Monday, October 27, 2008

Parsimony: Smart, not Semitic

As a member of a group with many entrenched stereotypes associated with it, I must always be on my guard, trying to ensure my actions aren’t confirming these potentially-pejorative beliefs, thus propagating them and reflecting negatively on the community to which I belong.

You see, I am Jewish. I’m not a religious person, but I am Jewish in the cultural sense (a refrain you’ll commonly hear among many modern Jews). The company I keep, however, aside from my family, is not Jewish. What’s more, I’ve been in many situations over the years in which I was actually the first Jewish person someone had ever met. Do I want to be their archetype for a Jewish person? Not at all. I am an individual like anyone else, and the decisions I make should not color someone’s perceptions of an entire population. Nonetheless, they do.

If I decline to buy a shirt because it’s not on sale? Jewish. Use coupons when eating out or going to the grocery store? Very Jewish. Pick up a coin on the ground? Jewish! Always order water at a restaurant instead of a drink? Totally Jewish. Now whenever I am in a situation that involves money, my brain does some automatic calculations to determine the consequences of my choices on others’ opinions of Jews.

Perhaps a quick summary of my financial situation will serve to illustrate another reason, beyond my religio-cultural upbringing, that influences my buying habits: Working for $12/hr, attending a school that costs me about $3000 per quarter, and sitting on a 40% loss in the value of my savings due to the stock market (I know, I know. Only a 23-year old Jew would have money in the stock market.) In short, I am not rich. It makes perfect financial sense to save money where I can. In a gentile’s shoes I am being frugal, which is an admirable quality in Christian theology. But as a Jew I am looked down upon, and chided for my thriftiness.

Perhaps due to our current economic crisis, parsimony will gradually attain the respect it had for much of the 20th century, until a culture of conspicuous consumption and buying on credit took over. For frugality should be considered a characteristic of all intelligent people, whether their last name is Stein or Stone. .

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.