you've got to give to get.


about a month or two ago, i got invited to go to some selective staff meeting. i don't know why i was invited, but i thought maybe it had something to do with me being one of the few men/non-white members on staff. i agreed to go, though i don't know why. i think that i felt bad for being so anti-social, not having once visited the staff lounge to celebrate the monthly birthdays. every now and then, i go to the all-staff meetings, but it is only so that i can get a free lunch. i usually don't talk to anyone, and i certainly don't participate.

so, i went to that selective staff meeting. i had a vague idea of what it was about. from the email invitation, i figured out that it had something to do with giving and with donations. i went to the meeting. there were four other older, white women there. they shared their ideas about having staff financially contribute to the school. i found the idea absurd, but of course, i couldn't say this. one woman said that she knew how everyone gives, even in his own way. i felt guilty. who should i be giving to? why should i give?

i guess that my whole concept of giving was totally skewed by my experience working at the red cross. when hurricane katrina hit, i saw the flood of donations roll in, and i knew that people really wanted to help. however, i also bore witness to gross incompetency. i heard about (and saw) all kinds of volunteers boozing it up in new orleans, driving their rental cars back to their home states, abandoning them on the side of the road. i thought about some old lady in wisconsin writing out a check, and having it go straight to paying off a round for the boys. my on-site manager told me that an estimated 188 rental cars had been stolen and/or lost, and that was just in new orleans. i could've binged for three straight weeks on the company dime, and i never would've been held accountable. there was zero accountability.

even here at the school, an institution that prides itself on its mission of social justice, i see a lot of waste. there are lavish events with open bars and unnecessary desserts. staff members gallivant on costly retreats. currently, i'm working on the budget just for our department. on one event with an open bar, we dropped over $2,000. and that was just for one night. i don't understand why i'm being asked to give back when i can almost guarantee that the few dollars i can scrounge together will be wasted away on something completely frivolous.

at the meeting, i talked about how i usually didn't give back when i see how much other wealthy families and individuals have already contributed. "what good is my $5 when bill gates gives the school $50 million?" stacey agreed with me, but another woman said that it wasn't about the dollar amount. that it was about principle, that it was about the act of giving. they thought of different ideas for trying to encourage staff to give back to the institution. one idea they had was to have a jeans day. people who gave back could get a pass to wear jeans to work.

yesterday, i got a personalized email from another staff member, asking me to contribute. i want to just ignore it, but i know the guy, and he's a decent guy. most likely, i'll have to make a list of excuses, how i just attended a wedding, how i'm going to visit family next weekend, how i have bills and loans to pay, and i'm sorry, but now's just not a good time. my co-worker is similarly outraged at the personalized email she received. we talked about british airways, and the recent news article that says how the company, hit with financial troubles, is now encouraging workers to take unpaid leave, or even to work for free.

so, those are the messages i've been getting from my teachers, my religion, my school, my culture, my employers, my country: work hard! save! give back! that's socialism! share! spend! save! help the disenfranchised! fight the communists! shop 'til you drop! mo' money mo' problems! sell it to cash!

and, as always, i shush them all away. sorry, but now's just not a good time.

1 comment:

man in the mirror said...

british airways holds the answer. it's time to live up to the jesuit credo you hold so dear and tranform your current job into pro bono work. there will be a special place for you in that gated community in the sky.