SELF-WORTH

This isn’t a confidence-boosting, self-help load of waffle.  This is actually about something totally wrong-headed I heard from an acquaintance with, uh, clearly different aspirations to me.

More than a difference of opinion, this is about some seriously harmful and life-limiting stereotypes that are still with us even in the 21st Century.  Worryingly, this is just one occasion of many that I’ve heard a variation on this theme, and there seem to be social penalties for those who don’t comply.

So I was on my way to the water cooler, when I happened upon two colleagues discussing marriage (not to each other, but I have no problems with that – more in a future post).  These two individuals were a younger woman (late 20s-ish), and an older gentleman, with, ahem, traditional views.  The younger woman was engaged, but not looking to get married and have children just yet.  You might not agree with that attitude (it doesn’t entirely align with my thoughts), but that’s what she wants, and what she’s getting in her present relationship.  Good for her.

And literally everything that was said after this point was a cringe-inducing train wreck of a conversation.  So the older chap suggests that:

  1. She should hurry up and get married because all men are commitment-phobes (I will address the myriad contentions I have with this idea below, but for now let’s just celebrate that at least this guy is an equal-opportunities sexist);
  2. [I feel it necessary to point out here that these were his actual words, because this is just such a bizarre phrase to actually come out of someone’s mouth]  “A person hasn’t achieved anything in life until they’ve had children” (he literally said this, and again, detailed analysis of the blindingly obvious to follow below).

And then he starts to engage me in the conversation.  Now there are some people that I work with that I can be my passionate, political and skeptical self with.  This guy is not one of them.  But seriously, I’m not going to keep my mouth shut about this.

WEIRD BLOKE: “Don’t you agree, Science Lady, that our sole purpose is to pass on our genetic material?”

SCIENCE LADY: “Um, no, actually.  There are plenty of ways to live a meaningful life.”

WEIRD BLOKE: “But you’ve already achieved things with your offspring, haven’t you?”

[here I need to point out that for numerous reasons I do not talk about my children at work.  This guy knows it’s something I consider inappropriate, but decorum certainly isn’t his strong suit]

SCIENCE LADY: “It’s complicated.  I don’t like to talk about it.”

WEIRD BLOKE: “But you know, you’ve fulfilled your purpose in life.”

SCIENCE LADY: “I have lots of things to live for, and not everyone wants to be a parent.  Many people choose not to, or are unable to have kids.  And they provide a valuable role as caretakers.  If everyone is focused on nurturing children at the expense of everything else, how can we develop as a society?”

[older gentleman looks aghast]

WEIRD BLOKE: “I don’t know what you mean.”

SCIENCE LADY: “We need other people to perform tasks that benefit the community, so that the whole environment provides suitable conditions for children to flourish.  And for some people, that’s a role they’re better suited to than parenthood.”

WEIRD BLOKE: “Oh, well I think you’re wrong.”

[awkward silence]

So that was depressing.  It’s amazing what things you learn about the beliefs of others when they let their guard down.  Anyway, time for some Grade-A ranting:

  1. So men are all commitment-phobic? Well, that’s not true, although men may generally have different requirements for wishing to settle down that don’t match those of many women, thereby creating this impression.  I also think it’s a lot to do with maturity, and the notion that other things in a man’s life need to be sorted before he allows himself to be vulnerable.  And the unrealistic ideals society has about relationships (oooh, another post on this, too!).
  2. It doesn’t really say good things about him, given that he’s saying how fickle his own gender is. Doesn’t matter if he’s repeating society’s lie, it’s still bullshit.
  3. This young woman is clearly happy in her relationship choice, and she doesn’t need some weird bloke telling her that she should do it differently.
  4. If someone is living with a person, and they’re engaged to be married, there is a certain amount of commitment inherent in that situation.
  5. While I have “passed on my genetic material” (could we make it sound any more clinical?), I have many ambitions, dreams, and goals. I want to be successful, to be remembered as a contributor to society, to enhance the lives of others who aren’t necessarily blood relatives.
  6. Unfortunately, having children does pose some restrictions on one’s life, especially in a society that still leaves most of the child-rearing burden on one parent. And many people don’t like kids, don’t want the responsibility, and just want something else from life.  They don’t need anyone’s approval or opinions on whether their lifestyle is valid.
  7. Some people are unable to have children, for a huge variety of reasons. Some of them are OK with that; many of them aren’t.  Attaching moral value to a distressing situation that cannot be resolved is cruel and simplistic.
  8. The world has 7 billion inhabitants and rising at the time of writing this. Numerous studies have demonstrated that there are too many of us, consuming resources at too great a pace, for the planet to be able to support us.  Of course many people will want to have children of their own, but forcing people down this route is slowly killing us all (have a great day, but don’t forget the ever-looming reminder of your own mortality!).
  9. This statement shows that this individual views the child-free as less worthy. You may think, “oh, well that’s just one individual’s bigoted opinion”, but there is evidence that those who choose to stay single and/or childless are seen as less mature, stable, and with lower status (Career-wise, not having children penalises men, and having children disadvantages women. Talk about a zero-sum game.).
  10. Women in particular are the recipients of an inordinate amount of questioning regarding the status of their reproductive organs. Not only is this intrusive and downright inappropriate, the sexist expectation that all women are incubators-in-waiting needs to be sent back to the 1800s.

