It is a very tough topic, and it is surely controversial. But it puzzled me a lot and I take the courage to share it.
In the last few years, I wrote an article The World of Different Rules talking about my conflict with a mason, and another article talking about my conflict with security guards. The root cause for the conflict is, I think, my hope of a better country – a country with more respects, and with more rules – A country that people respect private property, and a country where people are eventually equal – not because being rich or poor, or the positions they hold. Everyone should follow the rules, and be equal. I saw so many injustices the rich people did for the poor people.
However, recently, I bitterly reflect what I am doing, and I started to ask the question: Am I seen as a rich people from the poorer people?
Obviously I won’t be naive enough to say I am still the poor. Rich is a relative term. My Ayi in Shanghai earns more than a middle school teacher in Luoyang, and an intern in my company earns more than most people I know in Luoyang, not to mention the rural areas. The gap between Shanghai and other part of the country is as obvious as developed country and developing country. Should I feel evil about it?
In Shanghai, after working for 10 years with pretty nice track record, I am relatively richer than people who just graduated, or people who are not fortunate enough to receive university education and are still doing labor intensive work in this city. Should I feel guilty about it?
When I use the newly developed standard of services and the sense of “justice” to judge people I often felt angry, and there are more and more conflicts between myself and other people.
I started to yell at drivers who don’t yield to people on pedestrian when they do right turn. I started to educate service people behind the window of banks to show respects to their clients. I even started to educate people in the government that they should pay respect to citizens, and should not yell to them, because they are not their slaves; I was even naive enough to mention to them that it is the tax payers money that supported their job (I was surely laughed at loudly). Anyway, there are so many situations that I feel I am right, and people are doing something wrong.
Until one day, Wendy said this to me: “Jian Shuo, how can you be so mean to them?”
It happened this way. There are three unlicensed moving workers who successfully cheated us to believe they are Qiangsheng Moving (a good moving company), and scratched the most expensive table we had in our home. Then they pour some oil onto the table trying to fix it, but only turned the surface to a complete mass. They believed as long as they didn’t do it intentionally, there is nothing wrong with what they did. I insist that they should pay for the damage. They laughed at me, and they insulted me for being stupid, and they even joked: “What a million dollar table you have! Why not tell me that the table worth 1 billion dollar!” It is the attitude they show that drove me crazy, exactly as the mason and security guard example. Obviously, they don’t buy in my ideology of a world of justice.
When I insisted to fight with them, Wendy said this to me: “How can you justify your table to worth one week of their hard work! Do you really feel good when they give you the money that they earn with hard work?” Unfortunately, I felt Wendy is right. We paid the full amount of the money they blackmailed (jumped from initial 168 to 700 RMB finally) in a mixed mood. It is the environment that forced them to do bad things. They are living harder lives than we do. Wendy helped me to stay humble and grateful to this world, and don’t be the King of the Universe.
I painfully realized the facts that I am stuck here. I never really thought about it, but I have to admit that I am treated as the “Rich People”, and according to what I did – so arrogant, and so self-centered, I am fully qualified to the “bad” rich people in novels I read when I was younger.
I had the conversation with Robert Mao many years ago. He was shocked when he returned to his hometown. He naturally stick to the habit to say “rich people are always bad”, as the propaganda in China educated people for half centaury, but only to find out that he himself became the rich people that his villages hated. Again, unfortunately, he IS the rich guy in his village.
When I think about it, I cannot justify the big gap between the rich and the poor. If you ask me, I won’t treat myself as rich people. I am just an IT professional turned entry-level entrepreneur in the last 10 years, but what I see myself does not matter. I found myself cannot justify why a cup of my favorite Starbucks worth about 3 hours of hard work of an Ayi, or several day of work for a servant in the city of Luoyang, or even worth, monthly income of people in my hometown. Again, should I feel guilty about it?
When I was poorer than today, I behaved differently from the person I am today. People who have less money don’t care about service quality as people who have more money, and they are the people delivering the service. How you justify your high standard for them to provide good service without giving them the money they should earn. (It is the market price issue. Overpay than the fair market value does not solve the problem, just like donating does not solve poverty issues)
The gap between the rich and the poor get bigger and bigger in China. The tension between the rich and the poor gets bigger. I feel so bad when I am classified to the rich camp. But is there anything I can argue about it when people really think so?
After painful reflection, I started to adopt another philosophy. I should work harder to build a society with more justice by thinking writing, and then actions, instead of being mean to the people who provide bad service. It is their fault not to provide the service they should (according to my biased standard), but the root cause is not their fault. Why this society does not provide good education, good compensation, and good fare ware for everyone? It is not impossible.
P.S. Please don’t be harsh to me when I brought to this private and sensitive topic. Let’s address the rich and poor conflicts in China, instead of discussing I am rich or poor – it is relative term. I am perfectly conscious that to be able to consume a cup of Starbucks does not qualify me to be on the cover of Fortune magazine.