The Preppy Trucker - "You thought it wasn't possible"
The goal of The Preppy Trucker is to challenge some of those assumptions by shedding light on the lives of a people group that is entirely misunderstood, forgotten about, and left in the social dust: truckers.
Truckers don’t typically come from wealthy backgrounds. They aren’t spoon-fed types. They don’t dine with refined intellectuals. They aren’t part of an aristocracy, and they don’t know proper manners.
Most of us use conventions like “please” and “thank you” as a matter of course. We were taught to use them by our parents and by our schools. They’re practical not only in business contexts, but in virtually every area of human life. In fact, they’re so fundamental to human interaction that sociologists created the lofty term socialization to explain how and why we learn to use them.
In general, conventions like these are staples of human conduct because of family, school, and church. In fact, the vast majority of our cultural repertoire of social habits stem from immediate sources of moral authority and control like these.
But let’s save the socialization theory for another time and another place. I’d like to talk about a seemingly minor, yet very important trucker problem today.
On the whole, truckers exhibit very poor customer service skills. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard other truck drivers speak disrespectfully to dock workers or administrative personnel at distribution centers and delivery sites. It’s as if they’ve never learned appropriate speech tactics.
Actually, it’s not as if; truckers really don’t know how to speak effectively and appropriately. The sad truth is, truckers rarely say “please” and “thank you.” They were never taught to do so, and we still don’t teach them today.
Though a large percentage of truck drivers never even finish high school, they’re often expected to act according to established societal conventions. Customers hate it when issues arise and truckers overreact. Companies hate it when truckers complain. And truck stops hate it when truckers make a raucous and become an intolerable nuisance over some other trucker who parked his truck in the fuel island a little too long for the other’s liking.
But where and how would truckers learn to act any different from this?
Although we don’t have strong data to support this yet, I venture to guess that a large percentage of current truckers didn’t grow up with parents or leaders who taught them how to provide good customer service or build strong relationships with other people. Many grew up on farms or had blue-collar family backgrounds. They came from a certain class of Americans that worked hard for a living but had a culture that didn’t require them to act within a scope of dignified manners.
Furthermore, few truckers have service-oriented career histories. The new model, putting aspiring college-attendees in sales jobs at Macy’s or wherever, is something that truckers don’t typically experience. They’re of an older mold, the kind that involved harder labor and thicker skin. They didn’t need the skills we need today.
Of course, one can always learn new skills; but some are easier to learn than others. I would put “please” and “thank you” on the easier side of the slider scale. But one thing’s for certain: you don’t learn new skills, regardless of how tough they are to learn, if you’re not required to learn them or aren’t taught to.
Unsurprisingly, the trucking industry is having a very hard time making it clear to truckers that better behavior and customer service quality will make things better for them. In fact, one of the worst human capital management dilemmas in trucking is that truckers generally work alone. They’re secluded, isolated, and generally keep to themselves. They don’t get 360-degree feedback sessions or performance reviews from their managers. Their leaders don’t lead them. Truckers just get yelled at, from a distance.
Even more damning, truckers don’t just lack adequate feedback and training. Companies that employ truckers and customers that deal with them assume the worst of truckers and treat them accordingly: like low-lives. Why would truckers want to improve their conduct if all they got in return was institutional and pervasive disrespect?
As if that’s not enough, most truck drivers struggle to make $40,000 a year. They barely have enough to survive, let alone flourish in an increasingly expensive country to live in. Those that do earn more than $40k/year do so because they’ve slowly and patiently climbed to a 20-30 year experience level, earning them a measly few pennies more per mile—which doesn’t translate into the kind of money that propels them upward into higher social classes.
In effect, truckers are generally disincentivized by institutional disrespect to grow beyond what their industry expects of them.
And don’t just take my word for it. Listen to other successful truckers (as I do regularly) who represent a stark contrast.
Most of the truckers I regularly associate with haul pharmaceuticals like I do. They tend to exhibit stronger customer service skills than other truckers. They’re more polite. They’re slower to anger. They greet customers with a smile. And most importantly, they use the word “please” when they ask for something, and they say “thank you” when a job is done.
And these truckers, they make 2-3 times the average trucker salary. Gee whiz, what a surprise.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying niceties will turn undignified truckers into wealthy, high-class citizens. But I am saying, “Good luck, truckers. You probably won’t make much money if you don’t clean up your act.”
Be careful, though; this context should begin and end with truckers. The entire industry needs to build its own credibility in the business world—and in our American culture at large—by providing truckers the opportunity to grow professionally, which doesn’t just come about from annual seminars or online newsletters. It requires real change.
My wife profoundly says to me regularly, “Home is wherever you are.” Let me tell you, I’m sure glad she thinks that way. I got her into trucking.
Our rolling home is pretty small. We live in the equivalent of a walk-in closet. It’s only about 56 square feet of living space. Repeat: 56 square feet. That’s right, most bathrooms are bigger than our entire house. As such, “living quarters” isn’t really a realistic term since we’re about 1/8 the size of a standard apartment.
Oddly, it’s plenty of room. We’ve got comfortable leather seats, plenty of cupholders and trays, storage space that houses a few of my relatively unnecessary suits and sportcoats (she likes it when I dress up for dinners out), fridge and freezer, a comfortable bed for two, and plenty of room for basic clothes, guitars, snowboards, and recording equipment in the upper bunk. The only things really missing are a toilet and sink. Otherwise, we’ve got what we need and then some.
Many truckers feel like they have so much extra space that they bring their pets along. So far in my travels I’ve seen folks with 7-8 cats, multiple 50+ pound dogs, and even a bandaged hawk. Yes, a hawk. We feel that’s a bit crazy, but we’re not ones to judge too harshly.
