Friday, October 21, 2011
Monday, October 17, 2011
Poverty is a personal problem with systemic consequences.
In response to the systemic consequences, we institute systems-approach solutions that have personal consequences, and often exacerbate the effects of poverty at the personal level. These approaches have failed to reduce levels of poverty and have increased gaps between the richest and poorest. These systems cost too much money to provide no return on investment.
We require a different set of starting principles.
The most viable solutions will challenge common understanding about concepts like value, work, choice, responsibility, community and freedom. We are only beginning to have those conversations, and they are hard.
This work is generations from fruition.
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Part 2 Talking: TIME
Jenny feels her friends’ ambivalence and wishes she’d kept quiet. Never have the three friends been in such different places. They pretend to read the menu they all know by heart. Jenny already knows that she'll order soup, but she doesn't want to look up right away. We are in such different places, she thinks. I wish we could understand each other, and just feel comfortable like we used to.
Suddenly, Jenny's stomach contracts and a cold, eerie feeling descends over her. With glaring clarity she understands: this may be the last time we three friends are together like this. She feels suddenly overwhelmed with sadness for all she has lost already. Jenny takes a ragged breath. Johnny and Neeha are instantly alert.
"Jenny, I'm sorry, we never should have gotten into talking about money." Neeha puts her arm around her friend, but Jenny shakes it off.
"No, that's just it! It's what we DON'T talk about that's getting in our way! Guys, I really think that we might be losing our friendship because we can't talk about how our situations are different, the assumptions or judgments we might have - even unconsciously. It gets in the way, like a wall we've been slowly building for years!"
All three sit in silence. After a minute, Johnny nods thoughtfully.
"Okay, but we can't change anyone's situation, we can't change what's different in our lives. So what can we do?"
"Maybe...we can talk about it?" offers Jenny shyly.
Johnny does not want to talk about it. He knows that he has more money than his friends and he doesn't want to be made to feel guilty about it. He went to college, and worked hard to get where he is. He thinks, what is there to talk about? It's not his fault that his friends made different decisions than he did. Jenny chose to get married and quit school - if she'd wanted to, she could have given the baby up, or found a way to do her studies part time. And Neeha didn't even try. As these thoughts flow through his mind, he remembers Jenny's words that burst out so jarringly. Assumptions? Judgments? Reluctantly, he starts to see that maybe there are some things to talk about.
Neeha still hasn't spoken. She does not want to talk about her life - it's too boring. She doesn't want to complain, and she doesn't want to listen to anyone else complain, either. It hurt her feelings when Jenny shook her off, and the outburst felt like an attack . She admits to herself that Jenny's words shook her to the core. Neeha suddenly realizes the tenuousness of the relationship that holds them together, how easily these two people who had always been part of her Canadian life might fade away from her. She shivers as she feels, for a moment, what it means to be alone in the world. She looks at her two friends. Jenny smiles apologetically and bites her lip. Neeha makes a decision.
"Okay," says Neeha, "Let's talk. Where do we start?"
"Well," Jenny begins, "I guess I noticed that both you guys seemed to be...I don't know, doubtful? When I said that my time is stretched? So I guess I'm thinking that you think you have more time pressures than I do. Can we talk about that?"
Neeha and Johnny exchange a look. Johnny doesn't really want to hurt Jenny's feelings by saying her days are wasted. Neeha sighs. Her feelings are complicated and contradictory - she knows Jenny is a good mother, but she still feels it's unfair that she doesn't have to work. Neeha has no idea what she can say that won't sound like she is judging her friend. The words suddenly tumble out before she fully thinks them through.
"I have to admit it, Jenny, it's true. I do think you have more time than me. I'm running from job to job spending half my time on the bus, and you're warm at home. I'm not saying you don't work hard as a mother. But how could you not have more time?"
The two women stare at each other in silence. Jenny doesn't want to say the first words that come to her - she wants to keep her friendship. She feels Neeha's comments like burning shame.
Suddenly, Johnny laughs. The other two look over at him, surprised.
"No one has more time!" he cries triumphantly, the same way he used to treat every new discovery in science class as though he were the first to come upon it. Neeha feels a smile tugging the corner of her lips as she catches a glimpse of Teenaged Johnny.
"What do you mean?" she asks.
"No one has more time because we all have the same 24 hours, every day! We all start with...what? One hundred..." he grabs a crayon from a cup left for small children, working out the math on the paper tablecloth in front of him. "One hundred and sixty-eight hours. in a week. That's all we get. You can't buy an hour more."
All three friends acknowledge this is true.
Each friend has the same 24 hours to spend in a day.
Each begins each week with
"Okay," smiles Jenny, a little more at ease. "We all have one hundred and sixty-eight hours. That's true, but it's what we do with them that's different." Jenny takes a deep breath in and lets it out slowly. She is glad her friends have taken up her challenge instead of running, but she's already finding the conversation hard. She decides that she will have to be determined not to get offended, but try to stay curious."
