A Relative Measure of Worth
I remember back in the day often hearing friends of mine say that the only way they might do certain things that they didn’t really find attractive (befriending a gay person or someone of another race, dating beneath their class status) would be if they were paid a million dollars to do it. Sometimes, dependent upon how far fetched they were in their thinking, I would challenge them to unpack it. I began my challenge by asking if a million dollars was the benchmark for when they would do it. It was an arbitrary benchmark that they had created and they needed to truly think about the dimensions of their arbitrariness. Puzzled, they often would challenge me to take my point further, which I graciously did.
I said to them, if you would do whatever for $1,000,000 dollars, then you would do it for $500,000 thousand. Without hesitation, most of them would own up to the fact that they would. I then confronted them about the fact that if they would lower their so-called standards from a million to half a million, we could further half that half and they ultimately would still do it for a quarter of a million. After a moment or two of thought, they once again concurred. I then pointed out to them that half of a quarter million, which is $125,000 was also a great deal of money that could solve many financial woes for many people and therefore would also be enough monetary compensation to entice them to do what they had earlier stated they would only do for a million dollars. From that point on, I continued to half the amount: $125,000 down to $62,500, down to $31,250, down to $15,625, down to $7,812.50, down to $3,906.25, down to $1,953.12, down to $976.56, down to $488.28, down to $244.14, down to $122.07, down to $61.04, down to $30.52, down to $15.26, down to $7,63, down to $3.81, down to $1.91, down to $.95, etc. At some point, as I’m sure you’ve already surmised, the law of diminishing return plays a large part in forcing us to face the hypocrisy of certain aspects of our thought process and how we actually articulate some of the most ridiculous assertions that we truly have not unpacked. Can you think of any other assertions that reflect this?
What does this "relative measure of value" have to do with diversity and social justice? Well, it is the same type of logic that we often succumb to when we consider different people. What do they have to do with us? Why should we care about people that look, act, or originate from realities different from ours? Why should we care about wealthy people? Doesn’t their wealth solve all of their problems? Or must we be concerned with so-called poor people, or poverty outside of our own community, or poverty outside of our own homes, or poverty outside of ourselves? If it doesn’t affect us directly it doesn’t affect us at all, right? Wrong! Very wrong! When we aren’t enlightened enough to understand that inconsideration of others breeds inconsideration of us, when we encounter a moment where someone is doing or has done us wrong we must stop and reflect on how we may have set the table for our receipt of that wrongdoing sometime earlier. My laughing at some man disrespecting a woman I am not connected to very much can affect me. My endorsing someone ridiculing a gay person ten years ago could very well have been the foundation for my grandchild of the future one day becoming the victim of a homophobic person that is a direct descendant of the homophobes I endorsed years before. My mother was correct when she once told me that I shouldn’t laugh when people tell Polish jokes, or Jewish jokes, or Hispanic jokes, because when I walk away, they probably are telling Black jokes. However, what my mother would also impart to me was the more important fact, that when I stopped to consider my actions, what is really the case is that I know right from wrong, and the bottom line is that laughing at other people’s realities is just that, wrong.
On the other hand, taking constructive action to value people for their uniqueness is an opportunity, not a chore. Our inability to see valuing others as an opportunity, instead of a task, is not far removed from requiring a million dollars to accept a certain onerous challenge. A million dollars—in the grand scheme of things—breaks down to a whole lot less money, given the context of our need at any given moment. How logical is it to require or expect a million dollars on a Monday for something you would do for $976.56 ten days later? Does the arbitrariness of asserting a worth towards something that you would or would not do as a result of what probably is peer pressure threaten to leave us looking more like we don’t deserve a dime? As a matter of fact, if the word gets out that we are that immature and petty, perhaps it will take a million dollars for someone to want to experience us! Your thoughts???