A dinner party last night got me thinking about the interface between political rhetoric and where people's hearts really are. Of the seven gathered at the table, two were former teachers, one taught seventh grade and a fourth worked in a high school and was also involved in its drama productions.
Despite the depths of Colorado's educational funding problems and the precariousness of teaching jobs — seen in increasingly challenging classrooms, threats of layoffs and the red tide against "public employees — the table talk didn't go there.
Instead, it focused on the kids: The hard-working ones, the medicated ADHD kids, the malingerers, the amazing ones, the autistic one, the singers and dancers and shot putters and drug users. And it was spoken with an awareness of and concern for their nutrition, upbringing, social circles, inspirations and prospects.
An ex-teacher inquired about one of his former students and whether he'd stayed out of trouble in high school. The math teacher, who taught a "gifted" class in addition to classes for kids with behavioral problems, said her gifted group was largely made of kids who might have been considered normal a generation or two ago. She also expressed mild regret that she'd passed on an opening to teach science (her specialty) because she believed science positions would be the next ones to be cut.
That's as political as it got last night.
This morning, back in the realm of daily news and conflict, I wondered how the conversation at a table of political job holders might go — say, appointees who rode the coattails of November's victory and are now intent on shaving government down to size as they collect nice paychecks and enjoy benefits just like other public employees. Would their undirected talk focus on the people they serve — all of them — or toward the advance of power and the progress of their unmaking government?
I don't know for sure, but this framework comes to mind as way to imagine it.
Let's say we can derive satisfaction from four dimensions of work: the work itself, the people we serve, the compensation we receive, and the control we can achieve. All are forms of reward, and the greatest theoretical reward comes from achieving satisfaction in all four dimensions. In reality, there are variations, overlaps and exceptions, but let's keep this simple.
Those who enjoy the work itself can include writers, programmers, scientists, athletes, artists, entrepreneurs and others who don't necessarily require other people to enrich what is already a rich interior experience. The work can be primarily mental or physical; it's the activity itself that gives pleasure.
Others may primarily derive satisfaction from serving others. Let's include teachers, ministers, health professionals, restauranteurs, certain salespeople and various social service professionals.
Then there are the managers and financial types who could be equally at home in banking, consumer electronics, taco franchising, insurance or the cake mix business. They need other people, but primarily as abstractions — "human resources," "consumers" and "shareholders" — necessary to the system that provides their financial gain.
The fourth dimension certainly overlaps with the others, but the control sought by a composer or a farmer is very different from that sought by the political and business classes, which must exert power over others to achieve their goals. And one of the levers of their power comes from characterizing and mischaracterizing others.
Of course, people aren't this simple, but these categories provide a framework for seeing through motivations as well as self-deceptions.
After all, there's more than one way to serve people.