"Well, I spend most of my time at work," says Johnny. "Or, sleeping."
"Sleep?" laughs Neeha. "What's that? Sleep is one thing I don't spend enough time on. Work comes first. And the stupid bus."
"For me, my kids come first," says Jenny. "The twins are still home all day and they won't nap anymore, so I spend most of my time with them."
"But, they're just little. They can't take up that much time?" asks Neeha without thinking.
"I think maybe you should come and babysit for a day, then see if you think that!" laughs Jenny. She means what she says, but finds she isn't upset with Neeha's assumption. Neeha can't be expected to know what it's like to spend all day, every day with very young children.
Johnny takes the crayon.
"I have an easy way to do this. Let's just track how we spend our time."
Together, the friends quickly narrow themselves to four main areas for time - paid employment, household maintenance, personal development and community work. Each shares their experience thoughtfully and with a broad brush. Johnny records the hours on the paper table-cloth. They take quite awhile to eat, often forgetting as they get caught up in analyzing together. When the waitress comes to clear their plates, Johnny asks her for a new table-cloth to summarize their findings. She raises her eyebrow when she sees what he's been writing, but doesn't say a word. Johnny works while Neeha and Jenny excuse themselves to the washroom.
Here is a summary of what they found:
Working requires travel time. Johnny drives about twenty minutes to work. Niha takes the bus, which takes approximately one hour each way, while Jenny primarily stays in her own neighbourhood.
|Average weekly hours at workplace|
|Travel hours to and from work|
Total hours required for paid work:
Household maintenance includes things like housecleaning, laundry, food preparation and shopping. In particular, household maintenance is required to keep a home pest-free and sanitary for human living, and to ensure nutritional needs are met.
Johnny has a housekeeper who comes every two weeks for the heaviest work, and keeps his place fairly tidy in between. His home is pest-free. Johnny buys his lunch about half the time, and uses food services (drive-thru, takeout) at least three times a week. He doesn’t know how to cook many things, so his groceries consist primarily of frozen entrees and meals-to-go.
Jenny makes her own meals, usually from reduced-cost groceries and produce, and does her own housecleaning. With small children at home, her efforts do not always meet her own standards. She has had mice occasionally, but her home is generally pest-free.
Neeha does her own cleaning and always brings her lunch to work. She likes to cook but doesn’t have much time, so about half her meals are packaged/prepared/frozen grocery offerings. Her apartment is messy but not dirty - she generally keeps it up and does big bursts of proper cleaning when she can fit them in. Still, she battles cockroaches that go back and forth between her apartment and her neighbour's. The tenants there change every month, and they often bring infestations with them. She would like to move, but she never seems to be able to get an appointment when she doesn't have to work.
Time spent on household tasks:
3) Community Contribution
All three friends readily agree that citizenship invokes a responsibility for contribution to the community. This is one of the values that brought them together. They also acknowledge that each volunteer hour adds to the wider social benefit at the expense of one hour's participation in the economic system.
Johnny sits on a local charity’s Board of Directors, which averages about an hour a week. He's new to the Board and the other members have been there longer, so he hasn't found his niche. He's hoping to help them upgrade their IT infrastructure, which could increase his time contributions. Johnny also visits his disabled aunt for an hour each Thursday at her supportive care facility.
Jenny spends approximately fifty-six hours a week in direct child-development activities *(please see the note at the end). These activities include reading, crafts, play, music, writing, fine and gross motor skill development, and social development. Jenny cares for her sister’s two children after school, allowing her sister to continue her full time job. Jenny also volunteers three hours a week at the local community centre’s reading program while her kids play in a play circle.
Neeha volunteers one hour each week at the local multicultural centre, leading a youth art program. She also paints when she can spare some time. Several of her paintings hang in local establishments, and she donated one to the city’s library for a charity event last year.
Time Spent on Community Contribution
|Supporting children's development needs|
|Supporting family/friend needs|
Time spent on Community-enhancing tasks:
Johnny belongs to a gym and works out there 3-4 times a week for at least an hour. He always makes sure to sleep 8 hours a night, because otherwise he gets very grumpy.
Jenny never seems to find the time for exercise with the twins still at home all day (and no longer napping). She also gets very little sleep – between keeping up with laundry and waking up with various children through the night/early morning, she considers herself lucky to get 6 hours a night. She often suffers nightmares at night, and headaches through the day.
Neeha does little better than Jenny – it’s not that she wastes her time, but between her work in the evenings and her day shifts, her sleep patterns are a little confused and she tends to sleep in 3-4 hour shifts, rather than getting all her sleep at once. She also likes to veg out a bit - not sleep, just relax. She sometimes falls asleep on the sofa with the TV on.
