A Dollar is a Dollar; a Human is a Human

The damage that my neighbor's falling tree did to the fence line
The damage that my neighbor’s falling tree did to the fence line

As I sit here and type this, I am listening to the distant rumblings of thunder. This is announcing the fourth round of thunderstorms to come through my local area in the last three days. Yes, that means it really is Spring here in Texas. The first round of storms blew my neighbor’s Cottonwood tree over with 80mph wind gusts. It tore up about six panels of my fence line, but thankfully the tree landed in his backyard and not on his house. When I approached my neighbor about the damage, his first response was “our insurance will get the fence replaced.” My response was a little different than he expected (I guess): “That’s fine, I’m just glad that no one was hurt or killed by it falling down.” Its an odd little statement of difference, but its really another indicator on some of the misplaced emphasis that I see in the communities around me.

Earlier in the week, I had gotten into a protracted argument with someone about what the purpose of the Community College was. I argued that we turn out a product: educated students – some that graduate from our program, some that take our credits (at a lower cost) and move on to a four year institution. But they leave with a measure of knowledge that they did not have before. The counter argument was that we turn out a single product: money. Our students go back into the work force, where their education allows them to become more productive employees, earning a higher wage, and thus bringing more taxable income into the pool of workers in the region. For my stance, I was openly labeled as a “liberal” — and that’s fine with me. Labels don’t bother me as much as they have previously. They are, after all, just labels. Whether I choose to allow them to adhere to me or not is another thing – and another post for another time.

I understood the sentiment, and the reasoning behind it. But its the emphasis that I have a problem with – Money. Now, before you start freaking out and calling me a hippy (thank you very much) that wants to destroy the monetary lynch-pin that holds up our market economies throughout the world which I am not advocating whatsoever. Currency in whatever form, permeates our lives. We all work jobs. Those jobs pay us currency to do the jobs they hired us for. In turn, we take that money, pay a tax for the “appropriate” care-taking of our governmental system by others, and use the rest to purchase petrol for our vehicles, pay our various bills, and purchase groceries and clothing. There’s nothing wrong with what the concept of currency represents. But when currency gets a higher position within our measure of needs and concerns than the people around us – in my estimation, there’s a problem.

So when did we become a society of people that essentially worships money? When did we start clamoring for a governmental structure that emphasizes how much money we can save by cutting this project or that program without worrying about the impact it will have on people? And even more important – how do we change this?

Without spending a major ton of time looking through the histories of the various parts of the world or even the United States, I can say that I don’t have an answer for the first two questions. And to be honest, where/when/how this starts is not nearly as important as making some kind of change where its all concerned. Furthermore, there is one political movement that emphasizes this more than any other – the Conservative Tea Party.

Ok, those of you who are rolling your eyes and mumbling about me being a liberal or a hippy — ya’ll can stop reading, and find another web page to be at. There’s honestly nothing I can do or say that will change your opinion. Those of you that are cheering my statement and saying “right on!” — you can move along as well. For a lot of the same reasons.

Now for those of you that are still here – listen up for a second. Before we pan the Conservative Tea Party movement and lay blame anywhere, let’s remember a few things. There are good points that the Conservative Tea Party makes, particularly where government spending and taxation of the citizenry is concerned. Their problem is taking it far beyond the scope it should be intended for. To dismiss the movement out of hand without finding where its merits might possibly be is just as bad. To do so removes any vantage point of critical thinking we may hope to achieve. Finally, let’s remember, this post isn’t about the merits or the toxic nature that the Tea Party and its adherents bring to the table. My point is about how we can change our own perceptions – something we do have control over.

We all attach some dollar figure to various things in our lives. My iMac has a very high price tag, and yet I find that dollar figure to be negligible for what it allows me to do. My beloved Subaru Forester has a typical car value associated with it. If I sat down and did the calculations, I am sure I could come up with a dollar value for each one of my three cats. All of that can be figured into a budget, which I can then calculate against my salary. If the money came up short, I would have to decide what will happen. Do I get another job to make due? Or do I figure that one of the cats is too expensive, and send her out into the world of the Animal Control folks because she is too expensive? Under the dictums of the Tea Party philosophy, I would turn one of my precious girls out or remove one of the expensive items I mentioned from the equation and make due without it. For me, it would be the removal of one of the expensive items or getting another job. My previous girls are part of my family, and I am fiercely protective of my young ladies.

But what about a government that makes a similar choice where a food-for-the-poor program may be in question? Utilizing Tea Party philosophy, as I have come to understand it by watching and reading Tea Party adherents discuss these issues, the program would be cancelled. “So those people starve, so what?” “If they just got themselves a little cleaner, they would be able to get a job. Right?” “Dirty, scummy, hippy-types. The world would be a better place without them.”

What the Dormouse SaidWould it? Most people don’t realize that it was hippy-types dropping LSD and other psychedelic drugs that came up with the concept for the Graphical User Interface (GUI), and spent time making it work within the experimental computer research labs of AT&T and other companies. For those who would scoff at such a statement, read John Markoff’s book “What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Computer Industry” and find out differently. And yet, in today’s environment most businesses would never allow such innovation to take place. Not because they want to stifle the innovation, but because the stigma attached to engineering types dropping acid and becoming inspired from their trips would be too much to sustain a good business model in today’s society. In other words, it would cost too much money in lost prestige in the business market. Yes, we are placing a monetary value on these people.

