I could feel the anger surging through my body. Waves of hot anger made my heart beat insanely fast. My hands turned ice cold, yet they were sweating profusely. I kept my eyes on the floor, struggling to calm my breathing and think through a rational response.
The setting was an unlikely spot for such an emotional moment: A small group discussion following a financial class that my man and I are taking. (An aside: The class is awesome, radical and life-changing. We heart the Ramsey.) Some members of the group were discussing how it can be a struggle for them to continue making wise financial decisions when they see people around them with much more, much nicer stuff.
As people commented on the topic, I remembered how, while I was living in Mexico, many of my friends and neighbors commented on how wealthy the US is. How they longed to live in a place as rich as that. Asking me how I could live in Mexico after living in the US. Although there are many answers to that question, I always thought about how much of our "wealth" isn't really "ours". In other words, how much of the stuff Americans have has been purchased with "fake money"-- aka: credit cards. Think about it--if there was no credit, what would our cars look like? Our houses? Our wardrobe? It is (for me) an interesting thought.
And so, I made a mistake. I opened my mouth and shared that perspective. That, for me... thinking about reality keeps me grounded. I'd rather have less--but completely paid for--than have more... with piles of debt. And, I told them about the conversation I'd often have with my Mexican companions--ending with the words: "So, it makes me wonder if we didn't have credit cards, maybe we'd look a lot more like Mexico."
At this, another member of the group exploded. He'd been furiously clicking a pen in each hand as I talked, and by the time I finished, his legs were bouncing crazily. He threw himself back against the sofa he was sitting in as he burst out, "I completely disagree! To say that Mexico could be anything like the US is completely incorrect and uninformed. Mexico is just a bunch of drug dealers all waiting around for a hand out. You see, here in the US we want to better ourselves. Better our lives. There, they just wait around on others to give them what they need. And, they have that corrupt government that is just teaching them even more bad ways. If we didn't have credit, we'd just work harder to get what we need. In fact, credit cards are like what gives us hope. We can get it, and then pay it off. There, the Mexicans don't even hope for things, so that's why there isn't any advancement. Really, a lot of the things they do they are just trying to copy off of us and they can't do it very well. To say that they could be anything like us is just wrong. Mexicans have completely lost all sense of integrity--unless perhaps you go way out into the rural areas. But, as a whole--there is no integrity." And with a few more clicks of his pens, he sat back and crossed his arms. "So, I completely disagree."
Even as I write his words, I can feel the anger simmering within yet again. I wanted to leap off of my chair and throttle the self-assured and ignorant person by the throat. Seriously? You think you know Mexico? So, you lived there? So, you have close friends who are Mexicans? So, you speak Spanish and keep informed by watching Mexican newscasts? And, above all- sir!! Do you not have eyes?? My HUSBAND is a MEXICAN! Do you have no sense of tact whatsoever? Ok, have your completely off-base and WRONG opinions about a WHOLE COUNTRY... but at least have the decency to keep your mouth shut when you see a person from that country within earshot.
It made me mention to Rey that it is people like him who cause other countries to hate the US. Of course, this man is an extreme version--but a lot of non-Americans feel that Americans feel towards them as Mr. Clickerpens feels. That they are so below, so corrupt, so un-American.
I'm sorry, sir. You know nothing. Yes, Mexico lives under the daily weight of dealing with a corrupt info structure. Yes, Mexico trembles beneath the power of a ruthless and cruel dictatorship by the drug people. But, not wanting to better their lives? No integrity? Not like us Americans in any way? Please. Go live in Mexico for a few years, earning the typical Mexican wage, receiving the typical Mexican health-care, fighting the typical Mexican legalities. And, then come back and tell me how superior your American spirit was in those circumstances than those of your neighbors. I can rest assured that I will be talking to a man with new-found respect for his Mexican neighbors. Who actually can really know what he's talking about. And who will have learned just how much those "ignorant and backwards people south of the border" know than he does.