The caller to the radio show made a logical, coherent argument. The host had been extolling the virtue of work, and she countered his words by explaining that he was actually a fool. After all, he got up early every morning to prepare for his show, spent time driving in traffic to the radio station, and then spent a few hours delivering entertaining value so that people would want to listen to his show and companies would want to advertise on it. The next day he repeated his actions, earning a measly few weeks of vacation time each year.
In contrast, she said, she got up whenever she wanted to and, unless she felt like it, did nothing more strenuous than moving to her couch, watching TV, and smoking pot. Taxes taken from his salary, she opined, allowed her to take it easy. She challenged him, “Which of them was making a more intelligent choice?”
The call was disturbing. Her articulate words suggested that she was a smart, educated woman who assessed how hard she would have to work to earn enough to afford equivalent benefits to those she could access by not working, and made a logical cost/benefit calculation. They sounded similar to the arguments made by a sophisticated doctor I know who opted not to increase his hours, recognizing that it would simply push him into a higher tax bracket yielding little for his extra effort. If I understood his thought processes, then I should understand hers. I did.
At the same time, I felt sorry for both the woman and the doctor. The government was incentivizing both individuals to be less productive than they could be. Leaving aside the fact that I would consider watching hours of mind-numbing television to be a form of malevolent punishment and that I have no hankering for marijuana, both of my protagonists were making rational choices. Their decisions, however, made financial sense at the expense of their souls.
When my husband and I had a house full of young children, I relished the blessedly quiet nighttime hours after they were asleep. Those same quiet nighttime hours could be a burden to a young couple battling infertility and praying for a raucous household or to the elderly man alone day and night without human contact. In the same way, there are many days that I yearn for free time to fill with hobbies, classes and other activities. Yet I know that, paradoxically, I only savor what free time I have because it is so fleeting.
I haven’t checked in with my physician friend, but I do know that he spoke sadly of cutting back his hours, rather than gleefully anticipating the extra spare time. I know that I wouldn’t opt to change places with the radio caller. I’m not a sap for working, whether it is in our ministry or by devoting myself to my family. I am only a sap if I fall for the tired lies of politicians who profess that it is compassion rather than self-interest that motivates them to talk of ‘the poor,’ ‘the children,’ or ‘minorities,’ while setting in place policies that by design or stupidity harm those they pretend to help.