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No one hates you because you don't have student debt

Helpful tip: Being an entitled jerk will make people hate you pretty fast


Katie McDonough
September 24, 2013 1:05AM (UTC)

This weekend, Thought Catalog published the story of a woman who feels judged by other people (her doorman, acquaintances, unnamed adversaries) because she is an intern who is not poor and can wear fine suits. She can feel the eyes of the poor and the people who cannot wear fine suits on her at all times and it is making her feel bad (and mad).

Here is an excerpt:

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I’m sick of feeling self-conscious every time someone brings up the burden of student loans. I dread being asked what I plan to do after graduation about paying them back. Sometimes I lie. Sometimes I make up a line about praying I find a great job or can pay off my loans by working for the government.

But I’m sick of lying. I’m sick of feeling ashamed for being privileged.

She also isn't sure how to process these feelings -- of her privilege and its attendant (in her view) problems; she asks, "What do you suggest I do about it?"

Here are some suggestions:

Suggestion No. 1

Maybe chill out a little? Is anyone seriously on you that hard about any of this? When I meet a new friend, I will usually say something like, "Hey, nice to meet you! How do you know our mutual friend?" I don't say, "Hey, nice to meet you! How much student debt do you have and how are you currently financing your suit purchases?"

I am not calling you completely paranoid, but I am calling you a little bit paranoid.

Suggestion No. 2

Ask yourself, "Hey, what is going on with my feelings right now?" You seem really mad, but maybe you aren't actually mad at other people (like your doorman!) so much as you are mad at an American financial system that leaves so many others hovering at or near the poverty level.

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Lots of Americans are currently struggling to do things like put food on the table, and plenty of 20- and 30-somethings you meet are facing debt that they will likely spend much of their adult lives paying off. So maybe you are feeling some guilt about having so much while you see so many around you with so little. That's OK to feel. Everyone gets to feel their feelings!

In fact, when not funneled into an unchecked sense of entitlement and personal essays on Thought Catalog, your feeling of unease about your situation can be productive and lead to questions -- or even actions -- that may help others around you!

Suggestion No. 3

Be an ally! No one is asking you to stop buying fine suits from J.Crew or self-flagellate because you are debt-free, but maybe make sure you are actively supporting policies that help others out.

Are you using your privilege and your resources to help yourself, or are you helping others, too? It's cool that you are focusing on your career. (Lean in, sister!) But are you taking advantage of local opportunities to better your community and to try to secure the opportunities you've been lucky enough to have for other people?

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Suggestion No. 4

Maintain perspective! It sounds like your family was lucky, and that, for your parents, working hard meant that they were able to take in enough to support you throughout your life and now into your adulthood. That sounds really nice, and I am sure it makes your parents feel really good to know that they can help you out! But here's the thing: Lots of other parents and caregivers work hard -- all their lives! -- and are never able to save that kind of money. It doesn't mean they worked less hard than you or your family.

For plenty of people in America, working really hard still means having just enough -- or never enough -- to make rent, buy groceries or pay for college.

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Those things are, objectively, more difficult than what you are going through. Maybe having empathy for others in these situations, or a curiosity about what kinds of policies promote such disparities among so many of us, would be a more productive way to work through some of your anger than taking digs at your doorman on the Internet.

Just saying!

Suggestion No. 5

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If you feel legitimately antagonized, try talking to the other person about it! You seem to be mad at your doorman, who you think looks at you funny and judges you when he hands you packages "of work clothes" that you get "delivered from J.Crew." Perhaps, rather than seething with quiet resentment about these perceived or imagined slights, you could talk to him or her to ease whatever tension you feel in your daily interactions.

Here are a few sample ice breakers for you to work from:

"Hey, how's your day doing so far?"

"Hey, how was your weekend?"

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"Hey, thanks for always holding my packages for me. I appreciate it!"

Also, if you don't like lying about not having student debt or why you live in a high-rise apartment building, do not lie about not having student debt or why you live in a high-rise apartment building! It is really that easy! If anyone asks you about either of these things, you can say something like, "My parents were able to fund my undergraduate and graduate education. I feel really grateful to them because I have many friends who are currently struggling to work off their student debt. My parents have also been helping me pay my rent which, again, I really appreciate."

See? Not so hard! Hope this helps!


Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

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