Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Follow-up: Speculations on the negative influence of female attitudes

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Preamble: This began as a brief clarification, but the clarification spun off footnotes that turned into excursions and then the excursions spun off other excursions. There is material enough to build a “regular” text around the excursions, but I prefer to keep them as excursions to reduce the time spent—which is already about ten times longer than I had intended.

Thinking back on a recent text dealing partially with topics like paying for services, I suspect that the superficial reader could misinterpret (or the politically hostile distort) it. To reduce the risk, a brief clarification:

These parts of the text are directed mostly at the recipient, not the performer, of the service: I do not necessarily argue that the performer should require payment. Whether he does is up to him and whether I would do so in his shoes would depend on the circumstances (see excursion). The main point is that the recipient should not have a “something for nothing” mentality and, at a minimum, make a genuine*offer to pay (see another excursion)—the antithesis of “the woman with many friends” from the original text. A secondary point is that a society which works on a “something for something” basis is fairer and more likely to be successful than a “something for nothing” society, an “I am entitled/I deserve” society, an “I am pretty and smile a lot, so do things for me” society, a “those who can are legally obligated to help those who can’t” society, etc.

*As opposed to an insincere offer made in the knowledge that it will be turned down.

Excursion on forms of payment:
Payment need not be in money. (Here, I might have been a little short-sighted during writing. However, without money, advantages like potential new businesses disappear.) Trading favors are an obvious alternative and it is possible that the lawn-mowing boy would have seen a piece of cake as fair payment. Indeed, even a token payment is better than no payment in terms of fostering the right attitudes. To some, performing a perceived (cf. excursion) good deed might be a reward in its own right. (In addition, we might need to think of at least three broad types of payments: token payments to acknowledge gratitude, payments to at least approximately cover the costs and/or efforts of the performer, and payments that allow a profit for the performer.)

Excursion on when I would require payment:
This is too large a topic for this text and I have not thought it through in detail, as the topic has not been that important in my adult life. However, there are at least four aspects that I would consider and recommend others to consider: (a) Whether the service is within the realm of professional expertise and/or is something for which the performer is regularly paid (cf. the lawyer and the physician in the joke from the original text). (b) The closeness of the relationship, e.g. whether a lawn is moved for the own mother, the neighbor, or some random person somewhere in the same town. (c) The size of both the individual service and the sum of all services requested by that recipient, e.g. in that I would not have expected anything over a “thank you” for driving that shopping cart to the rude woman (not that I got one …), but would have required payment in the hypothetical case of carrying her bags home (unless, more likely, I turned her down outright). (d) Whether requiring payment could have a positive effect of the attitude on the recipient, e.g. in light of recurring freeloading (a similar idea as with the lawyer/physician joke, but from another angle.

I caution that the right answer for the one performer might not be the right answer for another, e.g. because the one has much more spare time than the other.

Depending on the situation, the ability to pay might also factor in. For instance, if I had mowed the lawn for widows as a teenager (cf. original text), I might have gone with money in case of the rich widow and been content with cake in the case of the poor.

In addition, care should be taken when the recipient has a legitimate or perceived “pre-payment”. For instance, the mother of a teenage boy would usually be justified in seeing a mowed lawn as very partial payback of the services that she has performed for and expenses that she has had because of him.

Excursion on paying own children for house-work and similar:
Some argue that paying the own (pre-adult) children for house-work and similar tasks is a good thing, e.g. to teach the connection between work and money or having them earn their pocket money. I can see the point behind this, it is compatible with the ideas of my original text, and I might do so myself, if I ever have children. However, I also see potential problems, notably in that the children might be more likely to appreciate their parents efforts, if they are taught that “by doing chores, you pay us back”, and be more likely to develop a sound team spirit if they are taught that “by doing chores, you pull your own weight”. To some degree the suggestion amounts to viewing the children as performers, but it might be better to focus on the parents as performers and the children as recipients.

