Colleagues in Leagues of Our Own?

I’m looking forward to going back to work tomorrow. One of my colleagues spent the weekend at a wedding in Seattle, and I want to hear all about it.

Seattle’s not far from here: forty-minute ferry ride, ninety-minute drive. But for this colleague, spending a night in Seattle is equivalent to me flying across the country. Except that it’s maybe a bigger deal.

Teachers tend to be middle class folks. During all my years of teaching, I could generally expect to hear from my peers about their holiday trips to Hawaii or Disneyland, or to family back east. Worth photo-sharing, but hardly the trip of a lifetime.

But in my island bakery? Few as they are, my colleagues now span a startlingly large income range, from going on assistance in the winter when the bakery closes, to heading off for a college career already paid for by family money, and everything in between.

It makes for interesting conversations.

Feel like complaining because two different friends have scheduled a wedding and a memorial service on the same weekend in two different states? Want to vent about the lack of legroom on airplanes these days?

Does the term “first world problems” mean anything to you?

(orig. image courtesy Pinterest)

(orig. image courtesy Pinterest)

When I hear about people’s problems, I always want to try to help, try to brainstorm solutions. But what’s the solution to a crappy landlord? What’s the solution to lack of full-time work with benefits in a small island community, or to crippling student loans preventing further education? Those are a little beyond me.

This post isn’t intended as a complaint. It’s more of a observation: I don’t think very many of us work many hours with folks whose financial context is vastly different from our own, at either end of the scale. And a question: when we do, how is it?

Me–I like it. Even when I can’t solve my colleagues’ problems. I still get a lot out of listening. And we work harder to come up with topics we can all share in, like family, or movies, or books. Or our customers. 🙂

How about you? Unless you work from home, are your co-workers more of less in your economic sphere, or not? How does that feel?



Healthy Wealthy–Yes, and Wise Too: My Kind of Philanthropy

In these days of the 99%, it is fashionable to hate on the rich. I’ve done my share of wealth-bashing, even though by most people’s standards I’m way richer than I am poor. But today I want to give some kudos to a kind of wealth-sharing that I’ve been recently exposed to, the heartening kind that reminds one that “philanthropy” doesn’t only work at the grand, Gates Foundation level.

This week I was privileged to attend not one but TWO retreats at the homes of wealthy fellow islanders. Neither of these families was home; both offered their gorgeous, spacious, well-appointed homes freely to our groups (Quakers in the first instance, my writing group in the second). All they asked in return was that we be judicious in our use of water, and clean up after ourselves.

I noticed other similarities:
Neither home is gated. Of course, we live on a practically crime-free island. But plenty of folks here do have gates protecting their homes. Not these folks.

Both homes are full of local art…one of them, eye-poppingly so. Every wall, every piece of furniture is an example of some local person’s craft. Now I’m sure this family appreciates the beauty they’ve filled their home with, but I strongly suspect that their art purchases actually reflect a deliberate embracing of their role as art patrons. “We want to live in a world where artists can make a living,” their home seems to say, “so we’re doing our part to make sure this happens.” Hey, somebody has to support artists, right? And since artists make up about a third of our island’s community, this patronage becomes one more aspect of community membership– on a scale most of us can’t afford, true, but that makes it no less valuable.

I feel safe in this assumption because I’ve watched this family exemplify a way to live with wealth that I’ve never observed before. These folks are more fully integrated into the community than I am: their kids have attended the local school, they’re members of just about every board and organization on our island, and their involvement extends to the kind of physical, hands-on service that puts life and limb at risk. We’re talking way more than writing checks or hosting galas, although they do their share of that too.

Van Gogh

This family also happens to be wonderful friends of the environment, setting aside large chunks of their land for preservation, and working tirelessly on legislation to protect our sensitive island habitats (time that I myself could be spending instead of, say, blogging).

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in progressive taxation. I happen to think that Good King Wenceslas could have been Great King Wenceslas if he’d set up dignified employment for the poor in his kingdom instead of just feeding that one guy. But I find it heartening to step away from the Us vs. Them thinking that tends to permeate our media (whoever Us and Them may be).

Not asking for political diatribes here–in fact, please don’t!–but just wondering: what examples have you seen in your life of generosity? Have you observed it more in “haves” or “have-nots”? What’s your definition of philanthropy?