So that was my Tuesday.  Let’s see what pisses me off tomorrow!

KENNY ROGERS – THE GAMBLER

This is one of my favourite songs (I do like a bit of Kenny Rogers), mainly for the meaning I attach to it (it was part of some advice a friend gave me before I delivered a speech to a packed-out lecture theatre).  And because it’s a song I hold in high esteem, I feel it deserves the sceptical treatment.  It’s jam-packed with beautiful metaphors. So let’s take a look at it, line-by-line:

(Lyrics courtesy of lyricsfreak.com)

On a warm summer’s eve
On a train bound for nowhere
I met up with the gambler
We were both too tired to sleep
So we took turns a-starin’
Out the window at the darkness
The boredom overtook us,
And he began to speak
A nice way to set the scene.  I’ve been that person on the train many a time, awkwardly avoiding eye contact with other passengers, until one of us summons the courage to see what will happen if they break the very British taboo of engaging in conversation with a stranger.
He said, “Son, I’ve made a life
Out of readin’ people’s faces
Knowin’ what the cards were
By the way they held their eyes
So if you don’t mind me sayin’
I can see you’re out of aces
For a taste of your whiskey
I’ll give you some advice”
Our stranger has some valuable advice to impart: his experience has taught him to get the measure of other people, to suss them out and use that information to his advantage.  He can tell from our traveller’s demeanour that they are down on their luck.  He’ll pass on some information, but only as part of a fair exchange – the gambler knows which currency to use to get a good deal.
So I handed him my bottle
And he drank down my last swallow
Then he bummed a cigarette
And asked me for a light
And the night got deathly quiet
And his face lost all expression
He said, “If you’re gonna play the game, boy
You gotta learn to play it right
The trade takes place and our gambler begins his tale:

Our traveller has to take life seriously and learn to make the right decisions to get what they want in life – to game the system.

You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run
You never count your money
When you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for counting
When the dealin’s done
It’s important to recognise which risks are worth taking, which ones are not, and to realise when you’re about to get conned.

Don’t put make yourself vulnerable by revealing what assets you have, take stock of your own situation in private so that others cannot take advantage of you.

Every gambler knows
That the secret to survivin’
Is knowin’ what to throw away
And knowin’ what to keep
‘Cause every hand’s a winner
And every hand’s a loser
And the best that you can hope for is to die
In your sleep
Experience will teach you how to make the best of every situation.  You can use some of what life throws at you to your advantage, and some thins you have to just let go.  And sometimes that means making unpleasant and ruthless decisions.

Whatever situation you find yourself in; you can choose to make the best of it, or not.  Life’s a gamble and you have to learn the odds.

Life, and death, are uncertain and inevitable.  Hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst, and play whatever hand you’re given.

And when he finished speakin’
He turned back toward the window
Crushed out his cigarette
And faded off to sleep
And somewhere in the darkness
The gambler he broke even
But in his final words
I found an ace that I could keep
The old gambler has given his advice, lived his life to his satisfaction, and now his time has come to die.  He succeeded at life, and death, and so broke even.

Our traveller takes on board the gambler’s advice, and sees a moment of purpose in the gambler’s death.  His legacy will live on in the wisdom he gifted to the traveller.

You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run
You never count your money
When you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for countin’
When the dealin’s done
You’ve got to know when to hold ’em (when to hold ’em)
Know when to fold ’em (when to fold ’em)
Know when to walk away
And know when to run
You never count your money
When you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for countin’
When the dealin’s done
You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run
You never count your money
When you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for countin’
When the dealin’s done

Songwriters: SCHLITZ, DON
The Gambler lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

And here it is, on YouTube.  I’ve had this on repeat so, so many times.  Resist it, I challenge you!