To boot, the one* case of such explicit payment within my family (that I recall) did not work well: my sister had lousy school grades and received payment for reaching certain standards**. This did nothing to help her academic career, as she eventually became a high-school drop-out, but it did make young me feel unfairly treated: In my eyes, she was rewarded for past failure and for past laziness—not for later adequacy (“success” would be too strong a word). This while my success and hard work came with a pat on the back. Or consider the game-theory point of view: someone could play this system by deliberately (!) earning bad grades the first semester, negotiating a money-for-grades scheme, and then studying normally to earn an entirely artificial reward. Or consider the psychological effects: instead of learning for life or the sake of learning, students already learn too much for the sake of grades, and now we add an aspect of trying to get grades for the sake of a small short-term pay-out.

*I did on several occasions receive explicit payment from my grand-mother for helping her with some church activities, but as she, in turn, was paid by the church, I would see that as another case entirely. (And, no, I did not ask for money—she offered.)

**I do not recall the details (or the duration of the experiment), but the amount per good grade was sufficiently much that I would have liked to have it, while not being enough that it made a major difference in the big picture. (For instance, even the amount that my better grades might have earned is bound to have been lower than the monthly value of free food and lodging.) The events were almost certainly before high school for her, and no later than the first year of high school for me.

Excursion on perceived or claimed good deeds:
Not everything that might seem, or is claimed to be, a good deed actually is. Consider e.g. giving to a poorly managed charity or two examples from my own past (the second also being a further illustration of annoying and self-centered women):

When I was a teenager, I had a summer job as a gardener/janitor. As I performed some type of work near a flower bed, an elderly man approached me and asked if I could remove that young tree that had invaded the flower bed. I was happy too do so, and pleased at the learning experience. With hindsight, I am uncertain whether I was allowed to do so, and whether the elderly man had any say in the matter, and the tree might well have been the cause of two years of heated arguments in the home-owner’s association—where I had just given the kill-the-tree side a victory that I was not entitled to give. (This is not actually likely, but it is also far from impossible and I performed that particular service without bothering to find out.)

During a train ride, a few years ago, a group of women boarded and went through the train, sitting down with the other passengers (very rude, as there were free seats apart from other passengers, and as they proved not to be “bona fide” passengers, themselves) and beginning conversations without probing for interest (mildly rude) and for the purpose of selling (extremely rude). When they came to me, I learned that they were selling some type of garage-sale* junk, from baskets that they carried, to give money to two friends who were getting married (such sales are against train regulations).

*I actually wrote “garbage-sale” before proof-reading …

As I declined and pointed out that such sales were not allowed, one of them got snippy and went on about how this was for charity (“Wohltätigkeit”, or similar). It is not: had they given own money and/or their garage-sale junk to their friend it might, possibly, have constituted charity. When they ask me to do so, with or without an alibi piece of junk in return, it is just panhandling. To this, I note that there was not even an attempt to describe the happy couple as particularly needy—they were just “our friends”, and because they wanted to give money to their friends, I should open my wallet …

But they all seemed unable to comprehend that they were doing something wrong, too self-obsessed, too blind to other people, too lacking in self-perspective, … Even the fact that I preferred to read my book over talking to them seemed to annoy them—something that must be entirely my decision and something very understandable in light of the rudeness and lack of intelligence displayed.* And, no, this appeared to be perfectly regular native German women—they were not members of some gypsy-like group who might have used a similar scheme to panhandle on a professional level.

*And here, too, I suspect a strong aspect of “men are supposed to”: they were dressed much more provocatively and uniformly than was normal for a train ride. This would be well explained by e.g. a “if we are sexy and flirty, men will be kind to us” type of thinking. (Cf. the original text and women flirting in the office.)


Written by michaeleriksson

June 28, 2020 at 2:43 pm

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  1. […] writing a few earlier texts ([1], [2]) negative towards charity, I have repeatedly seen, with some early puzzlement, the claim that […]

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