Monday, October 24, 2011

Idea #5: Do Work I Would Prefer to Pay For

This may be what is sometimes called "self-serving".  You've been warned.  And perhaps let me further warn you that this won't be the last time.  The genius of the human brain is its ability to tell a story that makes said human the hero as often as is necessary.  Today it appears to be necessary.  Or at least "necessary".

Some of you will recall a bit I wrote about Justice Pesto in another forum.  It was inspired by the ten minutes I spent harvesting basil for pesto-making this summer and my rapid descent from "Earthy Super-Mom" to "Carer for The Migrant Worker" to "Cursor at Small Children".  It was real heart-warming.

This afternoon, I had a similar experience doing some painting in the house.  As the wall was changed from white to vellum, my own self was changed from "Sharer Of Household Work" to "Resenter of Hard Work With Carpal Tunnel Syndrome".

I painted two walls.

Earlier in our renovation planning, I had planned to hire someone to do this work.  We feel short on time and have several difficult responsibilities that made this seem wise.  I even went as far to have someone come in and quote to do the work.  This person quoted what was most certainly a fair price for the work, but a price that was several hundred dollars more than I had thought it would be, and thus, more than we could afford.

While I was thinking we could get it painted, I felt quite rich.  Affluent really.  I thought about how great it would be to help a guy out by giving him work.  I thought about how I would probably offer him cool drinks and lunch, and then pay him on time and in cash and be one of his favourite clients.  I felt... well, better off, or something like that.

While I painted, I felt useful.  Then tired and cranky.  But useful.

I think the latter is better for me.

With my body doing all this painting, my brain had perhaps too much time to wander.  And as it wandered, it tripped over this thought:  When we pay for something, do we feel differently about it? Cause suddenly painting seemed like it should worth at least twice as much as this guy had quoted.  As I calculated how much SJ owed me for doing this job (for surely he owed me, right?), I had an hourly rate somewhere near our monthly car payments.

And this got me to the next bothersome thought:  does buying someone else's effort let me de-value them?  The very fact that I can afford to buy that work makes it cheap, right? And if it's cheap, and I don't consider my own self cheap, then I think that I might accidentally start believing that I'm worth more... Oh for eff's sake, as if I needed another flaw to fix.

It's some kind of weird cosmic math that I'm going a poor job of explaining, but what I'm getting at is this: maybe one reason people are occupying Wall Street and all the other streets is because a small group of people have cheapened a large group of people by buying them.  They buy them, trading those people's hard work for credit and fees and financial products of dubious worth.  I'm not sure how it all works, but somehow, in our current way of living together, we've managed to make a lot of people worth not quite as much as a few other people.

I'm pretty sure that's a bad idea. In fact, I'm certain of it. 

But good news! I think we can undermine the harm done every time we say, We will not be bought this time.  And we can say that by choosing independent businesses, or paying cash, or paying a fair wage, or producing our own food.

And we can say it by not buying each other.  At least not all the time. Obviously the world needs for us to exchange goods and services with each other, and pay those who can do what we can not.  But I think maybe it's good sometimes to do what we can (even if we can only do it badly and resentfully, muttering awful things under our breath), and remember why it's so valuable.

I think this is my point (finally!): it somehow increases the value of another's work when I have to do it. So maybe anytime I find myself accidentally thinking myself above another, I'll do their work and so restore their value in my own mind.

Occupy Me.

IDEA #5 Response:
What work do we often pay another for that we might then devalue? What work can we do in an effort to consciously esteem higher those with whom we might be tempted to do otherwise?


  1. Alison, I have long wished that 'shopkeeping' was still a respected profession. I really do not value the person that vaguely informs me garbage bags are in aisle 8, or they used to be anyway, I've been off for a few days (Walmart, you evil behemoth). But I very much value the person who can help me substitute wool for my knitting pattern, or generally recommend the best product to fill my need because he/she has understood my need and knows a product well enough to know it will be suitable. And gives a shit because he/she is not working for minimum wage in a hated job. That's worth a lot and I'd pay extra in many cases to have it.

  2. tah dah! yes I think you have hit on something here. ...We tell ourselves the stories we need to hear in order to make ourselves feel bigger. If you buy my bathtub cleaning or toilet scrubbing skills how does it really make you feel? Do you care if the worker is fulfilled? do you care if the worker is still not able to put food on the table?

  3. @Anonymous 1: And thus I will work hard to choose the stores that create shopkeepers and avoid the ones that breed the disheartening alternative.

    @Anonymous 2: So why do we need to feel bigger? Hmmm.... I'll be noodling this one.