Trucker life is all about what you make of it, and there’s no exception when it comes to making a house out of your truck. Most of my friends say they “couldn’t” downsize that much, live with so few things and so little space. But I feel that most people, when faced with the challenge, could rise to the occasion and make the switch. In fact, many people have already but don’t realize it.
That was me. Growing up, I lived under every kind of roof you could think of. First, it was a 1960’s suburban rambler, replete with veneer walls and ugly orange carpet. It wasn’t very big, and my brother’s room was more like a vestibule.
Next it was a monstrous, new construction two story with brick accents and hard wood floors. Big and beautiful. I had the entire basement to myself, including a ping pong table, drum set, office, and workout center. Not bad.
After all that luxury, though, I moved into an old condo where I used my twin bed for both sleep and storage since I had to share the room with my father. But if that wasn’t small enough, I then moved into a literal closet in an early 1900’s wannabe Victorian home in St. Paul, MN. I didn’t even have a door.
I’ve seen it all. Or at least I thought I had, until I moved into a truck. It sure is tiny, and it lacks critical amenities. But something about it feels more like home than anywhere before. Though my actual home is in Arkansas, I feel most at home in my truck.
But there’s a sad reality coupled to this logical feeling: no matter how much I feel at home in my truck, it’ll never really be my home. Even though I own it outright and spend more than 300 days of the year in it doing all the things that most people do in their homes, my truck isn’t my home.
Legally, a truck is quite different from a home.
When my wife trained for her CDL, her trucking school taught her that a truck is not a home no matter how much time is spent in it. A DOT inspector can rummage through your truck at any time without warrant, he can tell you that you can’t have mouthwash with alcoholic content and make you throw it out, and he can decide your tweezers are unregistered weapons (okay, slight exaggeration on that last one). But if your truck isn’t clean, and most trucks are not, a DOT inspector or police officer could put you through a more thorough inspection, just for the heck of it. A truck is not a freedom space.
This is not necessarily a problem on its own merits. But truckers suffer from a lack of freedom, and more specifically a lack of privacy. They can’t brush their teeth without someone watching at a truck stop. They can’t “use the facilities” without someone waiting for them to hurry up and finish. And they can’t store weapons for their own safety without worrying about an officer detaining them for it. The truck is no longer a cowboy’s wagon, it’s a state-sanctioned transport vehicle.
Having lost, or maybe never actually had, any real sense of freedom, truckers experience a serious lack of freedom and privacy. This is abnormal to the rest of American life, and it is a problem. Quality of life rests on one’s feelings of freedom of choice, responsibility, and personal space. Having none, truckers experience a mind-boggling low quality of life.
And we wonder why fewer and fewer people want to be truckers. Perhaps this has something to do with it.
In the spirit of crude but fitting trucker humor, let’s talk toilets. The other day, a pharmaceutical distribution center in Allentown, PA refused my use of their bathroom. I was having a personal emergency, but that didn’t matter. The facility manager thought allowing me inside was a serious “security” issue, and he simply wouldn’t allow it.
As an alternative, he directed me to the outhouse conveniently located in the woods just off the side of the building. Let’s just say that poor old port-a-potty wasn’t a pretty site. In fact, it was disgusting, but I won’t go into further detail. I mentioned its condition to the manager, but that didn’t persuade him to let me in. He felt a need to explain to me that the nature of the goods housed in their facility required the highest security standards. He said, “This is pharma product. In case you didn’t know, you’re hauling pharma product.”
I’ll be frank. I don’t like stupid people. They bother me, but this was particularly ridiculous. I dress well, quite polished. I don’t smell bad. I walk upright and tall. I speak very articulately, at least most of the time. I’m not a security threat. I’m not a nasty, grimy, disrespectful truck driver. And I know what I haul.
Dealing with this guy was incredibly insulting, but to his credit he had no reason to know how educated and self-aware I am. It’s unusual to run into someone like me in the trucking world. So, rather than giving him the verbal spanking he rightly deserved, I kindly informed him that no other pharma facility in North America held the same security policy, one that would shut out desperate humans in times of personal need. Again, that wouldn’t convince him either.
It’s another sad case of policy over pragmatics.
He recommended I drop my trailer in their yard and “go” at the nearest Wawa. A glorified gas station, that’s hardly better than the outdoor option he offered a few minutes earlier. In the end, I opted for Wendy’s, which was a 15-minute drive, by the way.
I mean no disrespect, but this isn’t Africa, folks. In the U.S., we’re afforded more privileges than anyone else in the world. You would think, given the natural and biological characteristics of human existence, a decent toilet would be appropriate or reasonable. But as I learned, it’s something we take for granted.
This experience, and many others like it, led me to reflect on the question: “Why don’t trucks have toilets?”
First, trucks aren’t big enough. Most trucks on the road either don’t have “sleeper” births at all or they’re very small. Trucks aren’t built like RVs. My truck, the largest standard built truck on the road, has at most a total of 42 square feet of living space, which does not include the bed(s) and cubbies. It’s not exactly roomy. Most others are called “coffins” for a reason.
Some trucks actually do have small toilets in them, though, but you’d have to spend a hundred thousand dollars more to get an extended, custom job done in order to house one. Seems a bit insane, don’t you think?
But it’s not size that matters in this discussion. In fact, the real reason trucks don’t have toilets is because American infrastructure doesn’t support it. RV parks have human waste solutions, such that when you park you can hook up to lines that properly dispose of your stored waste. To implement a similar solution on such a large scale for truckers would require every rest area and truck stop to build new waste systems. It would cost a fortune, and it would require more physical space.
When you think about it a little bit, this is rather absurd. Humans do a few core activities: eat, sleep, drink, and go to the bathroom. No one is exempt from doing these things. Wouldn’t it make sense, and be widespread agreeable, to invest public dollars into common amenities that would allow all its citizens to do that which they most basically need to do? No, of course not.
