Slim and his sitting buddies want to live in accordance with notions of appropriate or correct behavior. The idea of ‘respectability’–defined as a mode of life conforming to and embodying notions of moral worth–has great significance for them. They are people with definite opinions about the kinds of conduct appropriate to their level of moral worth and of the minimal standards they are willing to tolerate in their own behavior or that directed toward them. (Duneier 65)

Perhaps another reason why I did not immediately realize that I lived in the dreaded inner-city my teachers described is because many of the people I lived among thought highly of themselves and the lives they were living. The sense that they had a high moral worth may in part account for this outlook. An articulation of high moral worth as a daily experience can be characterized through what Duneier describes as a “number of human characteristics [someone] disdains: wastefulness, pretension, aggressiveness, uncommunicativeness, impatience, flashiness, laziness, disrespect for elders, and perhaps most important a lack of personal responsibility (…)” Reading Duneier’s characterization of the exercising of moral worth brings back so many of the admonitions I heard as a child about taking only what you need; sharing your extras; not thinking you better than somebody; being calm; opening your mouth to speak to somebody when they talking to you; holding your horses; knowing your ABC’s–you got to Always Be Cool. My grandfather knew a lot of men, but when they subscribed to these tenants of moral worth, my grandfather would say, “good man.” It was clear to me from how he said it that being considered a “good man” was a meaningful.

Advertisements