“Free” never is, so don’t ask

2010 Update: I made the decision to bring Say “Alaka‘i” here to Talking Story in late May of 2010 when the Honolulu Advertiser, where the blog previously appeared, was merged with the Star Bulletin (Read more at Say “Alaka‘i” is Returning to the Mothership).

Therefore, the post appearing below is a copy of the one which had originally appeared there on April 27, 2010, so we will be able to reference it in the future when the original url it had been published on is no more…

Hibiscus

“Free” never is, so don’t ask

A reader emailed, asking my opinion of this compromise proposed by governor Linda Lingle:

Hawaii governor asks teachers to return
Lingle will release $57.2M, wants educators to work 3 furlough days at no pay.

Gov. Linda Lingle last night asked all public school teachers and principals to volunteer to return to the classrooms without pay for the remaining three furlough days of the school year as a “gesture to heal our community.”

And if lawmakers approve a plan on Wednesday, Lingle also said she will release up to $57.2 million from the state’s Hurricane Relief Fund to restore 11 teacher furlough days next year.

First, let me preface my response by saying it’s a general one — all purpose, for I think the different viewpoints of this particular Hawai‘i Friday furlough issue are irrelevant to my answer. I’d respond the same way no matter the situation variables.

In short, I don’t think anyone should work for free, because I believe in valuing Ho‘ohana as I do (the value of worthwhile work).

“Hawaiians believed that only through work can a man fulfill his social and spiritual purpose.”
— Dr. George Kanahele

I very strongly believe that the work we do should be better valued by other people instead of them asking us to “give from the kindness of our hearts.” It’s awkward, for no one wants to be a jerk, put in a position of being the bad guy (or girl) who says no. So please, don’t put others in that position by asking.

It’s more than that though: I believe we all need to get better at appreciating the work others do for us. I have high regard for the value of work, and I believe that value should be rightfully dignified and honored. No one should ask another person to work for free no matter the circumstances: We need to be better receivers than that, and affirm what others do for us, not negate it.

“Free” never comes without cost to someone (often more than can be readily seen), and “paying” for a product, or for goods and services rendered should be a no-brainer.

You may have heard this story before: This version is from Tall Tim, The naked entrepreneur:

It reminds me of a story, supposedly true, I heard some time ago about Picasso, whose reputation was already secure at the time.

Picasso was apparently meeting someone for a drink in a tapas bar in Barcelona. His companion was running late and whilst he was waiting for him to arrive Picasso began doodling on his napkin. As he put his pen down one of the other patrons in the bar, who had recognised Picasso, boldly approached and proffered – “Maestro, I couldn’t help but notice your doodling on the napkin. I would be very happy to purchase the napkin from you.” “Certainly,” replied Picasso, “the price will be US$10,000.”

“How could you possibly charge $10,000?” blustered the would-be buyer, “I watched you and it took but a few minutes of your time to create.”

“Yes,” said Picasso, “But I AM Picasso and it has taken me 40 years to arrive at the point where I can create a work of art, worthy of bearing my name, in a matter of minutes.”

Whereupon one of the other patrons in the bar who had been observing the exchange leapt to his feet and said “Picasso, I’ll give you $12,000 for the napkin if you’ll just sign it.”

Good for Picasso!

When people ask me to speak or deliver workshops pro bono (without charge, and “for the public good”) I may, in that I’ll fulfill their request and not bill them in dollars, but I do step into the coaching opportunity they give me, and I’ll ask how they’re planning to reciprocate in kind. I’m ready to give them some pretty creative ideas if I need to.

There are several ways they can do so, for money is but one type of transactional currency, and a problem-riddled one at that. Unfortunately, compensation practices are as big a mess as you’ll find, with union rules and taxation complicating it even more (case in point).

Yes, I realize that even barter is subject to taxation, and most CPAs will advise you to report all transactions to the Internal Revenue Service in equivalent-dollars as cash sales, but so be it: The point is that we need to honor each other in the work we do.

Dignify your own work too: Value it, assessing it fairly, and let people know how they can compensate you if they ask. For instance, in the case of Hawai‘i’s Friday furloughs, I personally would love to hear from more teachers or school administrators, instead of union representatives and our legislators. If there simply aren’t the dollars available to compensate them monetarily, what would they suggest? It is far easier to be a good giver when we know what we can give.

“[In Hawai‘i of old] the general principle underlying all gift giving was reciprocity, a concept which permeated virtually all Hawaiian behavior” Economically, reciprocity has a narrower meaning, although the principle is the same: one should repay each gift with something at least equivalent to what one has received. But if the equivalent is enough, giving more is better” an important feature of reciprocal gift giving was the spirit of noblesse oblige.”
— Dr. George Kanahele

Noblesse oblige, “nobility obliges.” A wonderful concept, don’t you think?

The Dictionnaire de l’Académie française defines it thus:
“Whoever claims to be noble must conduct himself nobly. One must act in a fashion that conforms to one’s position, and with the reputation that one has earned.”
The Oxford English Dictionary says that the term “suggests noble ancestry constrains to honourable behavior; privilege entails to responsibility.”
Wikipedia

Let’s seek to give, and give exceptionally before asking. Wouldn’t you want the same courtesy and affirmation of your worth?

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From the archives:
Set your price, charge it, and stand behind it

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Update: The saga continues in this morning’s paper: Hawaii governor’s furlough plan derided

While my posting makes it pretty clear I think the governor could have come up with a better suggestion (don’t go for adversarial compromise or even consensus and cooperation: Go for collaboration), it is alarming to me that so many who say “think of the children” and/or “what about the teachers?” are listing excuses and justifications why our teachers can’t work. Heaven forbid that we now are anti-volunteering, and that people are restricted from working to serve others if they want to. Why are we going there?

To be clear, I’m not saying they shouldn’t work within my posting, not at all! Do get back to work, and do make it work.

I still want to hear from more teachers, and not the BOE, unions, or legislators… why allow others to speak for you? Be heard.