Time spent on personal well-being:
Bringing it all together...Jenny, Johnny and Neeha started with the idea that each begins with the same number of hours: 24 in a day, 168 in a week.
|Hours at start of the week|
|Hours spent for work|
|Hours spent for household tasks|
|Hours spent for community-enhancing tasks|
|Hours spent on personal well-being|
Hours available for leisure:
Johnny ends up with approximately 37 hours of unallocated time in a week. Up until now, Johnny has used this time to upgrade his education and career prospects. He will likely now use his time to perform well at his job, improving his future prospects for employment and earnings. He will also use his time to catch up with friends and family that he’s been missing. Perhaps he will add another volunteer project.
Currently, Jenny spends almost half her waking hours in the long-term, active creation of productive human units for society – that is, performing unpaid child development work. For her to work at paid employment, someone else would need to be paid to do this work. During the day, Jenny’s oldest daughter is in school, but since school begins at 8:45am and lets out at 3:15pm, Jenny could not work a full shift and still be home when Heather arrives. After school care costs about as much as Jenny could earn in most part time jobs. and her two youngest children are not in school.
Both Johnny and Neeha benefit from not having children. Presumably, if Jenny did not have children, she could achieve, at minimum, a similar outcome to Neeha, since she would not be required to remain at home and could pursue similar levels of paid employment. Without children, Jenny may have finished her degree and entered the workforce at a higher rate of pay, but society would be deprived three future units of contribution. These musings may be diverting, but the reality is, there are three small children who cannot be left alone, and Jenny cannot choose to divert her time from them.
Almost half of Neeha’s waking hours are consumed by work and travel. She often thinks about upgrading her education, but she’s so tired when she gets home that even thinking about what to study seems daunting, let alone figuring out how to make it happen. She’s heard that even people with degrees and diplomas are having a hard time finding work, so she’s not sure it’s worth the investment. Truth be told, Neeha would rather spend any extra time on her art, but generally finds herself zoning out in front of the TV if she has 15 minutes to spare.
When the women return from the washroom, they stand behind Johnny and look at the chart he's made.
"It looks like I was wrong, Jenny," says Neeha. "You don't seem to have any free time at all. But do you really spend all that time on child development?"
"You mean, do I leave them to fend for themselves while I watch soaps?" The joke is mostly light-hearted. Neeha decides to let it slide.
"No, I mean, they must play by themselves sometimes. There must be some down time?"
"Neeha, I can see why you think that, but you haven't been around kids. I think some kids probably are easy, don't need much attention, but I don't know those kids. And we don't just sit around at home. I want to make sure they're ready for school. I take them out into the world, to the library, the community centre, the early year's centre, even the nursing home. We sing, we do crafts. I read to them and play with them. They are so young that they bite and hit if they start fighting over a toy - I can't leave them alone for a minute. Unless they're sleeping, I need to give them my focus. Remember, I'm with them 24-7 but I'm only claiming 8 hours a day for child development. If anything, I was lowballing."
Neeha has no reason to doubt her friend. She can't imagine spending that much time with small children. She wouldn't know what to do with them.
"But," Jenny continues, "I do have more flexibility than you, in some ways. I can decide when we're going to certain places, or stay home if we're tired. I can turn on the TV and take a break for 20 minutes. You have to go to work, no matter what, when they tell you, and be on time. That's hard."
Neeha appreciates her friend's effort to see her perspective.
"Well, I think we must be missing something, because there's no WAY I have 37 hours to spend!" complains Johnny.
"Well, we just did broad categories. But you've been studying for your certification - that's been using up a bunch of your time. Maybe you will find yourself with those hours now that you're done?" suggests Neeha.
"Maybe. I'll have to think about it. This can't be the whole story."
"It's definitely not," agrees Jenny, "But it's all we have time for. I need to catch the bus home."
"Don't be silly, I'll give you both a ride," offers Johnny.
"I'm staying downtone," says Neeha. "My shift starts at 5pm, so there's no point going home then back again."
The waitress approaches. "Will that be together or separate?"
"Together," says Johnny with his hand out. "Separate," from the other two at the same moment. An awkward silence ensures.
"Together," says Johnny firmly. He smiles at his friends. "You won't deny me. I want to buy lunch today."
As the three leave the restaurant, their feelings are mixed. The tension hasn't disappeared, but Jenny feels relief. They have talked about things today in a way that they haven't in far too long. They had some difficult moments, challenged each other, and even overcame hurt feelings. Jenny feels proud that they have come through it. Neeha isn't sure how she feels, but she knows that she does not want to lose these friends. Johnny stays quiet - today's discussions have left him with a number of thoughts to ponder.
As they say goodbye, Johnny, Jenny and Neeha feel glad that they are three good friends.