Not bragging, just saying
As I've mentioned before, this blog is an extended letter to my kids -- kind of like the hologram of of Jor El (Superman's dad) in the first Superman movie with Christopher Reeves.
Because of that, I'm going to break from my usual modesty, and note a few things that I do that I hope my kids will someday emulate. And I'm fine with my two or three "readers" listening in.
In other words, squids (what I sometimes call my kids -- because I like to play with language) -- what I'm about to describe is part of who I am -- and I hope that, to some extent, you end up like this, too.
Different people say that money is good for various things. Your grandpa (my dad) says that money buys options. For other people, money buys freedom.
For me, the power of money is the ability to help people: to make other people a little happier -- or at least, a little less sad.
For context: my household isn't wealthy. We do okay -- but our expenses are somewhat high. I'm just a mid-level office worker (for the state government), and my wife is a college professor.
Here are some examples of what I do:
-About once a week I bring food to work, and leave it on the breakroom table. Nothing fancy -- just a bag of corn chips, or some banana bread (store-bought, not homemade), or the like. I used to announce it by e-mail, but I got embarrassed by people saying "Thanks" to the whole group, so now I just dump the food and run. It costs me maybe five to eight bucks each time, depending on what I buy -- but that price is worth it to me if I know that it makes people a little happier. Plus, as my paternal grandmother would affirm, "Food is love".
-There's a bi-weekly magazine that is sold by homeless/impoverished people, called The Big Issue. Besides two different "audio recording" magazines, The Big Issue is the only magazine I read anymore. The price is $6; I always pay $20. Because I figure the vendor can use the money. And it makes him/her happy.
-I intentionally over-tip -- often about double what you're "supposed" to tip. Because it amuses me.
-A few years ago when I was visiting Seattle in late December, my cousin and had lunch at an IHOP. For some reason it was oddly quiet: besides my cousin and I, there was only two other customers there. On our way out (after we left a tip on the table), I chatted with our waitress and the other waiter, and one of the two cooks, who were all just hanging around and waiting for some customers to arrive. And restaurant workers earn most of their money from tips. So my cousin and I headed out to the car, then I excused myself to go back inside, and I gave them a "bonus" $100 to split among them -- just because it amused me (and I figured it would make them happy). So, Merry Christmas, I guess.
-I usually buy The Big Issue from the same lady, starting maybe half a year ago (? - I've lost track). She's going through chemotherapy, so she only sells the magazine on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays -- because Tuesday and Thursday mornings she has chemo, and that basically wipes her out for the rest of the day. So a few months ago she was gone for about three weeks, and I was beginning to worry. When she finally returned, she said that she'd had double pneumonia (apparently, chemo messes up your immune system) and had just got out of the hospital -- so she was down by three weeks' income as was worried about paying her (low-income) rent and etcetera. So I went to the bank and withdrew some money and gave it to her in an envelope -- but told her not to open it until she got home.
-There are occasional fundraisers at work, as well as collections for "going-away" presents. I always donate fifty bucks, because the fundraisers are for a good cause, and it would be sad if only a piddling amount was collected for that person -- so I "load" it so that the total will (by definition!) exceed fifty dollars.
-Sometimes people bring in boxes of candy bars, as a fundraiser. I'll quietly ask the person if I can buy an entire box. When I do, I stash it under my desk until the fundraiser is over, then dump the contents into a big bowl and leave it on the breakroom table (I don't want to undercut the fundraising sales by flooding the market with free candy bars at the same time).
I rarely talk about this stuff, so you kids don't know about it. But it's "what I do". And, now that I think about it, I've been doing variations of this since I was eighteen or so. Two prompts: Abe Beeson; two co-workers from The Uptown.
And, I've read -- somewhere -- that the truest measure of generosity is when you help (or donate) -- and no-one knows that it was you. Whereas when you make a public donation, that's really just Public Relations.
Similar to donating money, I'm willing to go out of my way to help others -- although, kids, I don't want to to do this blindly: I don't want to you get into a dangerous situation by blindly helping others (e.g. helping a fake "stranded by the side of the road" person and getting robbed).
-Some people from my church were getting rid of a small "living room"-style organ. I mentioned it to a co-worker, who was interested, but didn't have a way to transport it -- so I took a few hours to pick it up from the donators' house, drive it to my co-worker's place (who lives a surprising distance away!), and helped him get it into his house.
-At work there used to be two or three cutting boards -- but they went missing. So when I saw some wooden cutting boards at a garage sale, I picked them up and donated them to work. And then after a few months those cutting boards got lost, so I went to the cheapy store and bought three more cutting boards (bamboo, I think). And then some of the original cutting boards mysteriously reappeared -- so now we have plenty of cutting boards.
-The lady who sells The Big Issue sometimes need to talk. So I'll sometimes spend about half my lunch break just talking -- or listening -- to her.
-At the last place I worked, one of the stalls in the Men's Room was missing the cleat, such that it didn't latch properly. So I anonymously fabricated a (slightly rustic) replacement out of wood.
-And today -- which is what got me thinking of all this -- a professor that I used to work for (I did research work for him) stopped by the office to drop off some sensitive data. In the next pod over there's a co-worker who, unfortunately, I've had a falling out with, to the extent that we're no longer on speaking terms. (It's a long, complicated, multi-faceted story: it's essentially my fault, although it spiraled out of control by a failure in communication, prompted by some mis-interpretations. Yow.) Some people think she threw me to the wolves -- but it's more complicated than that, and I still very much respect her. Anyhow, this professor does work that's relevant to my colleague's area, and she tends to hero-worship academics a bit, and has mentioned him by name -- so I asked if he had time to be introduced to someone. As it turns out, he didn't. My manager was with us, and asked who, and I paused and then said "[Name]". Afterwards, my manager said, "That was nice." But, you know -- I'm not going to not be nice to someone, just because we're not on speaking terms. And, as it turns out, this professor agreed to come by in a few months and give a presentation -- so my colleague will have a chance to meet him then.
Somewhat related: I read somewhere that it is often better to be kind, than to be right. In other words, if someone else is wrong about something, but it would hurt his or her feelings to point out the incorrectness -- just let it go. Don't "be correct", or prove someone else wrong, just to stoke your ego and make someone else feel bad in the process.
And, as some sort of context, a co-worker of mine once commented that I'm the most generous person she's ever met. (It's immodest of me to reveal this; but it's a fact that she said it. In the elevator. To my manager.) Although I'd like to think that I'm actually a caring person -- and that "being generous" is just a manifestation of my caring about people.
And -- as I think I've mentioned before -- caring about people is just an extension of my belief that I'm responsible for the well-being of everybody around me: I always have my antenna up, to make sure that people are okay.
As a coded memory-jogger to myself: my song about the number 3,700. And the precursors. (Hopefully I'll remember what I'm so cryptically alluding to.)
Now, I know you kids are completely aware that I'm not perfect. But I aspire to be gentle, and patient, and kind -- and I'm most of the way there -- most of the time! But "generosity" -- with money, and with time -- is one aspect of my character that I'm satisfied with. And I hope that -- either through genetics, or through socialization, you kids end up like this as well.