If you enjoy a glass floor, don't forget to look down and thank your lucky stars

"But for a couple of bad breaks, especially visited upon vulnerable people, the outcome of life would be so different." 

This is a sentence that Slate's Mike Pesca spoke a couple months ago on his podcast The Gist in the midst of an interview.

I wrote the sentence down immediately, and I've been thinking about it ever since.

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Mike is right. As a person who has suffered from a couple of bad breaks while in a vulnerable position, I can assure you that it doesn't take much to send a life reeling into desperate, uncharted, potentially life-changing waters. 

It's so easy to judge the circumstances of others if you enjoy a proverbial glass floor: a familial support system that will prevent you from ever falling too far.

I've seen it more times than a can count. 

  • Legal troubles eliminated thanks to exceptionally skilled professionals paid for by parents
  • College tuition, mortgage downpayment, automobiles, and infusions of cash offered by parents in desperate times
  • Family owned businesses, legacy employment, nepotism, and second, third, and fourth chances given to someone thanks to the influence of a parent

If you're fortunate to be blessed with a glass floor, please don't forget how devastating a bad break can be for someone who isn't as blessed, and how incredibly stressful life can be for someone who is living without any safety net whatsoever.  

Think about this: According to a recent New York Fed study, one-third of Americans would not be unable to come up with $2,000 to deal with an emergency like an urgent home repair, medical crisis, or car accident.

This means that not only could they not raise $2,000 themselves, but they have no parent or family member capable of raising the money on their behalf, either. 

For many people, this situation would be unimaginable. But for almost a decade, I lived that reality, not because of bad decisions on my part or an unwillingness to work, but simply because of bad breaks. A cycle of poverty. A lack of support systems of any kind. The victim of a violent crime. An arrest for a crime I didn't commit. Homelessness. 

And I was lucky. I was physically and mentally healthy. Fairly intelligent. Capable of working 80 hours a week when necessary. I lived in a state with a strong social safety net. I had friends who put a roof over my head in a time of need. I wasn't the victim of racial discrimination.   

Still, I almost didn't make it.

Imagine what life could have been had my bad breaks had been coupled by mental illness. A physical disability. Addiction. Imagine if I had been unjustly convicted of that crime. Imagine how my life might be different had I been African American or female or any other marginalized member of society.  

It's so easy to see someone down on their luck, spiraling, and assume that they are to blame, when so many of us suffer similar breaks but are saved by the support systems that many don't enjoy.   

"But for a couple of bad breaks, especially visited upon vulnerable people, the outcome of life would be so different." 

It's so true.