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You don't necessarily need money to have dignity

By Kevin Salveson


Once I took my family on a trip to Bali.  


We stayed at the Bali Intercontinental.  It was a five star place.  My daughter Zoe had made a kind of a bucket list of things she wanted to do in life before she died, and "go to a five star hotel" was on the list, so I was happy to oblige her.  After all, it sounded like an island paradise when Perry Farrel sang about it.


And, of course, as part of our "world schooling" philosophy of education for our family, we thought it would be good for the kids to see Indonesian culture.


While we were there some mishaps occured, however.  While minor, they occasioned the first "Dad explains it all" lecture for the kids I had ever given (at least in such an organized and cogent form), in which I touched on the topics of economics, politics, existentialism, class and morality.  

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Hotel Bali Intercontinental Main Lodge

I mean, they were ten years old, double digits, and it was time to stop pulling punches when it came to the level of discourse I could lay on them.


Our plane had come in to the airport about midnight and when we arrived at the hotel it was about 1AM.  We were all sleepy but grateful the journey to our destination was at an end.  I had said to the kids, "A five star anticipates your every need," so as they were waiting in the lobby taking care of the reservation I asked for some tea or drinks to be delivered to them.  And, as they slouched into the oversided rattan chairs under a wooden pavillion, it appeared before them.  So far so good.


Next, however, it went off the rails a little.  Showing us to our room on the south side of the campus, away from the beach, they led us down a few hallways and arrived at our door.  Before helping us to unload the bags from the trolly, the porter inserted the key into the lock, turned it, swung open the door and switched on the lights.  


That was just in time to see the startled residents of the room who were already in there sleeping jolt up from bed and start screaming "What's going on?"


Oh my!  This is five star allright!  Five stars for comedy.


Well, of course the porter and night clerk were duly embarassed, and as we staggered back to the lobby to wait to see what would happen next the assistant manager eventually chimed in to express his horror as well and upgrade us.


Soon, we were led to the north side of the property and put up in a larger room with a own step-down shower and spa tub and a bigger sitting area with its own flatscreen.  As we collapsed into bed and tried to turn off the lights, we found that we couldn't.  Eventually another staff person came and did some actual screwing with the fixtures until he had rewired the switch to work correctly.  So by three AM we were in own bed in the dark.  So far so good, ha ha!

Lovely landscaping, tho

The next day I asked to see the manager, figuring I could press my advantage a little.  He offered my family a free pass to the spa which was entombed behind a lot of white stone and glass and lilac just outside the large zen garden and japanese pond area.  A gracious offer.  I was testing to see how a good five star rescues its reputation after bungling a check-in like that.  He joked that unfortunately, he couldn't offer me an upgrade to "The Private Residence" if that's what I was getting at.


I then commenced to stroll around the property.  The Bali Intercontinental is a lovely campus, with a six pool setup, mini temple-like shaded beds and food stations by the beach, several buffets and restaurants, entertainment like gamalean players rising up into the afternoon air, authentic Balanese sculpture, and fine taste exhibited just about everywhere. Certainly, it is a lovely property in every regard.


Then one thing dawned on me.  The Private Residence.  The campus was set up like an easy to understand class system of sorts.  I went back to the pool area where my kids were lounging.  "Come, let's take a walk," I offered.  "This place is incredible."


Our original room, one of the cheaper ones at the hotel, was on the south side.  That side had two very large stacks of rooms, some which did not have any ocean views at all.  Next to that was the central area of the hotel, reception, the pools and gardens in the middle.  


Next to that, connected to the lobby main house, were the shops and then more hotel rooms with larger accomodations as well as a "Culture Room" which had Monopoly on borrow.  So those rooms, which had the spa underneath and faced the Japanese gardens area, had an extra perk.  The farther south you went, the larger the rooms were until the designs included an upstairs and downstairs for you Suite.

Some get their own exclusive semi-private pool area

Then, I noticed that there was another class of rooms.  These were more like little apartments, and they had their own little semi-private outdoor area.  They were located next to the restaurants by the pool.  They had their own lobby area where free snacks and a lovely passionfruit ice tea were available.  Some of the larger apartments, which came 4 to a building, had a path to their own private large pool area.  Private.  Sure, you could walk in there, but they might ask for your room number.


After that (this property was indeed big), once you wandered along the paths adorned with frangipani trees, swaying palms, and cabanas for awhile, trying to get a look down the coast to see how far off the main city of Kuta might be, you realized there was an even larger split home-like structure.  It had an ornate entrance with crushed rock and a black double door carved with fine Balinese faces.  Swinging around the side, I could see that beyond its walled-in backyard it shared its own very private pool with only one other apartment which had its entrance on the opposite side.  Only two in this one.


