Social expectations upon an individual play a big part in "What It's Like". In the first verse, the speaker describes a not so rare occurrence of a beggar pleading for money, and the reaction of both individuals and society in the lines, "We've all seen a man at the liquor store beggin' for your change/The hair on his face is dirty, dread-locked, and full of main/He asks a man for what he could spare, with shame in his eyes/"Get a job you fucking slob," is all he replies." These lines can be compared to a set of lines from Walt Whitman's poem, "I Sit and Look Out", "I observe the slights and degradations cast by arrogant persons upon laborers, the poor, and upon negroes and the like."
In "I sit and Look Out" the speaker is witness to pain and suffering. In the third verse, the lines, "I've seen a rich man beg/I've seen a good man sin/I've seen a tough man cry/I've seen a loser win/And a sad man grin/I heard an honest man lie/I've seen the good side of bad/And the downside of up/And everything between" convey the same idea that the speaker in "What It's Like" is also witness to pain and suffering. Whitman, however, explains in the lines, "All these- all the meanness and agony without end I sitting look out upon, / See, Hear, and am silent." that he does nothing about the occurrences that he observes. While Whitman seems to be concerned with his complacency, that is in contrast to Everlast, who makes no inward reflections about his role in changing the outcome of these situations.
In addition to social expectations, realists dealt with moral questions. This is another element of "What It's Like." The issue of teenage pregnancy, and the question of abortion are two moral questions raised in the lines, "Mary got pregnant from a kid named Tom that said he was in love/He said, "Don't worry about a thing, baby doll/I'm the man you've been dreaming of."/But 3 months later he say he won't date her or return her calls/And then she heads for the clinic and/she gets some static walking through the door/They call her a killer, and they call her a sinner/and they call her a whore."
Realist pieces are characterized that way because of their shocking depictions, and grisly extreme realism. "What It's Like" contains all of the elements of a realistic work, touching base on topics some would not dare to talk about. Some of the language in the song may be found controversial to some, as well. Realist's works have been controversial since the beginning. Another example is Stephen Crane, who's first novel, "Maggie: A Girl of The Streets" was rejected by publishers because of it's descriptions of the degradation and immorality of slum life. "What It's Like", like realism, probes the lives of common people and ordinary life through characters struggling with moral questions and social expectations.