Thursday, March 15, 2018

I Am an Elite

My name is Jamie, and I am an elite.

In the present context of how the term is used by populists in a derogatory fashion, I proudly claim use of it to describe myself.

What are some of the attributes I claim as an elite in the current political climate?

  • An elite is a person who cares about their community, and the welfare of those within it.
  • An elite is a person who knows the intrinsic value of things, rather than knowing the cost of everything and the value of nothing.
  • An elite is a person who has striven to be educated by whatever means works for them (on their own and/or via institutions), and remains open to learning more.
  • An elite is a person who strives to improve conditions in society, without resorting to (as much as possible) appeals to baser emotions, to prejudices, to age-old distrusts and hatreds.
  • An elite tries to be constructive, not divisive.
  • An elite listens instead of talking over others.
  • An elite looks at the lessons from the past, contemplates them, and figures out to best apply them to current conditions.
  • An elite values truth above convenient, cynical lies.

Are these elites perfect? Hell no. We all screw up and will inevitably alienate others. You can’t please all of the people all of the time. Improvements, especially controversial ones, take time and effort to win over majorities to see the value in them. Right now, we’re doing a lousy job of it, allowing populists to hold sway over sections of the public who feel defeated, mocked, worthless, or, at worst, don’t give a damn about anybody else.


These thoughts flowed through my head while out for an evening walk on a day where I emotionally bottomed out. It’s been a tough winter mentally for various reasons, and I’ve exacerbated it with a daily diet of informational radio. My final breaking point occurred while sitting in my car, listening to a recap of an interview CBC did with the new leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative party, which he spent trying to turn the tables on the interviewer instead of providing anything remotely resembling a straight answer.

I turned the radio off before the clip was over. My heart sunk. This was a man who has a strong chance of becoming the next premier of Ontario behaving like a total jackass. Behaviour that a swath of the population embraces, or will tolerate because they can’t stand the current government.

Those who know me well will tell you I’m an emotional sponge who soaks up sensitivity. At that moment, I felt the cumulative effect of a growing feeling inside that the type of person I’ve always striven to be is currently not valued by society, or at least the loudest segments of it. My brain had one question on repeat: does it pay to be a respectful person anymore? What is the point of trying to educate others about the past, to listen to other viewpoints, to seek truths, to make a better place for all, if nobody will listen or others will mock you for your thoughts and efforts?

Why should I give a damn if nobody else wants to, or if other humans are too interested in preserving their own interests with the potential to harm others?

I see this play out daily. We yell at each other in public and online. We try to get ahead by a few seconds on city streets, with potentially fatal consequences. We see politicians do everything but make serious attempts to fix problems. We complain, complain, and complain some more, without offering constructive criticism or praise where merited. We stick to our partisan silos. We increasingly see black and white, instead of shades. The art of nuance feels like its vanishing.

I picked up my wife after the walk. I decided we would go for a drive to unwind. As we drove, rather than accept her help, I stewed in my misery, feeling like I was taking on the weight of humanity when I didn’t need to. The forces of misery held the upper hand.

But, to her credit, she continued to try even if I wasn’t up to playing along at the moment. She noted too much info about the current American administration and Canadian populists was too much for anyone to have a reasonable psychological handle on. That there are people doing good things out there, from assisting refugees to small acts of kindness. These are not the sexy stories, but they are the ones that matter more than somebody’s latest outrageous statement. She repeatedly asked me to name something I was grateful for (I finally responded that it was sitting next to me).

So, besides embracing the derogatory label of “elite,” I’m going to make a few changes. While not withdrawing from social media, I am paring down my feeds to reduce the number of references to certain political figures. I am taking a break from listening to NPR and CBC, and looking for more creative, enlightening shows and podcasts to listen to (feel free to leave suggestions in the comments).

I’m not checking out of life, but re-embracing it, and hoping that this spring provides many opportunities to re-engage with friends, my personal work, and my community, without most of the bullshit currently in the ether. I want to feel less despair about my world, or at least accept less despair than some forms of media push. I will continue to provide in my professional work context that hopefully means something to somebody.

The populists may have an upper hand at the moment, and they just about did me in. But, in small ways, I’m going to fight against their intolerance and instability and work on being the best contemplative/respectful person I can be. 

There is no shame in using one's intelligence.

There is no shame in using one's compassion and empathy.

Elitist or not.