messages to give up are constant - and I view my efforts to make it happen as an act of defiance to the naysayers.

  80. This is sound advice unfortunately it often seems that there are those at the top of the hill who are hurling rocks on the downtrodden trying to climb the hill rather than giving them a rope.

  81. I admire and appreciate all of your columns, Mr. Blow, but this one has resonated the loudest for me. If I were as good a writer as you, I would have written this column word for word -- only adding one more word to your list of "pathogens" in the cultural blood: ageism. Thank you for sharing your brilliance and truth. -- An admiring fellow mountain climber.