I Am Not My Car
From Under A Cloud On Heartbreak Hill - extract
It’s apparent to me how crudely we form opinions of each other when we receive knowledge about where a person lives – the part of town for sure, but also the look and feel of the buildings that we call home.
When I lived in Greenwich Heights, London and Abito, Salford Quays I was a busy professional office worker. I had a lot of material things and a healthy cash flow, but I must confess that like many time-poor people – I was a little self-consumed. The edges of my lifestyle were problematic. I ate too much, drank and smoked. I swore a lot. I thought a lot of myself. I thought very little of anyone else. I didn’t smile too often. Yet because of my job and my relative money wealth, independence and career success, people revered and admired me.
I remember once pulling up at my home in a brand new company car that I had collected earlier that day – straight off the production line – to be enthusiastically met by a neighbour who previously had hardly ever given me the time of day, yet on this occasion he was all smiles and hand-shakes, like a long lost friend or a sales pitcher – all eyes on the motor and making schmaltzy sounds of approval as if I had actually designed and manufactured the car myself.
To my regret, equally as fawning and obsequious were two of my longer standing acquaintances in whom I’d never noticed, prior, such an ambitious material streak and such a willingness to confer on humans new upper levels of pseudo-respect based on the sum total of their “stuff”.
Heartbreak Hill Syndrome
Yet the superficiality doesn’t end here. It has a flip side – that I have come to witness first-hand in my time living in a less desirable postcode – here on Heartbreak Hill.
In a mirror-image contrast to my experiences of living in Des Res – where people can behave rather poorly and irresponsibly but without consequence nor the drawing of adverse inferences from their peers and society at large, I have watched with glum fascination and later, as I grew used to it, outright enjoyment, at the way people treat me entirely differently. I meet with frowns and pregnant pauses loaded with critical judgment and disappointment. I receive sympathy – like somebody just died. People ask where I live and when I tell them they extend a hand to my shoulder, lean in and quietly whisper “I’m sorry.” People look at me with outright incredulity – you’d have to witness it to appreciate the full intensity of such a gesture – when I explain that I am on Universal Credit. It’s as if I had disclosed a long stretch in prison or a discreet affair with a teenager or some far-flung extrovert penchant. This is a very powerful experience to endure. Despite rationale informing me that such reactions were disproportionate if not entirely inappropriate – on an emotional level, I felt a strong sense of shame and guilt. This is not just very unpleasant but quite destructive because if my audience senses such emotion in me it can be used to confirm the validity of their initial position. This I refer to as the benefits feedback loop.
It can be intoxicating.
The above extract is from Chapter 1 of From Under A Cloud On Heartbreak Hill by Gary Knapton - a new free social media book - coming soon in its entirety as a PDF download - currently under final edition and redaction for legal concurrence and personal protection.