Tuesday, October 24, 2006

True Worth?

This entry is not based on any recent event or the action of any person or friend in thought, word or deed. It is a combination of thoughts that have raised some interesting questions for me. I would not want anybody to ever feel that I was anything other than and would always remain your humble servant in our walk together on this weird journey we call life.

I have been musing throughout today culminating in a conversation with the good lady wife which she ended with the line ‘you should blog about it’ … as I walked away I wondered if this was her latest strategy for shutting me up when she has heard enough about a subject … talk to the blog cos the wife ain’t listening

The thoughts that have consumed me have played around the concept of value and worth of a person. Does society teach us to measure something or someone by monetary value alone, leading inevitably to us subconsciously making the same judgement about our friends and work colleagues?

Walking the tightrope of argument and whining here, I am a good example to use. I don’t work, well not in the conventional sense, I have been likened to the ladies who lunch, a little light shopping, some lunching and a bit of charity work. I am often described as a kept man, and I am often mocked out of any conversation about the office or the workplace.

To be clear before we go any further there are a few points to clarify. The first is, that this is not because I have no skills or am not capable of working, it is because I am in the fortunate position of being married to someone who earns enough for me not to need to work, and it was a conscious decision at a certain point in our life. I could have got a job and earnt some more money, but we felt that if I stayed at home and cleaned and shopped and did all the sundry things that running a house involves, we would have more free time together, I think they used to call it quality time. (Although now I write a blog she never sees me, and because of my bad shoulder she has to do all the housework – still, it worked for a while.)

It also means that when I agree to do something, a specific project, or work for an organisation and take no salary I am doing it because I am in the fortunate position of being able to offer my services and I do not have to consider having to pay the rent. My heart attitude says it is a gift from me to them, but I also consider that I should be treated as well and as fairly as a paid employee. I always ask for my expenses to be covered as I see no reason to be out of pocket as well as having given freely of my time and skills

Now that has been the structure of my life for some time now, and on the whole it suits us fine, sometimes when we are a little harder up and struggling it is tempting to blame my lack or earnings and send me out to the coalface. Sometimes it can feel as if I am the luckiest guy in the world when I can choose to sip coffee and sit typing away on my laptop in the summer sun while other poor saps do the daily ant thing. Other days it can be a drag and I pine for the chatter of others and the excitement of a train trip (yeah I know but if you do it rarely it can be quite an adventure).

A constant theme of this chosen lifestyle is the reaction of others coupled with the way they treat me. It is very will ‘o’ the wisp, hard to pin down, all smoke and mirrors kinda thing. I often feel that if you confronted it in the moment it would be denied. And I would be assured that it was the furthest thing from their mind. But you know sometimes our mums were right, actions really do speak louder than words.

See the thing is, I am one of those people who if I am called and asked for help I will assist and often go the extra mile. I try to apply the principle that if someone asks for money they probably need more than they asked for, if they need a lift they probably need it now not later when I am ready, if they are struggling with something then they probably would appreciate someone just taking the problem away. If I can I will. I think nothing of it and I would not accept money or expect any or need any.

However, and finally he grazes the knee of the problem, I wonder about the traces of attitude that sometimes hang around. For example I once had a very good job that paid quite well, probably more than some friends currently earn. It gave me a certain skills set in the area of computers, not programming and difficult stuff but I do know quite a lot about how to do things and how they work and their potential. I also trained people to use Macs and PC’s. Over the years I have continued to use both systems and have a fairly good grounding in most aspects of the day to day use. (put the phone down it won’t make you look good to call me right now about your printer problems).

I am one of those people who have a client base of people (non paying clients you understand) who call me when they don’t know how to do something or something goes wrong. If I don’t know the answer I can either find the answer or I know who to call to find out the answer … usually (avoid setting myself up for ridicule there).

Now, and this is a for example, I recently spent many hours teaching two different people how to use their brand new sexy iMacs. (this is in no way aimed at them at all, one of them provided so many after dinner stories from her comments and reactions that she has paid me three times over … and beside one was a friend and one was a relative neither of which are the kind of people you invoice - apparently) … but seriously do you have any idea what is charged for personal tuition of that sort in the world of computers? No me neither but I am assured that it runs to hundreds a day. I don’t need the money and neither do I want to spend the remainder of my life doing that for a living.

There are others for whom I have provided a similar service in the past, who left me feeling that it hardly matters as I wasn’t really doing anything anyway. Or that my advice or skills or time are not worth much, because let’s face it, it’s not like they are taking me away from an office and a proper job, where I would have had to lose a holiday day or some pay, so it hardly counts.

Then if I ask for a favour, or a bit of help with something, they are too busy, or can’t be bothered because they’ve been working you know, or … and this one always takes my breathe away … on the odd occasion when I have apologised that I can’t help because I am too busy, I have known people to ask me what it is I am doing as if they intend to be the judge of my priorities or are going to have a stab at juggling my diary to fit their request in … grrrrr

I am not making this up, it happens, people who assume I will help, enjoy helping, get off on helping, live to help, wouldn’t be happy unless I was helping. As if I am not busy enough without them filling up all my available windows for me, as if without their call my life would have been empty and desolate.

So how come my time and effort is any less valuable than a free lance plumber or the musician friend that gets asked to play at a wedding and is appreciated for the skills he implements. The photographer who does a freebie for a friend or the mate who tinkers with your car for you because he knows how to. Time and again it comes down to the fact that the only remaining answer is because I don’t have a proper job.

No matter that I have just solved your computer problem and saved you time and money, no matter that I have spent hours listening to your emotional crisis/love life problems/sexual identity issues (that wasn’t all the same person - they would be so messed up). Or travelled across town to take you home /dropped you at a station

I suppose a question that is raised is if you don’t measure things by how much time or a skill is worth financially then what do you use to value it. Most of us assume the principle that if I was in the same position you would do the same for me. I have had people say to me, while doing them a favour, ‘you are good, I’m not sure I would do the same for you’ … nice! … and I’m bothering to help you because?

I also apply the principle to life that I will not alter my behaviour because others have low standards. Just because others can’t be bothered to help a friend I see no reason to be like them. Just because some people are so self centred I see no reason to assess a situation using that measure of thumb the next time someone needs assistance. Just because you overlook my hidden costs of helping you out and then quibble a coffee bill a week later I see no reason to become like you.

The problem here is not that these things happen, or that these questions appear, or even that there are times when people disappoint me … I keep coming back to this one single thought … is this something that society and culture has bred or are most humans basically selfish little gits and will always revert to the base survival instinct of take what you can and look after number one?

I don’t have an answer, sorry I never said I had an answer, I had just had some thoughts.

I guess one thing we could all do is appreciate each other more, that friend who lent a hand just saved you the cost, made the job go quicker, made the problem go away, did something you would have struggled to do. Make them a cup of tea, make the effort to return in kind someday, consider going out of your way to lighten their load or make a difference to their life one day soon, without being asked and without someone writing a long blog entry to make the point.

1 comment:

Kathryn said...

Consider yourself appreciated, love...even if I was so rude as to ignore your iPod advice ;-) xx