A friend’s Facebook post led me to an article by Susan Adams on Forbes listing “The Least Stressful Jobs of 2013.” Naturally, any such list is certain to draw criticism from those in the mentioned fields, and this one was no exception. When “university professor” was listed as the least stressful job of 2013, the professors came out of the woodwork to express their displeasure. In fact, many offered detailed descriptions of their responsibilities that showed the day-and-night difference between the author’s perception and reality.
To Ms. Adams’s credit, an addendum and apology were issued. But even still, the bigger point was missed: when we judge only from our own perspective, we are bound to erroneously judge others.
Adams defended her post by shifting blame to the data she had received from CareerCast: their data focused on things like “physical demands, environmental conditions, and risking one’s life.” Perhaps to some of you, it seems obvious that these should be more important than how many hours a week someone works or whether they feel pressure to produce results in an area where results are equal parts luck and skill. But perhaps there is a segment out there who also sees that there is at least room for debate, or that there should be no debate at all: the conversation would be akin to comparing apples and oranges.
This is the problem we run into when trying to establish national programs to help certain segments of the population. It inevitably devolves into a shouting match across demographics, as people from one group fail to recognize the needs of others.
Take for example legislation aimed at helping families that are near or under the poverty line. While those who are struggling to make ends meet may welcome this, some who are (perhaps only marginally) better off might chafe, suggesting instead that the poor need only work harder. This might sound like a tired refrain, but every election season, we see rallies full of people talking about how hard work got them where they are, so anyone who was unsuccessful must just be lazy.
It is likely true that some people who are poor are that position because of laziness. And it is also true that some people have escaped a seemingly impossible financial situation through hard work and perseverance. But attempting to blindly apply lessons from one set of experiences to another is an exercise in futility. One could say that people should focus more on education, but tell that to the kid who needs to work just to support his or her family. One could say to avoid gangs, but tell that to someone growing up in a violent neighborhood.
None of this is meant to be an excuse. Any genuine person will tell you they are not looking for your pity. But instead of judging, we should be aiming to understand. If we can move beyond pointing fingers and assigning blame, maybe then we can figure out reasonable ways to help people achieve their goals, whatever they may be.