I was watching a documentary last week about a family living in the Appalachian region of West Virginia: “The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia”.
The family is filled with hard drinkers, violent criminals and more than its fair share of drug addicts. Most are addicted to everything from meth and cocaine to cigarettes and pot. In most cases the family members have more tattoos than teeth.
The term most of us would use to describe the family would almost certainly be “white trash”. They are either coal miners or more often than not, unemployed and collecting disability when they’re far from disabled.
At one point during the documentary I looked at my wife and said, “you know this could’ve easily been us.”
The family, and therefore the conditions, we’re born into is driven purely by chance. We could be born white, black, Hispanic, rich, poor, and we could be born in any part of the world.
For me personally, I was born as a white male in the United States in what would be a stretch to describe as a “middle class” family. Still, as Warren Buffet says, I hit the genetic lottery.
The people in this documentary, in contrast, started out at an enormous disadvantage. The kids shown in the film were born into poverty and as a result have picked up on all the destructive habits of those around them. As a result the cycle has continued uninterrupted for generations.
There are those, of course, who escape this life and go on to better things. One such family member did exactly that and was highlighted in the documentary. But he’s clearly the exception.
For every person that makes it out there are 10 more who just accept their fate, and in far too many cases actually embrace it. They either don’t realize they have options or don’t have the mindset to pursue those options. They have accepted their place at the table.
There’s probably very little anyone can do to change the life of families like the Whites. But on a more personal level, know that there are always people watching. You may or may not realize it but they’re watching what you do and what you’ve done to get to where you are.
I was one of those who from a very early age watched not only the people around me but those I read about. I paid attention to their habits, their mindset, and the path they took to get to where they are.
Not all of their paths were easy. Many dug themselves out of holes some of us would find hard to imagine. But they succeeded in spite of, and probably because of, these challenges.
I also paid attention to those like the Whites who repeatedly made destructive choices and the impact those choices had on their lives. Sometimes we can learn so much more from those who provide us with the worst examples.
For me personally, I hope I can provide the same road map for others as so many did for me. This isn’t an arrogant statement or goal at all.
It’s also not me thinking I have more to offer than anybody else. It’s merely the realization that for others, most notably those in the early stages of their careers and are entering “real life”, there are examples everywhere if they just look.
I can admittedly offer more than my fair share of examples, some good and some downright terrible, as i’m sure most of you can. But I figure if I can be open about not only my successes but my multiple failures, someone else just might be watching and using those examples as a road map to get to where they want to be.