An article published online two years ago pointed out that we’re actually likely to spend less on amenities like these in the future. Rest areas cost state governments too much money to maintain and apparently are underutilized. In my own personal experience, this is true when thinking about the general public but not when thinking about truckers. Trucking already faces a serious problem of physical space. There’s not enough room as it is for trucks to park overnight, especially in urban centers like Atlanta, D.C., or Chicago. Even in the middle of Iowa, you might struggle at times to find parking when you need.
Which is all to say, you might find it even more problematic when you need to relieve yourself. I got lucky with the Wendy’s.
The fact is, we’re doing less in American politics these days to meet the basic needs of human life than we are in propping up false infrastructures like corporate growth and government work to satisfy political greed and self-interest. I guess it’s not sexy politics to look after the basics. In light of this, truckers are suffering and are likely to suffer more on into the future.
Who will advocate for them, especially when workers within their own industry won’t allow them to perform their basic functions? Will we reach a point where truckers say enough is enough? What happens then?
The weather impacts us all whether we like it or not, but most especially truck drivers. Right now, we’re in the midst of a very cold, snow-filled winter. The roads are dangerous (not to mention the drivers). It hurts when you step outside, and icy-rain and heavy snow make it nearly impossible to get around safely.
Just the other day, I got into my first real skid. When I was a kid, I’d do parking lot donuts like it was nobody’s business. My old BMW 3-series (not-so-aptly named “Gertie”) sure could take me for quite a twirl. At 15-20 mph I could play a game called “slolem” all day long. That was fun.
With a big rig, though, it’s a much different experience. In my case, my truck is my house. It’s where I live. I keep most of my personals in it. My wife’s future depends on it. If I lose my truck, I’m out more money than most people in America save by the time their 40. It’s more than important.
It’s also really big. Often times my truck is loaded to the brim, giving me an extra 40,000 pounds of force pushing me forward—about 15 times the weight of my old beamer. When you get into a skid, it’s not fun.
That skid, it was something else. My truck weaved from one side of the highway and back to the other. The Wyoming wind pushed me to-and-fro and nearly ran me off the highway. I was lucky, a little brake on-and-off got the trailer straight, and I came to a halt on the side of the road without hitting anything or going in the ditch. It was the first time I’d ever been truly scared in a vehicle. I sat on the side of the highway for 15 minutes before going again.
Stories like these, and so many with far worse endings than mine, abound in trucking today. I’ve seen at least five semis in the ditch just in the last 24 hours between Chicago and Philly. Trucks skid. Trailers roll. Drivers die. It’s just not safe.
Why is it so hard to get trucks down the road safely?
First of all, truckers’ choices and driving habits often fail to match road conditions. It’s not uncommon to drive “safely” at 50 mph during a winter storm and get breezed by another truck going 70. Some of us think those guys are insane. We’re probably right, but there are other reasons than madness that propels truckers through storms.
One blog on the topic suggests that drivers should always stop in cases of bad weather—as if it’s their choice. Most of the time, truckers working for profit-hungry companies feel compelled to push through bad weather to keep customers happy and keep the truck rolling. In this way, drivers have little freedom to choose safety over productivity. They’ve got powerful economic forces breathing down their neck, and sometimes their jobs suffer from gaining a reputation for being too safe (a.k.a. slow).
Owner-operators tend to feel it’s part of their duty as professional drivers to overcome the impossible and press on in the fate of inevitable defeat. One main difference between these types and other drivers is that they feel pressed to drive unsafely to keep their businesses profitable. Lost drive time to a storm risks up to several thousand dollars to a driver’s wallet. They can’t just close up shop every time the weather gets dicey.
At least some of them weigh the risk of losing their home against a few thousand dollars in a week. But as I’ve found, most owner-ops don’t have that kind of cash lying around to worry about. A few thousand right now seems like a big deal.
Simply put, truckers aren’t incentivized to be safe during bad weather. They’re actually incentivized to take greater risks.
One would be tempted to think that more closely regulating what conditions truckers drive would be a proper solution, but that’s tricky. Given drivers’ disincentives to drive safely and the relative risk on their wages during down time, it wouldn’t be good practice to increase regulation without concern for the issue of compensation.
In the end, shippers aren’t willing to pay more to get less in cases of bad weather. That doesn’t really comport with the customer service standards our business world currently adheres to. So companies, not holding liability for shipment of goods in most cases, have little incentive to give drivers a break when it comes to timing and service quality. Instead, drivers feel the burden to keep up with demands and the pressure of their carriers.
Thus, it’s clear to me that truckers sit at the bottom of a political and economic food chain. As it stands, truckers have no mechanism to force shippers to compensate them for lost time in cases of bad weather, and they have no mechanism to force carriers to advocate on their behalf. While there are rare exceptions to this, a few good carriers and a few understanding customers (as in specialty goods markets), there’s not much to be done. Truckers get screwed.
Even worse, they die.
So should we keep thinking deeper about this problem? I think so.
Simply defined, a community is a group of people that either live in close proximity to each other or share common characteristics. Truckers at least meet the second part of that definition. They all deal with America’s bad roads, bouncing around in their cabs like lipstick in a lady’s purse. They also eat less-than-nutritious foods from truck stops or Wal-Mart. They earn far less on the average than they should. They wonder how and when they’ll be able to get to the bank or the eye doctor. And they rarely enjoy a relaxing beverage-of-a-certain-nature before bedtime. So yes, truckers share some cultural attributes. Indeed, they have a lot in common actually, but that doesn’t mean they experience a rewarding community-oriented life.
“Community” is not a simple concept. Sociologists have long debated various definitions, slightly leaning toward a definition accommodating complex ideological features such as the power-play between urban and rural communities (which basically has to do with determining what factors will lead to the demise of a particular society). For the trucker, the classic distinction between “urban” and “rural” doesn’t even really matter that much.
