Friday, December 7, 2018

Pro-Bono Dignity vs the Condescension of Compensation

I had two friends over my house, served them delicious drinks, and drove them to a great obscure place for dinner and back. When the check arrived for our meal, and we all pulled bills from our wallets, one refused the $10 change he had coming to him. "Keep it!" he told me. " All the driving and hosting...!"

I, alas, couldn't conceal my indignant reaction (which he absolutely did not deserve; one of my several character flaws is a complete lack of 'game face'). "Ten bucks doesn't cover all that, dude!" I replied. To his credit, he thought about it, nodded slightly, grabbed the ten, and stuffed it in his wallet.

A lot of my seeming "generosity" stems from the disgustingly conceited conviction that my effort is priceless. 'For free' makes it a gift, and there's dignity in that. Turn it into a job, and odds are that I'll recoil from the inevitable condescension.

I remarked to a friend during my Chowhound slog that if I were being paid to run the site, and it was anything less than an absolutely obscene wage, I'd have dropped the whole thing in a hot second. Stressful 15hr/day/7day/week unpaid work amid abject poverty was preferable to the prospect of condescension.
I've been condescended to a lot in my life, and have become over-sensitized. I used to consider this evidence of my own roaring ego, but eventually discovered that I don't enjoy deferential respect much, either.
Working for free is always the next best option.

At age 21, I was the world's angriest street busker. When someone threw a quarter into my trombone case, I wanted to throw it right back at them. It's not that I expected them all to toss fifty dollar bills. I didn't know what I'd expected! I just sure as hell valued myself at more than a lousy quarter. And, to this day, I still can't unravel the knot. I see how my perspective is justified and right, and also how it's awful and wrong, but can produce no higher-level Slog-ish insights beyond reporting a deep, deep impulse to simply play, period, and let it be a gift. To let it all be a gift. It sounds kookily quasi-messianic, I suppose, though - at least when I think about it - it feels like defeatism.


Display Name said...

Sounds like you handled that situation well. Once I was staying with a cousin in Miami. I was reheating some crystal shrimp and rice gently. There was enough for a light lunch for one. My cousin swooped into the kitchen greatly interested in what I was doing and started asking questions. She seemed to want my food so badly in a doggie like way that I got a warm glow in my gut as I heard myself say "why don't you have it?" The glow was extinguished abruptly as I heard her ask "why, don't you want it"? My inner voice was screaming of course I want it I'm just you know Being Nice? It felt like being slapped. I think I just turned off the stove mumbled something and walked away hungry.

Jim Leff said...

Never walk away hungry!

Fwiw my friend understood that I was being nice, and he was just returning a gesture of niceness, which I responded to jerkily. Hope that was made clear!

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