Its done in your jobs too. Every employee has a dollar value associated with them. Their salaries, their training, their medical benefits packages, their retirement packages…all calculated together to put a monetary value on the individual. And when the individual becomes too costly compared to their output? They are terminated on some meager pretense, and a younger individual willing to work at a lower wage, and less benefits is hired in their place. For a cost savings to the company. All designed to buffer the bottom line profit, and keep the shareholders happy with increased margins.

Occasionally, you will find a company that eschews this business model. Employees are considered to be individual human beings – all with differing needs and differing levels associated with those needs. If you have ever encountered one of these places, you find happy employees who care about their product. And when the company places the employees before the product, the employees seemingly are motivated to turn out a far superior product in terms of quality. Because the company gives a shit about the employees, the employees care about their company and in turn care about their product. Monetary value of the employee? Well, its the same as any other employee in the company. The pay scale may differ, but the company treats all employees as necessary and indispensable, from the janitor to the Chief Executive Officer. This, in my opinion, is how you build undying loyalty from your employees. You care about them and how they are doing – they will give a shit about what they do and the product they make.

So, smart-ass Tommy – how does that equate to how we need to change our perceptions? How does this make our world any better?

Well, let’s draw the dots a little together. Most people do not know the neighbors on their street. I confess, I am one of them – but not from a lack of trying. My neighbors tend to close in around themselves and not congregate together in the front yard and occasionally talk. Corinth is a commuter town, and most people here pull inside of themselves, and only open up to the people that they want to consider friends. But have you ever tried to talk with your neighbors? You don’t have to be pals – just know enough about them to recognize when there might be problems. And when you perceive that, offer a hand. If its rejected, thank them for the consideration, and remind them that if they have need – they only need to say something, no strings attached. You are letting them know that you care enough to help, and that you are willing to do so on their terms. Instead of treating them as commodities and dollar figures or what they can do for you in the future, you are setting them on equal footing with yourself and saying that they are people too.

Ever give money to a homeless person on the street? I have been told by other people not to do that. That these homeless people will just go out and buy a bottle of booze with it. So? Who am I to judge on what got them to this point? If its a bottle of booze that helps them make it through another day – fine. Perhaps, by making it to the next day, they will encounter that person that will be able to give them what is necessary to change their way of life. When I worked for the Texas State Medicare program, I would pass a homeless guy under the interstate bridge right near the data center. He had the same sign always: “Will work for food”. One day, when I started back home – I saw that he was under the bridge because it was a rainy day. I turned around, went back to the McDonald’s that was nearby and bought seven cheeseburgers, three large fries, and two large cokes. I then went under the bridge and introduced myself. He seemed to expect me to reach into my pocket and give him money. Instead, I sat down next to him, removed one cheeseburger, and one of the fries, and offered the rest to him. “I’m having lunch, and I thought it would be nice to join you.” I sat and let him talk between mouthfuls. I found out that he was an Army veteran who had been discharged dishonorably for striking an officer. That stigma had followed him since his discharge in 1983. Since he couldn’t get a job, he worked odd jobs that paid cash. Essentially, he slipped between the cracks in a system that didn’t care enough to help him. For the next two weeks, I stopped by each day I worked at the Data Center (Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays) and brought lunch for Patrick. We would talk about our mutual employment history – he in the United States Army, and mine from the United States Air Force. Then I stopped seeing him there. I never found out what happened to him. Perhaps the Dallas police had rounded him up for vagrancy. Perhaps another pan-handler had chased him from that location. Or perhaps something else. I only know that I was greeted every day during that time with a smile. And that smile reminded me that this guy was a person, just like me.

I work with data and numbers that are about our students. Its very easy to get sucked into the numbers and forget that each one represents a student. We typically have about 10,000 students registered in our classes per semester. Sometimes the number is higher and sometimes its lower. But each and every one of them is a unique story. How they got to this point in their life, what brings them to the college for education, what their dreams are, what they are doing to achieve those dreams, how their lives are now…they are all people, and all deserving of respect for whatever they are trying to accomplish in their lives. To forget that is to disrespect who they are, and to treat them merely as dollar values. And that alone — THAT is the problem.

We forget that people that are not in our immediate circle of influence are human beings with hopes, dreams, lives, and the stories that are associated with all of that. And when we forget that, those people cease to be people. They become dollar values that need to be maintained and controlled. They become tax dollars that we perceive as being “wasted” or “stolen” because we have no value for these people. Or place value on them by the amount of money that they earn, and the taxes that they contribute to the running of the government. The more they have, the more we respect them. That, ladies and gentleman, is the way of the Conservative Tea Party – monetary values attached to everything in life.

Sorry, but money is not the be-all, end-all for my life. Its merely the currency that I need to live my life the way that I choose to do so. I choose to see Life in a very different way….or as Damh the Bard says:

‘…Life is more than the money that you earn.’

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