Tight-knit rural communities are basically irrelevant, since the trucker travels virtually all the time making it difficult for them to maintain consistent, strong relationships with others. And the impenetrable urban environment is so physically tight that most drivers are afraid of even going in at all, let alone profiting from its cultural and social variety. Therefore, a definition that relies too heavily on the esoteric and inevitably damning constructs of modernity is not all that practical here.
If there is a truly useful definition of “community” that could apply to the trucker (and really everyone else as well), it won’t rely on geographic factors or common characteristics. One blog said it really well, “We think about communities based on what they are trying to accomplish.” Thinking of “community” in that way implies that effective communities are comprised of people that, regardless of their locale or character, build strong relationships with each other to achieve shared visions and goals. And in probably most cases, if not all, the main reason for setting up and achieving any shared vision or goal is really about human flourishing. Community is therefore inherently purposive, principally about improving people’s lives.
And that’s the kind of community that truckers don’t have, one that improves their quality of life.
And why is this? If you look beyond many of the daily features that truckers share in common, you’ll notice that consistencies start to crumble. For one, truckers have mistakenly relied on weak, disparate forces to help them solve their problems. What is more, lobbying efforts by organizations like ATA or OOIDA have generally failed to enact meaningful culture change as a matter of politics. Instead of focusing on systemic cultural issues, these organizations have focused primarily on technical issues at the policy level such as electronic logs and hours of service, which definitely impact truckers’ daily lives but are not significant enough to bring about the kind of economic and socio-political change truckers actually need. These organizations are important, but they need re-focused efforts. Good policy helps, but culture change will never come from an edict.
So up to now, broad-based efforts to improve truckers’ lives have not been effective. The disproportionate lack of respect truckers face from outsiders keeps truckers from positively connecting with the rest of society, and the lack of effective community support structures creates a huge barrier to building a purpose-driven collective effort to improve life conditions. As a result, truckers are culturally boxed-in and feel as if they can’t do anything to improve their situation. So they just keep on keeping on, avoiding the bigger conversation altogether.
Many truckers feel like they have literally nothing significant to talk about. So they talk about what’s easy for them to talk about: trucks. If you visit a truck stop diner, you’ll occasionally hear drivers talk amongst themselves. Most often, they talk about their trucks. Trucks, trucks, and more trucks. “My Cummins beats your CAT every day of the week and twice on Sunday!” “Hell it does! Mine’s pumping 650 horsepower!” It’s always about their equipment, and usually in an instructive or boastful manner. Even most trucking blogs concentrate heavily on the topic of equipment. Did I mention trucks? Well, if truckers do venture out into other topics, they usually talk about where they’ve been and how long they waited at the dock. But for the most part, truckers talk trucks. And why? Because it’s basically all they’ve got.
Truckers don’t take Mediterranean Cunard cruises, visit metropolitan art museums, or attend operas. How could they? They work non-stop, and they don’t have easy access to varied cultural experiences even when they do get time off. Many of them do want to be more culturally involved, but they generally don’t have access and they’re generally not socially accepted by those circles. But consider what would happen if truckers did up their cultural game.
They’d become more educated on important topics such as race and religion, understanding “difference” in ways that might lead them to see and treat others better. They’d become more active political participants, engaging more in the nuances of public policy rather than populist ideology. They’d have more substantive, meaningful (and generally more considerate) conversations with each other. But truckers are bred as simple and unsophisticated beings, and the world aims to keep them that way. Effectively, truckers are culturally limited, which in turn limits their collective potential to improve the quality of their own lives.
That’s why community-building is so critical. If measures were taken to develop the trucking community, to give it power, to give it strength, and to give it broad-based cultural understanding, truckers would be enabled to make the kinds of changes that would improve their overall conditions, their lives. As of now, truckers don’t have a community presence equipped with the cultural tools needed to harness their shared visions and fix the problems that plague them. What truckers need is a targeted effort, bringing both truckers and outsiders together to discuss what’s important to them, to build awareness of the harsh conditions truckers deal with every day, and acknowledge how critical trucking is to the functioning of our world.
Truckers do have shared visions and goals, but they’re embryonic, unarticulated, and unconsolidated. Those visions don’t yet hold much weight in the public eye, but perhaps that can be changed. Truckers have been kept out of the public conversation for far too long, and they’ve lost their voice (if they even ever had one). So it’s time we give it back to them.
Would you guess that there are as many mechanics in the U.S. as over-the-road truck drivers? Over 1.5 million folks get down and dirty on a daily basis to keep our humble modes of transportation on-the-go, and they earn about as much as truckers on the average. They’re also about as equally forgotten about.
We avoid mechanic shops as a cultural rule-of-thumb. Ever thought much about that? As a cultural practice, we dodge mechanics like bullets, hoping that when the “CHECK ENGINE” light comes on in our vehicles we can somehow handle it ourselves to keep from wasting money on expensive shop time. But imagine for a moment what it must feel like to work a job that literally everyone tries to avoid. Mechanics are a great example of an occupational group that keeps our cultural life-blood flowing, since without them our cars and trucks wouldn’t stay on the road. We’d have a hard time getting to our offices on time, joining those fun and always slightly flirtatious after-work happy hours, and attending our kids’ weekend sports games.
Even more, when our cars or trucks do break down, we give the mechanics a hard time for inconveniencing us with the amount of time it takes to fix our vehicles. We whittle shops down on price as much as possible, often throwing fits of rage at what we perceive are far too overpriced bills. I’m guilty, too. But listen, it’s hard work and things don’t always fix up the way we plan.
Mechanics have hard jobs, and they don’t earn enough for what they do. They make about as much as truckers, a measly $37k a year, hardly enough to make ends meet in our modern world; yet they keep on working their highly denigrated jobs to keep the rest of our lives moving.
