GUEST POST BY: KEN SEIDMAN
There’s a billboard advertising campaign in San Francisco for a service that cleans, shops, whatever, so that you can do the things you want to do. The picture I saw this morning was of a woman doing the yoga pose Upward Facing Dog. She felt deep calm. The caption read Mopping the Floors, as if this were the name of the yoga pose.
I’m not criticizing the service. I hire people to do things I would rather not, such as cleaning, or ought not, such as cutting my own hair. Wealth is created by specialization and trade. In an advanced economy we all can accumulate more stuff, including the people whose trade is the mopping of floors.
Under the image of the woman doing Upward Facing Dog, is a little round scurrying rabbit icon. If the billboard were an iPhone, this little rabbit would be where the button sits, at the bottom of the screen. Under it: We do chores. You live life. Below this, TaskRabbit. Then the smallest print: cleaning, delivery, handyman, moving.
So it’s clear. This is an ad for a service that aims to be the Uber of the low-level labor industry. Chores? There’s an app for that.
Let’s back up a little bit. This ad is at a bus stop on Geary Blvd. Who takes the bus? Not usually those who would pay for an Uber, or a TaskRabbit. From the perspective of some waiting for the bus, this could be seen as a help-wanted ad: Mopping the Floors. You do chores. They live life.
The insult pokes at a spot that’s already sore. Many who serve, even for pay, do so wholeheartedly, receiving compensation but not always appreciation. Whether we wash, fold, deliver, clean, build, entertain, defend, heal or protect, we aim to contribute to the common good by doing our job well. The soldier needs to be paid, but she enlisted to serve her country. The emergency room nurse must afford her living, but she is there to stop the gun-shot victim’s bleeding. The carpenter fixing the dry rot on the side of your house needs to be compensated, but his purpose is to make the structure sound again and keep the water out. And the woman who mops your floor needs to work extra hours to provide for her family, but she really does want you to take joy in the order she has been able to restore to your environment.
We are here to serve you. We all spend some of our time on the We side of this sentence, and some on the You. But the privileged place in the sentence is We. A child loves to get a present. As an adult, he learns that the greater pleasure is in the giving of the present. Our neurosis consists in passively admiring those on the We side, while trying with all our might to get on the You side. We admire Jesus for having washed a prostitute’s feet, Jonas Salk for having created the Polio Vaccine and giving it to humanity for free, the president of your PTA for chairing the meeting then staying around to fold the last chairs at the end of the evening. We admire the many individuals who we meet throughout our day, who with a laugh and a kind word send us better on our way. But we try relentlessly to get on the You side. To win the lottery, create the next big app, get a promotion. We want what others have.
Let’s back up farther. This ad is on a bus stop in San Francisco, which has the highest housing costs in the country. Rents have become so universally high throughout the city’s neighborhoods and outlying areas that lower-wage workers are being forced to the ever-receding outskirts of the Bay Area. It’s a long BART then bus ride in. Backing up farther still, our country’s economy is in a moment of many losers and a few big winners. It’s hours into the monopoly game and what started out as fun for everybody is turning out to be fun just for those who own hotels on Park Place. And farther still. Globally. I have this image of the last resident of the sinking Maldives holding out against the intruding ocean, watching Keeping Up With the Kardashians until the TV flickers out.
We are here to serve you. We all spend some of our time on the We side of this sentence, and some on the You.
When I grew up in Cleveland in the 70s, we were still citizens, not just consumers. The wealthy families we knew were very careful about not rubbing-in their good fortune. They dressed that way -pretty much the same as everyone else. They lived that way. A family friend owned a factory that manufactured rubber stamps, but the walls of his living room were painted cinder block. They did what they could. One relative owned a public relations firm but found time to be a Big Brother every week. Just about everyone treated workers who entered their homes as guests. They were offered water or lemonade, sometimes a sandwich.
I now realize they were not just quietly living their lives, as it had seemed at the time. They were saying something. Happiness comes from recognizing that others are as important as you, from letting them know this, and from helping them to be well. There are yoga poses for that.
About Ken: Ken likes to build, bake bread, back-pack…..and fall asleep on the couch. You can see some of his work at: http://seidmanwoodworks.com/index2.html
All text and photographs © Ken Seidman, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Ken Seidman with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.