Charity and Worth

September 28, 2009 at 7:40 pm | Posted in Philosophical Problems, Sociability, Spirituality and Religion | Leave a comment

As I was driving home from my nearest pretentious natural foods store, I reflected that maybe I do deserve to earn what I make.

You see, ever since I got my current job, I’ve been hounded by the sense that I’m not worth nearly what they pay me. After all, I’m bipolar, and therefore a bad employee, right? Never mind that I’ve developed specialized skills in the two years that I’ve been there, or that I really do bring a special creative flair to my position; I have been haunted by the feeling that a jealous god will snatch it all away because I’m not good enough to have it.

And maybe it will be wrested from me; I can’t know that. But this evening I began to entertain the thought that, yeah, I work hard, and I’m not overpaid now, I’ve been underpaid before. I work for a company that really values its workers and treats them well, and to be honest, after being an academic for so long, I expect to be smacked around, shit on, and then paid poorly to work part time with no benefits. For two years now, it has puzzled me to be treated like I deserve, not just a generous salary, but excellent health and disability insurance, and respect and reasonable accommodations for my disability.

What got me thinking along these lines? Well, I gave money to a hobo outside the pretentious grocery store, and talked to him for a few minutes. Yes, it reminded me of how tremendously lucky I am – I couldn’t help but be conscious of the difference between us: me with my bulging Trader Joe’s grocery bags, he, largely toothless, begging for scraps. And yes, I thought as I usually do that there but for the grace of God go I. I could so easily be homeless. I’ve seen in my bipolar support group how quickly that can happen. But for once, instead of feeling unworthy, I felt moved to share, and I did. I gave him three bills without checking to see what they were first (it’s not like I was carrying 100s, or even 20s, so this was no great act of courage).

Now, normally when I’m moved to do something kind, I avoid doing it, not because I think the other person is probably unworthy (i.e., will spend it on crystal meth), but rather because I dread having the human interaction. I dread a lot of different kinds of social interactions, and being cast in the role of Lady Bountiful is definitely tough one to swallow. But in this case I followed the quick movement of my heart, and damned if it didn’t benefit me tremendously. We spoke briefly — for less than five minutes — but it was something of a human interaction for both of us. Since the closest I’ve come today to a friendly exchange is discussing automatic email notices with my supervisor, I probably needed it as much as he did. And afterward, like I say, I felt strangely worthy of my salary. It’s not that I earned it in that moment, precisely — it’s just that I realized that when I allow my heart to think for me, I am capable of kindness. Also, I’m no more worth my salary than he’s worth $7 — but I’m also no less worth it.

So I decided how much to pledge to my church for the coming year, knowing that they work very, very hard for the hungry and homeless in this town. And, yeah, it’s more than I feel like I can afford. But part of recognizing the element of luck in our circumstances is being willing to give away some of what I have.

Love to all, and a shout out to anyone who’s feeling depressed or grieved tonight. You’re in my prayers.

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