By now, you can surely see the parallel I’m making between mechanics and truckers. At least it seems clear to me, the jobs that do the most to keep our lives in motion are the most undervalued. Hard hand-work like that of mechanics and truckers doesn’t pay as well or build as much culture capital as knowledge-heavy jobs like management consulting or lawyering. And underneath it all lies a silly assumption that hard-laborers can’t do the complex work of knowledge-workers because they’re not smart enough. How sad.
I can tell you most mechanics and truckers employ the same highly-valued critical thinking skills that everyone else (supposedly) does. Here’s a high-level breakdown of the intellectual steps it takes to solve a mechanical issue:
Listen. Analyze. Identify. Diagnose. Fix.
1) listen to how a car or truck broke down
2) analyze various components of the story to determine possible causes
3) identify mechanical or electrical components potentially involved
4) diagnose and the problem
5) fix the issue
After just a little thought, it became obvious to me that good mechanics are master logicians of cause-and-effect relationships. While the rest of us are lucky to simply understand that conceptual line of thinking, mechanics jump through the hoops of critical thought as a matter of everyday practice. And there’s something deeply horrifying about this.
Our culture claims to value critical thinking skills, but we know deep down that most people don’t actually operate at that intellectual level. Sadly, the folks who actually deploy the skills our culture values the most are the people it often values the least, like mechanics and truckers.
Most truckers work in low-margin industries such as grocery, auto, or other dry goods, and those industries don’t make enough profit to command educated and refined workers along the entire length of the supply chain. But that’s not the only issue. In fact, it’s that our working world places too much value on multi-faceted, multi-action, knowledge-heavy jobs. Truckers and dock workers do too simple of work to merit refined, sophisticated work practices and cultures; at least, that is how the big corporations see it. So little time is spent on developing work environments, and truckers get the last kick-in-the-rear from the operational ripples.
Working in the pharmaceutical industry, I deal with more highly educated personnel and inordinately more regulated operations than most other logistics and transportation companies. The usual for me entails a stronger importance placed on customer experience, product security, and operational excellence. We take more time than other parts of the industry to ensure that product damages are avoided, we carry larger insurance coverage, we use newer and better equipment, and we have more robust operational practices.
Truckers hauling pharmaceutical products also make a lot more money than the average trucker, but oddly they get little more respect for it. The size of a person’s wallet never earns them real respect.
Respect is really a tough concept to define, since it comes in many shapes and sizes. Some people feel like they deserve respect based on their particular brand of religious philosophy or some long credentialed history of work or personal life successes. Others feel like they deserve respect because of moral discretion or the ability to meet the expectations of others. Yet others find respect to be completely irrelevant, dismissing it and thinking it has no relation to things like “care” or “concern.”
As complex a term both on paper and in practice, these notions of respect only begin to outline functional definitions, not even structural, a priori definitions of the word. Merriam-Webster defines respect as holding something or someone in “high or special regard.” Clearly, regardless of your language philosophy, truckers are not held in very high nor special regard. And if that has anything to do with a proper definition of respect, truckers ain’t got it.
And while our world continues to struggle to understand the concept of respect in meaningful, consistent ways, truckers know it means something to them. Most, if not all, truckers feel a complete lack of respect from others. Team Run Smart (TRS), a sponsored web platform that provides truckers general industry and operating advice, reported one of Overdrive Magazine’s poll results showing that a lack of respect is one of the worst parts of a trucker’s job. In response, TRS suggested 5 ways to show greater respect to drivers, which included a greater appreciation for truckers’ time, higher pay, and honesty. And it’s true, being in the industry, I can confirm that truckers are generally under-appreciated, underpaid, and frequently lied to by various entities.
Where does this incredible lack of respect come from? Surely, institutional factors aren’t the only things that lead to a lack of respect for drivers. One web forum determined that respect from others begins with yourself, requiring a higher standard of dress and professionalism, attention to detail, and customer concern. There’s definitely some truth to this. I experience completely different treatment at receivers and truck stops simply by tucking in my shirt and wearing a matching belt to my boots. Top on the Stetson cowboy hat, people open doors for me like you wouldn’t believe. And I don’t think it’s out of some anti-gunslinger fear. People in all industries feel respected when others take the time to respect themselves and the way they look and present themselves. Truckers would certainly do well to improve their overall appearance.
And now, we’ve successfully identified an exemplary chicken-or-egg argument. Either truckers get no respect because of the ways they act and present themselves or truckers get no respect because society and its denigrating systems of control put the trucker at a complete loss. Which one’s culpable in The Case of the Missing Respect? Everyone else? Or truckers themselves? Well, both actually.
At least three kinds of respect issues plague the trucker and contribute to the low quality of life they experience on a daily basis.
1. LACK OF RESPECT BY EVERYDAY AMERICANS
Truckers feel like “throwaway people.” That collective feeling stems from various stigmas that everyday folks impose upon truckers, which includes thinking them inferior intellectually, physically, politically, morally, and economically. Somehow, others need to see truckers as equals.
2. LACK OF RESPECT BY TRUCKERS FOR THEIR OWN JOBS
Truckers need to collectively dress and act professionally, taking care of their customers and equipment to a high standard of excellence. It’s hard for others to respect people who don’t respect themselves or the work they do, just ask this PhD.
3. TRUCKERS’ LACK OF SELF-RESPECT
Since it’s hard to respect others when they don’t respect themselves, this one almost goes without saying. But the fact remains, truckers need to see themselves as important to the American way of life. They need to see their everyday lives as contributions to the greater good, thereby seeing themselves as good people doing good things for others.
Truckers absolutely do need respect from others to continue to do good and better work. The Schuitema Human Excellence Group wrote, “If we are very deliberate about developing deep respectful relationships in our professional lives, what we are in effect doing is cultivating alliances which can act as a launch pad to maximize our own potential and the potential of the groups we are part of. We will all begin to view each other as valuable and will start adding value to each others lives.” A significant growth in at least these three areas of respect is crucial to ensuring that truckers continue to help everyday Americans. Besides, and we know this, who wants to work when literally no one respects what you do or how you do it? If that attitude grew, we’d all be in for quite a ride.
