The Before Time
Back in the before time, our worlds were free from productivity requirements and expectations. It was enough to learn to walk and talk and then to use the bathroom by ourselves, without being reminded. The big milestone came when we mastered getting up during the night, without peeing the bed. For some of us, especially for a few of the boys among us, this latter achievement took a lot longer than we hoped and the adults in our worlds seemed to expect. Even so, nearly all of us got up and over this challenge.
There were other small hills to climb, but none were all that difficult for most of us. There was taking turns and playing nicely with others, mostly following the rules and cooperating with parents and teachers, and of course reading, writing and arithmetic were in the mix. As time passed, other requirements began to appear. Even so, others cutting us some slack was pretty much a given, so long as we didn’t resist too much or argue excessively.
We were growing up, developing, and usually not judged by how much or how well we did. The measure of success mostly relied on exhibiting an appropriate amount of effort and cooperation. The notion was to continue progressing, to do better than we had done before. How hard we tried was much more important than how much we accomplished.
The Big Change
I’m thinking that the deal with my world had changed when I was about fifteen. I doubt that the change was abrupt, but fifteen is more or less when I caught on. I suspect the age varies, but it was somewhere in the teenage years for most of us.
It was probably a transition that had been going on for a few years, but the shift was definitely less slack to more expectation, from making a good effort to getting the job done, whatever the job. For the most part, there wasn’t much of any penalty for not getting the job done, assuming that I had at least made a reasonable effort; but here comes the rub.
I had unknowingly shifted into a productivity-based economy. Much of what I wanted was contingent on being productive. Resources and opportunities at home, at school and elsewhere were increasingly linked to my level of achievement, cooperation, and meeting those external expectations and standards. I’m sure that my parents would not have kicked me out had I not been as productive as they hoped; but the rest of my world operated on a quite different set of rules. Since you already know how that works, there is no need to expand on that here. Suffice it to say, it was mostly be productive or do without.
The Productivity Plateau
I’ve mentioned this incident before but it’s worth another pass here. I was likely whining about how hard college was to a councilor at OU who was not particularly sympathetic. He told me that, with the possible exception of my mother, no one cared whether I succeeded in college or not. All of the caring had to come from me. The issue had nothing to do with how difficult it was. The only question was whether or not I was going to do what I needed to do to succeed. In short, it was clearly be productive or be gone.
Harsh? Of course it was. It was also true. I had stepped onto the productivity plateau and there was no turning back.
So here we are, all of us right up there on the productivity plateau, smack in the middle of that place where it’s be productive or be gone. But it’s not nearly so simple. Although I’m not sure but I think he was whining about other political types not cooperating in support of his position when Bernie Sanders declared that it’s not fair. I could also declare that this productivity thing is equally not fair. Just like Bernie, if everyone else would just go along with what I want and need, everything would be just dandy. Instead, it’s not fair.
I don’t suppose that I need to spend much time listing the details of just how unfair it is. Two points should be enough. First, Your level of effort and how productive you are aren’t necessarily linked to the level of reward and payoff. Second, some of us are more able to be productive than others of us. A third point also needs emphasized. Many of us are arbitrarily blocked from full access to the productivity plateau for reasons that have nothing to do with our ability or capacity to succeed. The productivity plateau is fundamentally unfair.
Is There a Point?
I sure don’t have any breaking news or startling insights about how unfair the productivity plateau is or how to fix its inequities. The best I can do is to offer a tentative suggestion.
Since we know that the rewards and benefits of productivity are not fairly distributed, we can help a little if we are as generous as we can be when we tip people who provide services for us. They will appreciate it; and we can know that we have made things just a little fairer.
We know that not everyone is or can be equally productive, so we can be a bit more patient and tolerant when others are not as quick or efficient as we think they should be. They will appreciate it; and we can know that we have made things just a little fairer.
We know that many people are kept off the productivity plateau or not given the same opportunities to succeed as others for reasons unrelated to their ability to be successful. We may be in a position to give them the opportunity to join with those of us who are being rewarded for our efforts and productiveness. They will appreciate it; and we can know that we have made things just a little fairer.
Just a little fairer — it’s not much but it’s not nothing. Will you do what you can, whenever you can, for whomever you can? They will appreciate it; and you can know that you have made things just a little fairer. It might even get you a smile and a hug, at least from your mom.