I used to be in great physical condition. In fact, it wasn’t all that long ago – just a few years. I used to work out with weights, play hockey, run, hike, play tennis, all sorts of things. At the time, I used to look at overweight people and think, “Gland problem? Genetics? My ass. Laziness and a lack of self-control with food – that’s your problem.”
But at times in my life, including recently, I’ve had things go wrong… things that have interfered with my conditioning. I’ve had a lot of semi-serious injuries. Most recently, I injured my Achilles tendon and despite doctors’ visits, physical therapy, and endless stretching and coddling, it just won’t stop hurting. I’ve also injured several other joints over the years – shoulders, knees, etc.
Work is another insult to physical training. In a couple of jobs I’ve had, I worked about 55 hours per week, sometimes more. Coming home from this, exhausted, I certainly didn’t feel like going running or anything, even though that’s probably exactly what I needed. Instead, I collapsed on the couch with a bag of chips while “dinner” was warming up in the microwave.
While working at stressful jobs, I also ate a lot of “convenience” food… in other words, crap you wouldn’t feed your dog. Fatty, sugary junk – that’s what I had time for. My mid-section started to grow.
I’m not lazy – at least not physically. So why was I getting fat? Why am I about 25 pounds overweight now? Circumstances. Maybe my own stupidity contributed to these circumstances at times, but some could not have been changed.
This got me to thinking about the way that people with jobs, people with their finances more or less under control, look at the unemployed and the ones of us that are having serious money troubles. It’s so easy to think, “I guess I’m just smarter than those people. I’ve made better decisions and I adapt to changing circumstances.”
I don’t really believe in luck. I often say, “It’s bad luck to be superstitious.” But look at the example of a good friend of mine. Let’s call him “Jim” to avoid bringing any unwanted attention to him. Jim joined another friend’s successful flooring business (tile, wood, carpet, etc.) and built a franchise in a new location. This was during the housing frenzy somewhere around 2004, if I remember correctly.
Jim is an incredibly hard worker and a very energetic person. He leased a small warehouse, bought a forklift and a good-sized van and hired a few workers. He got up at 4:30 in the morning and was in the office before 5:30 every day, where he stayed until late in the evening if he wasn’t out supervising, estimating, etc. He researched his business every day and did his best (he’s also a very smart guy, with an MBA) to make good decisions in running his business.
To make a long story short, when the housing market crashed, so did his business. Now, he’s deep in debt and selling everything at a huge loss. Could you look Jim in the eye and say, “You were stupid and/or lazy, and that’s why you failed?”
Circumstances. They can strike anyone, anywhere, at any time. So when you see someone in trouble, maybe you can’t afford to give them the money to get back on their feet, but don’t judge. You don’t know what went into their situation. Maybe their business partner embezzled all of their money. Maybe he or she has a kid with an expensive disease. Maybe a family member was in a terrible accident and medical care and physical therapy went well beyond any medical coverage that had been in place.
There are “losers” in this world. But don’t assume that those who have lost “deserved” to have lost. I’m now one of those overweight people, and I’ll never again think it’s easy to stay thin.
Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.
Tom also posts on thrustblog.blogspot.com