When I was 8 years old, I saw my first James Bond film, Goldfinger, which commenced a nearly-unceasing fascination with luxury watches. In the 1960s Bond films, 007 wore the iconic Rolex Submariner, exquisitely befitting the secret double-life of a naval commander and Casanova. But in subsequent films, other Bonds wore different watches, including the like of Seiko, Breitling, and Omega.
Despite that they were all technologically fascinating and individually unique, the Rolex always stood out to me. Thanks to Bond, the Submariner became an unequivocal symbol of the debonair, and it was something I simply had to have one day. I’ve wanted one ever since; well, until recently.
Don’t get me wrong. Watches can be impeccable works of art, exhibiting true aesthetic genius. Jaeger LeCoultre, for example, known for making the best watch movements in the world, specializes in tourbillion watches that sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s quite an investment, to be sure.
What makes a tourbillion watch like the ones made by Jaeger LeCoutlre particularly worthy of an art collection are its few thousand independently moving parts, woven together by hand like the finest silk. Every microscopic part represents an intricate filament of a patchwork masterpiece, which in the end takes highly skilled technicians up to two years to complete. The finished product is astoundingly beguiling, though. Accurate? Most definitely. In fact, LeCoultre tourbillion watches are so accurate that they’re not off time by more than a second to the leap year! Surely, nothing short of a chef-d’œuvre. But still…
Thank you, Robin Williams, for such an appropriate poetic expression. All that watch really does is tell time. That’s it. Just the time. Some watches, like those by Movado, don’t even do that much (since they don’t have hour or minute markers, forcing you to make a general guess).
Of all the most futile things in the world, the tourbillion watch may top the charts. John Mayer, if you’re listening, your multi-million-dollar time-telling device collection does nothing more for you than help you stylishly arrive on stage at the right time. Oh wait, that’s right, you have stage managers to help you accomplish that. Well don’t worry, John, I understand. It’s an easy trap.
I tried many times over the years to convince myself about the futility of the watch, but it never really sank in until now. Would you like to know what finally shed the shiny scales from my eyes? Sadly, it was something that most of us don’t really think or do very much about.
Poor, single women with kids. Yes, that needs some qualifying. Being out on the road gives you plenty of time to think about things, like I mentioned in my last post. But beyond that, you also see a lot of things, too, that you may not see if cooped up in an office cubicle or suburban neighborhood. Over the last year and a half, I’ve met several starving women; most of them having kids to feed as well. Many were waitresses, others were beggars on the streets. I could see the diminished hope in their eyes, and I could hear the despair in the ways they drudged on with their lives—thinking there was literally no way out.
After talking in depth with a few, I learned that most of them came from broken homes, have had multiple divorces, and lacked familial support. One young lady, about my age, had a son who had a rare stomach disease that left him incapable of eating or drinking just about anything without having an acid reflux-like reaction. You should have seen his face light up when, after buying him his special hamburger with no bun, I said let’s get you a Coke, too. I’d buy him a thousand more to see him smile again. His mother, astonishingly, never asked for a thing.
And this experience was similar to many others. It made me think about the incredible resilience required of women in our era. Yes, required.
Having spent most of my adolescent life a fairly conservative Christian, studied the Bible relentlessly, and gained understanding of various theological positions in-and-out, I noticed there was one doctrine that seemed obvious, plain, yet also completely unapplied: care for poor women and children. The Bible clearly suggests it’s important to provide for the poor, especially women and children. Which is all to say that such a dogma plays an interesting role for me now, posing a psychological backdrop from which my feelings and existential agitation stem from.
Back in the day (even many still today), women spent the majority of their time in domesticity, caring for their children and often helping with odd jobs around the house. They were expected to, they had few alternative options.
Now, many and innumerably more women are active workers in our vast and complex economy. They’re expected, by a neo-liberal dogma to fend for themselves just as man have been expected of for thousands of years before. Indeed, the two are still incomparable; most women still navigate a complex cultural paradigm of competing visions. But there is no doubt we have progressed toward a liberation of women, which is a wonderful thing. But after those I’ve met, I wonder how this new ideology impacts women who are poor and destitute?
Each of the poor women I’ve met felt completely determined to figure things out on their own. They highly appreciated gifts for their children, but they were reluctant to accept gifts themselves. They wanted to be overcomers. There could be myriad reasons for this, but it was regardless a surprisingly common thread.
Perhaps they wondered if a young, single man could have good intentions. Or perhaps their reluctance signaled a belief in the American dream, providing determined women of our complex society the hope of pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps. Many other reasons come to mind. It seems clear rather obvious to me that the liberation of women in our age may make it harder for some women, requiring them to be resilient and independent. And yet, these women I’ve seen are in dire need. It’s a dilemma to be sure.
I bet you’re still wondering what this has to do with a Rolex. Just hang on, nearly there.
So, curious about the situation of the destitute American woman with kids, I dug deeper. Depending on the reports you read, there are approximately 3.5 million impoverished single women with children in the United States. Most of them work 1-2 highly underpaying jobs that make it logistically impossible to on top of that care for their children without expensive (usually unaffordable) assistance. These mothers make less than $15,000 per year, and wonder if they’ll be able to feed, clothe, and raise their children.
Of the several that I spoke to at length, they feel public welfare is, of course, too bureaucratic and hard to navigate. Oddly, the programs are innumerable, as I’ve researched. But when you think through the time those mothers have after meeting all of their basic obligations, you soon realize that expecting them to take a few more hours each week to complete paper applications for government subsidies acts like a third part-time job. Many women won’t even try because they know it’s too tough of a process. This situation seems ridiculous to me.
