The angels climb Jacob's Ladder on the west front of Bath Abbey.

It seems to me that we spend most of our life on ladders.  Life is a series of ladders.  Sometimes we precariously straddle two or several at the same time.  Sometimes a ladder that we have been climbing becomes a liability and so we swop it for another ladder.  These ladders enable us to guage how well we are doing in relation to the Others.

There are two main ladders.  One for men and another for women.  The rungs on the male ladders are marked in your local currency and are used to measure how much you are earning.  The more you are earning, the higher up the ladder you are.  The rungs on the female ladder are less clearly labelled but relate to your attractiveness to the opposite sex.  The more attractive you are, the higher up the ladder you are.

Clearly, some people will be lower down on these two ladders than others.  Those who are at the top have a relatively easy time of things.  These are the only ladders they need bother with.  Those lower down will want to switch to alternative ladders to improve their perceived position.

There are many alternative ladders.  Here are just a few:

  • Sporting Prowess (male)
  • Intelligence (mainly male)
  • Educational attainments (not the same as intelligence)
  • Height (mainly male)
  • Absence of body fat (mainly female, but increasingly male.  Female and male rungs are labelled differently.  A bit more fat is possibly even desirable on the female ladder)
  • Gender (a super wide ladder with only two rungs.  Male wins but watch out for the females who keep trying to reverse the labels on the rungs)
  • Ethnicity (with your own at the top.  Other rungs are labelled according to your subjective prejudice with the most favoured ethnicities near the top)
  • Number of children raised or sired
  • Social Class (a more popular ladder in some countries than in others, a more obvious substitute choice for females)
  • Make of car and size of engine (almost exclusively male, a favourite in the UK and Australia)
  • Ability to handle a narrowboat (!)
  • Postal address
  • Musical ability
  • Husband’s occupation (unemployed females)
  • Your children’s achievements (mainly female, getting desperate now)
  • Profession (Doctors, Lawyers, Armed Forces, Engineers, University Lecturer, Dentists, Accountants – may be used long after you have ceased practising the profession)

This is not an exhaustive list.  If you do not like any of the ladders I have listed, it is quite simple.  You just create your own, though it makes sense to create a ladder where you have a right to occupy a rung at or near the top.  I have my own favourite ladders.

Some ladders have quite secure rungs.  Once you’ve made it onto the rung, you are unlikely to get knocked off by someone coming up from beneath.  The gender ladder, the IQ ladder, the Professions ladder, these are all fairly secure.

Other ladders have very slippery rungs.  There is no guarantee that you are there to stay.  The earnings ability or wealth ladder is one.  Looks is another.  Social class is probably the best example since it is the ladder adopted by women who have already had to move down or abandon the physical attractiveness ladder.  The labels on this ladder are very indistinct and there are lots of conditions and small print attached to each rung. 

Once you have acquired a certain rung on a ladder with slippery rungs, you need to keep others off your rung.  There is only so much room on each rung.  For every person that comes up, another must go down: these are the immutable rules.  So it makes sense to tip your paint pot or your water bucket over those who are coming up so they retreat (best option) or stay where they are (still preferable to a continued ascent).  Sometimes your foothold on a rung gets very slippery.  At this point it becomes essential to tip even more paint, or pour even more water.  Things are getting desperate and under no account must you be the one to go down the ladder.  No, sir.

Since this is a bit like a game of snakes and ladders, there are some life events that are wonderful levellers and generally knock those afflicted off their ladders, whichever ladders they are and however high they have managed to climb.  These events are – on the whole – no respecters of fortunes, looks, intellectual ability or any of the other measures.  They include:

  • Bereavement
  • Giving birth (females only)
  • Taking on parental responsibility (males and females alike but the responsibilities are different)
  • Divorce
  • Serious illness
  • Road Accidents
  • Domestic violence
  • Drug or alcohol Addiction
  • War

It remains true, however, that it is easier for some people than others to climb back on their ladders and that there is often a degree of unfairness about the speed with which some people accelerate up the ladder after a levelling event.

All these ladders do not actually exist in any concrete form.  They are illusory and highly subjective.  They are like the Jacob’s ladders that the sun throws down through the clouds – gone in an instant. 

There is only one ladder that really matters.  I think the final sentence of this quote sums it up.  It is often attributed to Mother Teresa, but was not written by her.  She had it hanging on the wall in her orphanage in Calcutta.

People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered;
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
Build anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have,
and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis,
it is between you and God;
It was never between you and them anyway.

[The picture is of the front of Bath Abbey and shows angels climbing to heaven.  My mother-in-law said she was quite sure one was wearing a black fleece.]