Living Without Consequences

The quantity of the elevators in big city hotels is both impressive and an obstacle to navigate. Will I find several pods of elevators spread around the lobby or lobbies? Do the banks of elevators on each wall go to the same set of floors, since some won’t? Which elevators require a room key to open? Which elevators will let you on but take you only to some of the floors?

At a conference in a hotel in downtown Chicago, the attendees used the east and west banks of elevator doors in the largest pool of elevators to get to their presentations. There was a bank of a half-dozen elevator doors to the north that no one seemed to use. After a day or so of attending, I witnessed a young couple, attached at the hip and wearing casual clothes, glide to the north doors. Without looking at anyone in the busy lobby, their elevator door opened and up they went to some set of floors kept from everyone else.

My intuited sense, accurate or not, was of an extremely privileged young couple having access to pathways and options that others did not. This is no surprise; some form of this has probably always been the case in human society. It's a particularly acute problem in our current era, and most of us frame it as a problem of inequality in opportunity without merit. Without equal funding and opportunity in education, for example, the country could miss out on a child from an unexpected background who would become the next great political leader, or scientist, or artist. We limit ourselves when we structure social tiers of access in advance of any real understanding of an individual's capabilities and interests.

While this is a normative view, I suspect it's not the entire problem. Living a life without real consequences due to luck or good fortune may mean an inability to evaluate real-world options clearly. When no critical feedback is present, what learning or personal development occurs? When boundaries do not exist, what need is there for creativity and imagination? When I look at most of our political leaders in the U.S. today, I see a class of individuals who are functional in that they get by, but are completely incapable of forging any kind of lasting coalition or improvement. An impotent ruling class of empty status.

What can be the legacy of someone who had every resource available to them and yet was only mediocre?

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