Muhammad Ali was a world class boxer. That’s indisputable. He was also a draft dodger and embraced an organization known for their extremist ideology. Heroic figures deserve heroic flaws, I suppose. What’s struck me most, though, is that in the coverage of his death I’ve heard at least 647 times that he was a “citizen of the world.”
I’ve always been a bit bothered by that phrase. Some of my favorite places on the planet are far from our golden shores. Although I have an affinity for the close at Salisbury Cathedral or the spectacular blue waters of the Caribbean or Rome’s ancient Forum, I don’t think I could ever consider myself a citizen of England, or Barbados, or Italy – and certainly not all of them.
While it’s impolitic to say such things now, I’m an American first and always – a Citizen of the United States born of the blood and of the soil. As whackadoodle crazy as we can be nationally I can’t imagine a circumstance where I would want or seek any other… and if anyone has the audacity to challenge that once I’m dead and gone I will find a way back and haunt them to the end of their own days.
Being engaged is important. Knowing about the wide world is important. Having an educated interest in events beyond our own farms and cities is important. But I’ll never be ashamed to hold myself apart from those other places. I will never confuse my interest in the world with my true loyalties. If that makes me an anachronism in the modern age, well, I’m sure I can live with that.
The internet (or at least Twitter) lit up briefly this morning when Starbucks announced that they are going to change the way customers earn loyalty program points. Customers were outraged that the company was changing how various “elite” status levels are reached and how much money they would have to spend before they qualified to “get something free.”
Since I moved to the sticks and don’t drive past half a dozen Starbucks locations on my daily commute maybe I feel this change a little less acutely than the average overpriced coffee drinker. Or maybe it’s just a beautifully wrapped case-in-point of everything that is wrong with America today… because customers, presumably regular customers who enjoy Starbucks products and services, are now up in arms because the company is making it just a little bit harder to get free shit.
Let that idea sit with you for a while. Starbucks, a business that exists for the purpose of making money through the sale of coffee and related ephemera, actually wants its customers to spend a little more money before getting something for nothing. I’ll even take it a step further and directly question when we as a society decided that it was our God given right to expect people and business to give their products away. Somehow we’ve managed to take a gesture of goodwill and thanks – a free cup of coffee – and twist it into some kind of entitlement.
I learned from a young age that sometimes life is tough. The world doesn’t owe you a damned thing besides the chance to work hard, scrape, and make something for and of yourself. Past that, you’re not entitled to a thin dime – or a $5 cup of coffee – from anyone else. So when you do get something for nothing, be appreciative instead of immediately taking to the internet to cry that it’s just not enough.
If you think you’re getting a raw deal from Starbucks take your business elsewhere. There are hundreds of businesses that would be happy enough to take your money. Better yet, go get yourself a nice Italian coffee machine so you can cut out the middle man and *gasp* learn to brew your very own java. You’ll save a lot more money doing that than you’ll earn back through any customer loyalty program.
As always, not a sermon, just a though.
One of the people I work with loves her job. I’m making that assumption anyway because most days she seems to always stick around until 6:00 or 7:00 when end-of-tour is closer to 4:30. According to her, there’s always something “hot” that comes up after the rest of us pull up stakes for the day that needs done and just can’t wait for the next morning. I suppose it’s theoretically possible that this is true, but based on my own observation of daily workload around here, I’m somewhat skeptical.
I guess someone might look at her and think the late hours were a sign of dedication. The fact is, though, we’re not a life-or-death operation. It’s probably not politic to say in a world of 9.2% unemployment and a collapsing stock market, but sometimes a job is just a job. As much as an escort sells her body for cold hard cash, I whore out my big beautiful brain for the same consideration. Maybe some people do it for the love, but me, I do it for money. I do it so I can afford to pay the bills, eat nice meals, and occasionally travel to new and interesting places. I don’t do it out of a misplaced sense of loyalty as I’m quite certain the powers that be would have no qualms about throwing me over the gunwale during a reduction in force.
Sure, there was a time when I was young and idealistic and my sense of self derived directly from my position title and placement on the org chart. I got a little older and a little more jaded and discovered that no matter how cushy, the job is pretty much just a set of handcuffs keeping you from doing the things you really want to do because you’ve got bills to pay. And we should have bills to pay. We should have to work for our supper. But we shouldn’t be working instead of eating our supper.
I’m too old to be naïve about how the world works. Maybe sticking to the ol’ eight-and-out is committing slow career suicide. Missing the next rung on the career ladder still sounds like a better option than missing out on everything that isn’t work. The only shame is it took me so long to figure that out.
Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of posts previously available on a now defunct website. They are appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date
One of the biggest challenges of being young and ambitious and employed by the federal government all at the same time is that due to it effectively being a closed system, the ranks are filled with crusty old bastards who are blocking your route to plum assignments. They’ve been retired in place for years now and have no intention of leaving. For the generation coming up through the ranks, these are nothing so much as roadblocks, whose skill sets and mentality would be better suited for the government of 1967 than that of 2007. I’m not suggesting here that there should be a mandatory retirement age, just that there reaches a point where it’s no longer in the best interest of the government to keep these people on the payroll. In fact, I don’t know why you would reach 40 years of service and actually still want to hang around. Personally, I’m planning on playing a hell of a lot of golf by that stage of the game.
Of course the reality is that the federal bureaucracy is, at some unspoken level, a make work program whose personnel system has an unfortunate tendency to softly discourage young employees from turning a job into a career. When there is no clear path to advancement or even lateral transfer into a more attractive position, what incentive does a mid-level 20-something employee have to stay the course? Why would they wait, possibly for years, for a position or a promotion that no one can guarantee? Organizational loyalty is a great thing, but it has to work both ways. If you can’t reward the hard work and dedication of the Young Turks who designed and helped build the organization, they have to look to other opportunities and to their own future. Our generation isn’t one to sit around and “pay dues” just because that’s what our parent’s generation did.
The time has come to distribute the spoils of the transition we helped carry out. Historically, though, revolutions have a bad habit of eating their own young – just ask Robespierre or Marat. I’d recommend we all stay out of the tub for a while, just to be on the safe side of things.