The other day I got a fortune cookie which said:
Your happiness is entertwined with your outlook on life.
For the first time in my life, that sentiment did not piss me off. In the past, it always did because it blithely dismisses the fact that if you don’t have much power over your own life, your happiness is mostly entertwined with other people’s outlook on your life, and what they think it’s worth, and whether you’re someone they mind stepping on to get theirs. A positive outlook doesn’t keep a slave from being beaten to death. A positive outlook doesn’t keep a child from being murdered, raped or otherwise harmed by a sick adult in his or her life. A positive outlook doesn’t put food on the table.
But for the first time in my life I actually have some power, and that does change things. Now I understand why happy shiny people told me “Just cheer up!” Sure, if your basic needs are assured and you have some bargaining power over your existence, determination and courage and other positive attitudes are helpful.
Take my current situation as a renter. I’ve relayed stories before about how my theoretical rights as a renter just don’t enter into reality in a market as hot as the L.A. rental market. Normally in L.A., you’re so lucky to find a vacant apartment at all that you take it (at whatever price) and hope your landlord isn’t an asshole. Landlord ethics have an inverse relationship to booming rental markets – the bigger the boom, the less ethics they have. So my last three have been scum.
But for the first time in anyone’s memory (that I’ve talked to, anyway), L.A.’s vacancy rate is up. Suddenly, landlords are having to compete. Not only do they have to lower prices, they have to actually do those pesky things California law insists they do, or suddenly the renters have power over them. We can get them in trouble with city agencies. We can sue and win. We can find another place that’s cheaper and/or better managed. If they want to keep us, they have to actually do their jobs well for a change.
It’s a total paradigm shift for me to find the system working for me. Now I get it – the happy shiny people who always told me my attitude was the problem didn’t get what it’s like to be someone the system is designed to work against. How could they? They’re insulated by privilege.