But that was not the final stop.  Though I never made it the whole way to see inside up-close, there was the Private Residence.  Delightful a walk as it was, I was starting to sweat.  Still, before me was a walled compond with a single mansion within.  Gardens overflowed with flowers, ponds and streams burbled, honeybees and butterflys swooped over and around its helipad.  This was what the manager was joking about.  Darn, no upgrade!

The private residence and its gardens are at the top are of the photo, above the helipad and to the left of the private tennis courts.  Image courtesy: Google maps

Later I was told that when Clinton visits Bali, he stays there.  Of course, I couldn't afford that kind of privacy.  But the idea of that kind of privacy, so exclusive, held the key for me. 


Like an innocent in the garden of eden, one thought which had come to my mind was...

"I bet you could just live naked in that house and no one would ever even disturb your privacy. Servants would be fired, it would be like a sultan's harem."



Ha, ha, to live without shame.  To live with such dignity as to be nude in public and not be called on it.


That was it.  I had taken enough philosophy courses (Ernest Becker) in college to know that humans lived in existential guilt.  Why am I alive?  Do I deserve to be?  As Eddie Vedder put it eloquently enough.  Is that the question?  And if so, who answers?


We live with our bodies, sagging, fat, pudgy little bodies.  It's humiliating what they have to do.  They fart, they shit.  If we were pure minds we may not have these problems, but in the real corporeal world we have to feed them, we have to water them, we have to become one with them via meditation, we have to wipe their bottoms, we have to start wars to claim resources for them, we have to build walled compounds with burbling streams in them just so we can have a moment's peace, etc, etc.  


Hell is other people, as they say, because they can see how fat you are.

I don't know what happened here either.


The shame of nakedness is not just because at the sight of it we may turn into rutting beasts but also that it is so finite, demanding, always needy, embarassingly so.  We are beasts, these bodies of ours.  When we see the other creatures, washing themselves at the riverside, we are reminded of it.  But humans are not beasts, we strive to rise above our animal urges, right?  We overcome such a base existence, or should strive to.  We are all of us in the gutter, as they say, but some of us are sending Voyagers to the stars.


Then I realized: What we are all after in this life is to gain the status, spiritual or material, which allows us to be relieved of that shame.  It is what we all want, what we all so powerfully lust after.  To be treated with dignity.

You can always maintain your dignity via an exclusive semi-private strong man cross-dresser who will push your chair for you while you dress like Justin Bieber and wave around your guns.  But it's extra.


So I explained this to my kids.  


Well, ok, I didn't put it exactly like that.  All I said was, "Look girls.  With enough money you get total privacy and total service.  They treat you like a goddess.  A goddess,a being so powerful that all others treat her with the utmost respect.  If she walks around naked, or gets carved that way into stone, hey, it's art.  Meanwhile, if you have less money, you cannot buy your way out of feeling some shame from the presence of others, but you can modulate it.  Thus, you can share a pool with one other person in the Split Home area.  Not enough for that?  Well, you can dream of privacy on the 8 per building terraces.  But here in the highrises, you can hear every little thing your neighbor does, the walls are paper thin.  The indignity!"


Then I gave them a little breakdown of Class, Money and Power and how they are vital to success in life and achieving The Good Life, and how it all can be summarized with one word: Dignity.


The Good Life, as defined by Plato, is comprised of various virtues which form a satisfying whole.  If society often falls into "classes" then it is The Good Life achieves the highest level of class.


But, I told my kids, as we idly gazed into the Koi ponds in the Japanese garden area while we strolled back to our room, that I think people often misuse the word "class" a bit.


Certainly, there is the word Class which is used to define various levels of society, which is fairly value neutral.  Then there is the word which denotes education, money, respect.  As in, "Baby, you got no class."  Nevermind the grammar of that phrase itself is classless, it also encapsulates a value judgement of who deserves respect, who deserves dignity.


And while we all as human beings deserve a basic dignity, in a society that celebrates competition, right or wrong some will often be treated with more dignity than others.


The way I look at it, Class with a capital C, the kind one aspires to as part of The Good Life, is comprised of three things.  There is Money, and there is Power, and there is Social class.  You need all three to attain The Good Life.


People can have money but no class.  (See many modern day classes of media figures such as rappers, some who make millions for offensive doggerel but who seem to have no conception that their money could be used for something better than wasteful conspicuous consumption or that their shtick is exploitative).


People can also have power but no class.  For example, a government official who is responsible for approving your visa or not.  They don't have financial power but they do wield some kind of power. 


Meanwhile, there is social class.  Now, theoretically, if you have enough money you might be able to buy the appearance of being high in the social strata and thus be given some deference.  If you have a nice car and roll up to the nice restaurant they will treat you with respect and give you a table because you are paying them to.  But as everyone knows, it may not be real social class status.  


For example, take the Kardashians.  They may be rich and even famous and with that comes some power, but it doesn't stop people from considering them classless since the way they achieved their money and power was via a kind of body shamelessness which most educated people deplore.