But what can I do? I can’t make the bureaucracy more easily navigable. That would take years of political maneuvering, maybe to no avail at all. A few women I met who did not have kids, beggars who were clearly destitute and deprived of any reasonable ability to obtain food or decent clothing, were equally dismayed. So I realized that there may be something to this Biblical thing about giving. But what’s the best way?
That was when it hit me. The luxury watch had to go. And millions more with it, I should say.
Rolex manufactures nearly a million watches per year that sell on average for at least $7500 per watch. That means that around the globe, just for one watch brand, people are wasting nearly $10 billion per year on something completely futile. If those rich 1%ers gave their watch money, they could bring a quarter of the impoverished women with kids in the United States up from poverty for an entire year, enabling many of them to find better jobs, go to school, or provide for their starving, deprived children.
A man needs no watch when he can tell time by the number of lives he changes. So I’ve decided to end my desire for the Rolex and instead donate the money I would have spent on it to various organizations or single women with children I meet along my travels. It’s certainly no long-term solution, but when I compare the ideas of buying a nice watch or helping someone out, there’s a markedly clear decision: sell a watch, save a woman (and her kids, too).
Why do most social movements and protests fail? Occupy Wall Street, Tea Party, Black Lives Matter. These are all examples of recent American social movements that resulted in little-to-no change. They even demonstrated incredible advantages, such as significant media attention and sheer group size, yet they ultimately failed in the end. Today, we’ll look briefly at a few reasons why.
REASON #1: LACK OF CLEAR PURPOSE
One blog suggested that Occupy Wall Street failed due to lack of consensus on the movement’s objectives and goals. What was supposed to be the end result of an attack on the 1%ers? Higher taxes? Wealth redistribution? Increased regulation on banking practices? No one really knows.
But one lesson we learned from that public spectacle was that it’s hard to go the right way if you don’t know where you’re going. Make no mistake, Occupy was never going to land a house on Wall Street, since quality of vision can never make up for what lacks in strategy.
Interestingly, the co-founder of Occupy wrote an article for The Guardian explaining why protests fail to have the positive net result often expected by participants. Micah White astutely noted that there’s simply no guarantee that social movements will succeed even when objectives are clear. Communication of clear purpose is only half the battle. For White, what really matters is the power of the electorate.
White maintains that it is actually morally better to use voting power to enact meaningful change. But there’s many significant problems with his way of thinking. First of all, his rather antiquated and establishmentarian approach fails, especially as it relates to the case of the Occupy movement, since voting power usually tends to favor those with capital power (a.k.a. wealth). Adding to that, as America grows in size, the statistical value of an individual’s vote actually decreases. We’ve already long-known that our votes don’t matter for much, but it’s even getting worse.
And finally, when’s the last time we voted a conglomerate of Congressional leaders in who, in the end game, actually enacted legislation that benefited a particular social movement? Probably 1964, with the Civil Rights Act. That was more than 50 years ago.
Though White rightly sees protest as a generally ineffective tool for social change, his solution is irrefutably not the morally correct answer.
REASON #2: LACK OF AUTHORITY TO ENACT CHANGE
Another blog, written by an academic devoted to the study of social movements around the world, concluded that social movements fail due to lack of clear authority. When political or economic power juxtaposes with charismatic leadership, politics or money usually wins. And we see this all the time, whether we’re talking about major social change like gun control or time-off policy change in a small- to medium-sized corporation.
Occupy’s failure most certainly stemmed, at least in part, from this issue of authority. Despite the existence of strong leadership by several key spokespersons, especially that of Micah White, the movement failed because it didn’t have the right kind of power to reduce the wealthy class to appropriate levels (according to the Occupiers). Influence is one thing, but authority is another. When the majority of Congressmen and women demonstrate long-standing effect by corporate interest, it’s easy to understand why a movement like Occupy would fail to gain governmental authority to enact real change against the 1%. They were simply not the decision-makers.
The concept of “authority” is nebulous, though, to be fair. Who really has authority to enact meaningful change in our complex world? Is it only Congressional leaders? The President? The “people”? It remains generally unclear what degree of consensus is actually needed to achieve net positive results. Some folks think that local, community-oriented efforts to mobilize bite-size efforts for change are generally more effective in the long run because the span-of-control needed to achieve results is more practicable. But then, if all efforts were only local, what complex problems would still remain in the aggregate that we don’t even have now?
REASON #3: LACK OF INTELLECTUAL RIGOR
Based on my own observations of recent movements, many efforts fail to have the smarts to round out their strategies. It occurred to me last year, while watching the statements of Florida high school students reflecting on their mass school shooting, that intellectual immaturity plays a role in predetermining the inevitable failure of social movements.
Not to be too critical of those daring young people, justly enraged by the appalling nature of their circumstances and fearful of future events, they spoke without carefully understanding what their words signified. “Never Again” suggested a clear objective, but their motto was undoubtedly unrealistic and emblematic of immature, un-rounded thinking. The outrage after Columbine in 1999 sparked a similar public sentiment (yet not quite to the extent of mass protest) but ultimately came up short in the end when it came to increased measures of gun control.
Listening to the student speeches on TV, I realized it was more important to reiterate that such a travesty should never happen again rather than discuss specific policy alternatives. In the place of intellectual discourse, their rhetoric was generally empty, excepting their passionate resolve to hate the crimes against them. The fact is, these students simply hadn’t developed the kind of knowledge, in the face of an already more-than-ever knowing world, that could sustain a social justice movement facing an all-powerful political giant of interest-based representative government. They preferred passion over pragmatics—which was not just symptomatic of their age, but instead the era in which they’re living.
It’s now the prevailing cultural sentiment to welcome personal stories over professional solutions. Which means, we’ve come ‘round to the end of a negative analysis on “expert opinion,” such that we rely more heavily on feeling and story than ever before. The fact remains, unless a higher degree of intellectual rigor is applied to protest, social movements will continue to experience failure.
