My brother sometimes works for a farmer doing building projects – let’s call him Harry.
I’ve never met Harry, but the talk I hear of him is that he’s one of those real ‘salt of the earth’ kinda guys. A real ‘grafter’. You know… just a simple farmer done good through hard work. An ordinary good guy who deserves it.
At least, that’s the way my brother frames it, and my dad. They both seem to admire him. They speak of him in a way that’s reserved for those good guys who are self-made men who’ve done it all themselves by sheer grit and determination.
Grit and determination. It plays into values around social mobility, about someone coming ‘from nothing’ and being a good honest guy who just works hard and ‘makes it’. He wasn’t born into it, that would be unjust. No, Harry’s a farmer. He’s no ‘suit’.
And yet, I can’t help but feel like the good honest guy thing is something they want to believe, rather than it necessarily being true. You see, Harry isn’t just a farmer. He’s now built a whole small industrial estate on his farmland which he’s going to great lengths to hide from public view so he doesn’t have to pay any tax on it. Along with his son, he’s now building houses and selling them – although according to what I’ve heard, the quality is not good, but he’s making great money on them. He’s created a network of CCTV cameras across his empire so he can keep track of everything, all of the time, from his mobile phone. He’s a multi-millionaire.
Like I said, he’s no farmer. He just happens to have a farm.
In fact, this work isn’t good and honest at all, is it? It’s tax evasion and shoddy workmanship. It’s corruption.
But he couldn’t do that. Ordinary people aren’t corrupt, because we’re not driven by greed. That’s others, that is. He’s just a farmer.
My brother has a real chip on his shoulder about ‘rich people’. He would never self-identify as coming from an upper middle class background – it goes against the identity he holds deep to his own core of being a grafter, someone who does good, honest work. And Tim does. So why would he admire someone like Harry?
For me, it comes down to how we judge people by what we want to believe, rather than what we can actually see. Tim and Dad have become so entrenched in the idea of Harry as a good guy, a self-made man, that they can’t see what’s right in front of them. They can’t, and they won’t.
I brought their relationship with Harry up the other day in conversation with my dad. “I find it weird that you guys would look up to someone like that – it seems mostly because he’s rich.” To which my dad answered, “But he isn’t, you know, rich like that.”
He is, Dad.
He is rich like that.
There’s a phrase: “All that glitters is not gold.”
It’s time to coin a new phrase. Maybe I should try it out on my brother sometime. Would would it be? “Dirty hands do not an honest man make”?