Some others may have social class but no power nor wealth.  For example, a priest or a monk. They are treated with the utmost dignity and respect.  In fact, they achieve it by saying that power and wealth are traps that prevent you from the goal of dignity and salvation for your soul.  Since I am agnostic I don't quite believe it but nonetheless the priest class is one that commands dignity without much worldly wealth or power.

Carry my own bags?  Sit and spin on this, sonny.

And then there are those who have and use power. Politicians. Business owners. Owners and editors at media properties.  Surely most people understand that money is a kind of power since money is only a piece of paper in and of itself, and it is only worth what it can buy or command.


My definition of power is this: the ability to determine your destiny without constraints, the ability to have others carry out your goals and increase your productivity (however it is done... persuade, cojole, inspire, pay).  Power is human energy at its finest-- the ability to get things done.


Political power is one form of that.  If I could, I would probably enjoy having the power to run the nation for its long term benefit, so my money may buy a politician's ear.  Thus, the traditional route to get power (if you're not joining a special class like the priest class) and is to get money since this society worships wealth even when it is divorced from power and class.


But it's not always money.  Writers can have power.  The power of an idea can be stronger and longer lasting that even the power of money.  People treat a smart mind with the dignity it deserves, right.  No one makes gimp jokes around Stephen Hawkins at the Freedom Acres without getting frowned at.  (In fact, its probably mostly undignified to make body jokes at nudist camps).

So thus, my definition of Class, the kind you want to attain as part of The Good Life,  is "dignity."  It typically involves several components: education, self-regulated behavior, a positive contribution to society, having enough money and power to get a modicum of respect; all of that results in the deference of others that every human should earn but many never achieve.


What is dignity?  Well, it’s the ability to be treated as well as you should be/can be treated.  Take for example an old lady who enters a hotel.  Her age affords her some dignity, so despite the fact that she moves slow she is not criticized.  In fact, she is greeted warmly by the doorman, someone else races to get her bags (at her age she shouldn't have the indignity of carrying her own). 


In short, those with dignity are treated as if they are almost god-like. (I used to work at the Hollywood Report but I couldn't stand the indignity of sucking up like you have to do in Hollywood to get ahead.  "Oh, don't insult that important director, never mind his real life bad reputation with starlets.  His movies are actually mindless forgettable crap with no lasting value but his money has bought him temporary feigned respect, now give him a kiss kiss.")


Yes, those who have achieved the good life, or want to, are highly sensitive to assaults on their supposedly well-earned dignity.  


It is only after the town whore has made her money doing undignified things that she then found religion.  But now you can't say this or that to her in an interview or she will walk out.  You have to treat her with the respect she doesn't deserve because she's rich and could fire you or sue you or whatever other way she can use her wealth and power to make sure that she never has to go a second suffering through life's many indignities at the hands of those who would disrespect her. 

Who could disrespect Phyllis Diller, she was fabulous!

Meanwhile, if you look poor you can be treated without any dignity, right?  They will chase you out of the Four Seasons because you don't deserve the dignity of sitting somewhere nice without enough money to buy a better suit.  So… dignity is true Class, above and beyond Social Class. 


Some people really earn it, some people can buy it, some people get enough power to be treated with respect or at least fear (don't make the Visa guy angry with your sarcasm, they could deny your visa, etc), but at the end of the day dignity and Class are essential to the good life.


Dignity in some ways comes from your education, the money you were born into, the power in society you may have to pursue your goals in life.  But it also can be about who you are, regardless of your money.  Education is free.  There are public libraries.  It can be done.  And that is what makes America great-- there is some mobility in terms of the dignity you can get for yourself.


Now, it certainly helps when you have enough money to purchase the education and other accoutrements of wealth which most people show deference to.  It's nice to be born on second base.  


But a lot of people go to the dugout having brought no runs home despite that, and others steal third, and some get home with the help of a team a few hits.  In the end we all have a shot at moving up or down the Class scale, and a lot of it comes from inside and the way we hold ourselves and behave.


Some of the best of us, I think, then use their wealth to gain the power to effect the changes in the world they want to see (which if they are beneficial changes may secure you the respect and deference of others, that is, true Class).  That reminds me of, say, the Medicis or the Gateses.


Bill Gates, doing it right.

And that is really the power of The Good Life and Class (dignity) that I think we all seek.  It is the power to do something great in the brief time you are here on planet earth.  Because it is death, the terrible shame of staring into the void, that is the ultimate indignity.  


I could die satisfied that my brief existence on planet earth will be something of lasting value rather than dying unfulfilled like a speck of dust swept away by time if someone would just leave a comment on my blog!  Ha ha!  


Until next time, in good health,

Kevin Salveson

Sometimes there is dignity in just having a job to do.

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