Doing things differently since 1984

Climbing the Ladder

Ever since societies were created, there has been inequality: the haves, the have-nots, and, fairly recently, the have-somes.  I’m not going to contest it, or say that there’s really any reasonable way around it, or spend too much time complaining about it.  At least not today.  What I am going to complain about, however, is an entirely different sort of group, the “have-not-as-much-as-that-guy”’s.  I call them “ladder climbers”, and they come from every class and sector of our society today.

I work in a very corporate environment, in a 20-story sub-skyscraper, for a company that employs somewhere around 4000 people nationwide.  It’s a ladder climber’s dream.  The company likes to promote from within, and very deserving people get promoted – people who work long hours, have impressed the right people, and have fully devoted themselves to the company.  I can spot all the ladder climbers easily…. their personalities vastly improve when a high ranking person comes around.

I should note here that I grew up around ladder climbers; I thought it was normal.  I even liked some of them.  I was taught by my teachers and my peers that it was a positive quality to have an insatiable appetite for a better job, a bigger house, a newer gadget, and more people who recognize you as somebody important.  If you weren’t like that, you lacked ambition!  Destined to be a nobody.

I remember when I was still in high school telling my mother, “I know now that I’m never going to be rich.”
“Why not?” she asked – all parents, of course, want the best for their kids. 
“Because I don’t care enough.  You have to care a lot about being rich to be rich.”

I know enough now to realize that this isn’t universally true – some people are just exceptionally good at what they do, and end up getting paid a lot for being exceptional.  And I’m not saying that being rich is bad, in and of itself.  What makes me flee for my life is the attitude that has made “worth” and “amount of money” to mean practically the same thing.  I don’t know about you, but I have met some truly worthless wealthy people in my day.  Why work so hard to climb that ladder?  Why must we make power and wealth our ultimate goal?

Consider this – I’ve noticed a little trend at my work (and, I will fully admit, this is only from my perspective at one company):  


Now, this time ratio is heavily influenced by outside-of-working-hours instruments like laptops and cell phones and business meetings/meals that follow the higher ranking individuals around everywhere they go. 

Also, consider another trend I’ve noticed going up this ladder (again, this is from my perspective at one company):


Now, please don’t think I’m a statistician, or that I’ve heavily researched this.  Also, please don’t think I’m suggesting that everyone becomes a janitor and turns down any opportunity for promotion.  I just want to bring into question the idea that this ladder should be our god to whom we pledge our undying devotion. 

I do have one very important fact that needs no statistics: That ladder has no top.  The top of your company – sure.  But even if Hitler had acquired all of Europe, I guarantee he would have wanted more.  Do you know what I would call a ladder that has no top?  A hamster wheel.  Good exercise.

This may sound like a bad excerpt from a self-help book, but really what has me worried is not individuals who devote themselves to this particular avenue of a “pursuit of happiness” (which, ironically, Jefferson probably consciously chose this phrase rather than “property”).  After all, we’re not all ladder climbers, and not everything about ladder climbing is bad.  What I don’t like is how our entire society is shaped around the ideals of ladder climbing, like an endoskeleton underneath our skin.  For instance:

1)      Presidential Campaigns are based around it (we can blame Clinton for showcasing the fact that we stupidly vote based on the very-current economy)

2)      Every commercial/advertisement you ever see is based around it (and, as of 5 years ago, you saw an average of 5000 of them per day)

3)      Marriage is happening later or not at all, as people elect to get their careers established first, and balk at the rising divorce rates and ridiculous wedding costs (further to the point, wedding costs have actually decreased in the past 30 years – we just see the cost now as a reason to not get married).

4)      The U.S. has one of the worst income inequality gaps in the developed world, because we’d rather shape our laws to make it more worth while to be rich than to give the poor a chance.  And, as Obama has proven, any attempt to change that system gets you ostracized and branded as an evil Socialist.

5)      Even our education system puts schools, teachers, and students on a series of ladders, to the point where even teachers will cheat to get ahead.

6)      Consumer and credit card debt statistics are staggering, as we try to spend like we’re already further up the ladder than we are.

I could continue, but this entry is already getting far too long as it is.  Just to reiterate, in case you missed it when I mentioned it earlier: I don’t think rich people are evil.  I also don’t think ladder climbers are evil!  I do, however, think that this idea we have as a society that makes our general goal to have more money, rank, stuff, and adoring fans than whatever we have right now comes with a very high cost, and deserves a heck of a lot more cross-examination than what we’re giving it right now.

6 comments on “Climbing the Ladder

  1. Randel
    February 15, 2012

    Your ladder idea is a good one and can be extended. As pay rank increase, congeniality and collegiality seem to diminish. Also, as pay rank increase, the easier it is for you to let the edges of your personality hang out. The poor fellow at the bottom has to be all nicety-nice, but at the top, heck adolescent behavior is tolerated. All these recent Wall Street books point to major dysfunctions at the top. So, your experience likely generalizes more than you realize.

  2. A Tryon
    February 15, 2012

    Well written and insightful.

  3. Yuette Turneer
    March 6, 2012

    I like this post, enjoyed this one regards for putting up.

  4. Pingback: Rethinking Money | abtwixt

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