I am unemployable
Partly because no one can afford what I’m worth
Partly because I prefer to give it away
This short poem harkens to a more organic way of relating to one another than contractual relationships. What if people did what they love in life and gave freely? I suspect that the world would be much better off. Love unleashed is much more powerful, and synchronous with the deepest reality, than any personal profit or “earning.” Giving freely is an invitation to escape the binds of the quid pro quo of contracts. Contractual relationships are bound by a reciprocity that is defined by a limited payback. The best that a contractual relationship can offer is an equal, reciprocal exchange or payback that ends when the direct participants/contractors get what they bargained for — it’s largely a closed system. Of course, many would be quite satisfied with such a fair exchange. I am not. I yearn for an open system of unending streams of acts of kindness where little time and effort is spent on trying to guarantee that the giver gets back a commensurate, proportional return in a specific way. How about paying it forward? Many will cry out, “Life is not fair; if you act that way, then you will get shortchanged.” My answer: you are right, life is not fair — life is excellent! My life is a gift that I can never repay, except in kind! What is fair in life is that what we sow is what we reap. The means produce the ends. And the kinds produce new beginnings. As Gandhi, a man well accustomed to the darker and lighter sides of humanity, proclaimed, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” People convinced that mutual exchange negotiated by two parties is the best we can do, will likely not do much better. I, for one, would like to participate in a much bigger party! And like John Lennon said, “You may say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one. I hope someday you will join us. And the world will live as one.”
Us dreamers don’t deny that people can treat you badly, worse than you treat them. What dreamers don’t deny, but affirm, and live into, is that people can treat each other better than they are treated. Within this blessed inequality is a sacred space where forgiveness, grace, and gratitude flourish. I view this as the most fundamental and appropriate response to the existential reality that I did nothing to deserve my life; or, as John Paul Sartre and Paul Johannes Tillich would join in saying, “We are not the ground of our own being.”
The fright of giving freely is easily identified, and it is commonplace. Interestingly though, perhaps more illustrative is the odd reality that receiving freely is also very difficult and scary for many people. The fright that binds these two conditions is not the fear of not getting enough, but rather the fear of not earning one’s way. If I receive freely, then I might owe someone or something. This may trigger an even deeper fear of being controlled, having this debt being used against you.
I suspect that this fear of being controlled, having a debt being used against you, may be the most basic fear contained within false religion, that is, religion which controls rather than sets free. Perhaps ironically, this fear of having a debt that one cannot repay may be a frightening undergirder of atheism (a rejection of a giver?). The modern scientific atheist betrays this worldview by a singular focus on scientific reductionism, the world of causality where each individual party has a proper accounting (hmmm…sounds a bit like a religion). In this world of causality, that paradoxically is proclaimed to exist without a cause (“it just is” — like God?), there is no room for generosity or forgiveness, only ever finer engineering and accounting. Mystery becomes simply ignorance, a hubris-ridden assumption about what lies beyond the veil. Humility and hubris seem as one. Is it any wonder that scientific atheists may find their attitudes vacillating from extreme causality and exacting control to impenetrable absurdity.
Back to the basic theme of this poem, which challenges a worldview dominated by “earners.” Humans and humanity are too valuable to be monetized for the convenience of more efficient commerce. Human rights are not for sale, but arise out of the sacred worth of human life. Perhaps the best illustration of how far we have strayed from this is by the fact that you can substitute “the market” or “the economy” with the word “God” and you would find that it all makes sense, in a strangely perverse way. We must bow to the false god of Mammon, or worldly wealth and power, but it will never set us “free.” As Jesus adroitly put it, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24) Reflecting on this basic pivot point in life may give rise to a more modern take on truth and freedom: The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off!
There are few things in modern American politics that will piss people off more than confronting “a sense of entitlement.” Conservatives more typically take offense at a “sense of entitlement.” Liberals more typically work to protect “entitlements.” I think that this liberal desire to protect “entitlements” springs from a sense of human rights which transcend market valuations. Unfortunately, the debates about “entitlements” pays too much homage to economic worthiness than sacred worthiness. I view conservatives’ objections to “entitlements” as springing from this worldview that holds “earning” as sacrosanct. Such a worldview rejects both “giving freely” and “receiving freely.” Conservative religious rhetoric aside, the dubious conservatives’ claim that giving should be done freely (without government involvement) is perhaps best debunked simply by their giving behavior. Feeble claims that government robs them of enough resources to give is easily countered by the fact that the more people have the less they give proportionally (whether conservative or liberal). The urge to give must spring from some place different than having a lot of stuff to give. If this sacred place from which giving arises is to become incarnate in this world, then we must behave congruously with the reality that each human is more valuable than any employer can pay, and we must prefer giving over earning.