Wissot: Strive to be elite, not elitist
There is nothing wrong with being elite. There is everything wrong with being elitist.
When we call someone elite we are saying that he or she is one of the best in their field.
By definition, there are few elites and a great many more non-elites perhaps wishing they were. If we could all be elite, the word would have no meaning.
Getting into Harvard is an honor because among the many who apply few are accepted. If everybody could get into Harvard, it would lose its elite status and look more like Walmart, where walking through the door is the key to admission.
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Attaining elite status is not limited to a few fields. There are elite, world-class athletes like the Vail Valley’s own Mikaela Shiffrin and Lindsay Vonn. The fans in the stands who cheer for them are not elite. If they were, they would be on the slopes competing and not in the stands cheering.
There are spiritual elites like Mother Theresa and Martin Luther King Jr.; creative elites like Pablo Picasso and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; elites in science like Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking.
When the Nobel Prizes and Academy Awards are announced annually, the recipients are the elites in their field for that year.
Elite talent is not limited to the most glamorous work. When I need a plumber or electrician, I want to hire a person who is elite. I want the best of the best. A top talent.
While being elite is an earned status, being elitist is not. Elitists think they are entitled to an elevated rank in society because of wealth, education, profession or family background.
This leads them to believe they deserve more recognition and influence than those lacking comparable social status — the less wealthy, less educated majority of the population.
They are dead wrong. In a democracy, each citizen gets one and only one vote. College degrees from prestigious universities, nor employment in top-tier professions, doesn’t get you a second vote. The rich and the poor are supposed to be treated as equals when they enter a courtroom. The fact that a person’s wealth may buy him or her better legal representation is a perversion, not an exemplification of equal justice under the law.
Working class Conservatives are rightly critical of high profile liberals in entertainment, media and academia using their respective platforms to advance a set of liberal values and promote their political agenda. They dislike being disparaged and ridiculed in public by elitists who view them as “deplorables.”
To the extent liberals like me view people in Middle America, so-called flyover country, as rubes, hicks and yahoos, we are guilty of elitism. The background of people holding conservative social values is irrelevant. What they value is all that should be considered.
The explosive social issues dividing this country — abortion, gay marriage, racism, climate change — can only be resolved through reflective discussion and negotiated compromise. Smack talk, trashing people who hold opposing positions, is destructive. The height of elitism is to think that who you are is more important than what you value.
I think a beer analogy, as weird as that may seem, might help to illustrate the differences between elite and elitist: “If you prefer to drink microbrews because you think they taste better (implying a superior palate) than Budweiser, and perhaps can afford to pay the higher cost, that perhaps makes you an elite beer drinker. If you think it therefore makes you a better person than the poor losers drinking Bud, you’re an elitist.”
Last year, a college admissions scandal involving cheating, bribery and money laundering dubbed, “Operation Varsity Blues,” became the breaking news story of the day. Wealthy parents, including prominent Hollywood actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Laughlin, afraid that their kids couldn’t get into elite universities on the basis of merit, conspired with the help of a shady advisor to falsify academic records, athletic achievements, bribe admissions officials and athletic coaches, in order to afford their offspring illegitimate admission.
These parents brought a brazen form of chutzpah to the world of wealth and powerful connections their elitist lives already afforded their children. The truly elite young scholars from less fortunate social and economic circumstances had their admission to these elite schools stolen from them by these interlopers, these children of privilege.
We admire elite talent all the more when we are able to thwart elitists attempting to acquire undeserved elite status.
Jay Wissot is a resident of Denver and Vail. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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