I realized again last week how much our language really signifies how bad of a state our culture is in. This time I noticed it in the words “getting ahead.” When we are trying to get ahead we mean we go to a reputable school, get a good job, get financially stable, get married, have kids, go on good vacations and make sure you are always pouring into your retirement plan. I’ve heard this terminology a lot and it scares me a bit to think where we are placing our value. When I express the desire to rent for a long time and really want to look into it; there has not been one person who said it was a good idea or said it doesn’t matter, everyone said that I need to focus now and early on getting ahead and owning now. I need to jump into the cycle like everyone else because it’s smarter. Then I look suspiciously at everyone else, and I wonder why everyone doesn’t look as smart as they think it is.
We take cultural standards and make them the standards to our lives and we base our success and failure on those. If you don’t get into a good school right out of high school, in most people’s minds you have fallen behind. If your thirty and not married, you’ve fallen behind. If you don’t have a retirement set up then you’re not doing so hot. If you are renting and not buying then you’ve fallen behind until you own. Then we base our worth on all of these things. If we get ahead or not will determine how successful or not we think we are.
This terminology also doesn’t just make us insecure when we don’t meet these standards, in the process we make everyone else who you’ve gotten ahead of be worth less also. It puts us all on a line somewhere and places people on that line. Where further down means a better human being and the other way means the opposite. I wonder if there was ever meant to be a line. I wonder if the idea of “getting ahead” in life is something we’ve created to encourage us when we do something great.
If we must use this way of talking and we must think of life as getting ahead or falling behind with every breath we take, may we look at it as Jesus looks at it. Getting ahead means serving everyone, selling everything and taking your ambitions and making them about other people. If we really want to get ahead then I suggest we learn to fall behind.