REASON #4: RESISTANCE TO POLITICAL RECALIBRATION
That’s just my highfalutin term for describing our collective reticence to redesigning the way our governmental and political system works. As it stands, it is very unlikely to expect meaningful change from protests, period. We need to rethink the laws and institutions that govern us before we will ever see long-lasting change in important matters. But that doesn’t mean protests don’t shape public sentiment; in fact, over time they do play a large role. Protests have a way of galvanizing support at the same time they educate other non-interested parties from afar. Even if some groups of people stay clear of the protest fray, they nevertheless, in our technologically advanced age, see the existence of alternative views when protests make the news. So, protests should go on; but don’t expect change from them.
No effective future governance will come without intellectual rigor, without granting authority to the masses, or without clear purpose. But if we embrace the need for political recalibration, we may yet see the changes we desire.
In the final analysis, we’re walking through a time in history when the mass of Americans feel real collective pain and are willing to show it. If this were not true, why would we see such vibrant cultural outcries against injustices? The pain in our bloody leg is getting needled, deeper and deeper, and we’re trying desperately to alleviate the feeling. But it’s time America stops drugging itself up with short-term band aid fixes…because what it really needs is a surgical overhaul.
Historically, we’ve relied on expert thinkers like Karl Marx or Louis Althusser to define complicated words like “ideology” for us. If you’re not familiar with their intellectual contributions, a decent starting point begins with thinking about how we commonly think about political ideology. It usually entails one of our favorite buzzwords: division.
Here’s what it does: ideology propagates a latent barrier between ourselves and people who are different from us. It also never begins with ourselves. What this means is that, as both Marx himself and neo-Marxist theoreticians would agree, ideology is reproduced. But how? One way ideology sets up division is through government. Our systems of government fortify the varying, often antagonistic, assumptions that underlie our complicated ways of being and the value systems that undergird them. And sometimes, many times, the passing down of those assumptions leads us to failure.
Assumptions about political difference, for example, can cause unbridgeable divide because they’re often reproduced, handed-down from powerful systems of control. Our political climates often create trenches of separation between citizens by developing legal and economic policies that create radical divisions. They perpetuate things like inequality and class struggle, things most of us can agree we despise, through political antagonisms over things like hyper-regulation and unwise public spending. Furthermore, political difference in America makes it overall difficult for leaders to decide what legislative acts produce the greatest value. In effect, we end up making band aid fixes to serious problems.
Despite all its successes, America has undoubtedly failed to live up to our current definition of “public responsibility” and has created band aid fix after band aid fix to cover up our deeply invasive and pandemic political illnesses. We let students get shot, we let poor people go unfed, we let unsupported mothers fail at supporting their children, and so much more. And even where programs exist to positively address these shortcomings, they produce even more barriers to entry that they get unused by the folks who need them most. Meanwhile, many of us stockpile our wealth out of some generically selfish ambition, without any apparent hope of it being used in ways that sustainably support the people who have no access, no ability, or no practical right to a higher quality of life. How irresponsible! Even though we are most certainly to blame for this evil in a very personal way, perhaps even more blame is rightly due the system we’ve established. It can be so much better.
Recently, I watched a video, more the continuation of a non-establishmentarian discourse than an interview, featuring Dave Rubin and Ben Shapiro. During their hour-long discussion, they cover a wide range of political topics highlighting differences between “Right” and “Left.” They balance the rules of logic with pragmatics about controversial things, but ultimately miss the boat on a concept severely absent from our public discourse on political philosophy: compassion.
In their banter, Shapiro says that he simply does not agree in a progressive tax system. He, I think rightly, asks, “Why should I pay more in taxes simply because I earn more money than others?” A staggering, generally over-looked question. In truth, morally authoritative answers to this question are very hard, nearly impossible, to adjudicate.
Hard Left-wingers would argue that economic inequality produces nothing but a bunch of haves and have nots, a neo-Marxian perspective that aims at reducing the disparity between those with greater access to mechanisms fostering wealth accumulation and eliminating the incongruent opportunities that members of certain social strata have at their fingertips to manipulate and take advantage of capital. In short, the Leftist argument goes: some people have more barriers than others, so we should help them out.
And in their response, conservatives today really don’t get their fair share of respect—evidenced by the fact that the Leftist logic train fails to really answer the question (again, “why should I pay more in taxes simply because I earn more money?”). The Leftist logic certainly provides one potential answer, but it is not the only answer. In fact, it is subject to producing the same kind of social and economic hegemony as does the conservative right to hoard money earned for oneself. Both are value propositions. Both are ideas steeped in moral, cultural arguments. Both are even highly principled, but truly neither can be adjudicated as “gospel.”
And that’s where the rubber meets the road. I think most of us know this, and I think we also know that the media seems to avoid letting us rest in this in-between space where neither moral vision seems to be met with real, sustainable, and actionable support. Instead, politicians and the media exacerbate the problem and lead it down a road of perpetuation. Nothing gets done.
In fact, this is the point where most of us give up. We often respond, “Ugh, I just wish we’d stop bickering and actually do something good that everyone agrees on. In a big way. Not just another tax break or public expenditure.” This visceral response, invoking the deep and non-politically correct pains that we humans feel in our American space, indicates a collective sentiment that “good” may yet be around the corner. It’s a sign of both an unpalliated public malady and an unfulfilled optimism. We’ve not entirely given up on the idea that social values can’t be negotiated, and so we continue looking for answers.
But even our smartest thinkers, no matter how intellectually robust and sound their arguments may be, have missed the mark entirely. They allowed the system to get the better of them. They’ve mistakenly put philosophy above the need for what I’ll call: compassionatepolitics. That’s the kind of politics that thinks about how to care for people, not just how to help a few people turn profits.