Friday, March 25, 2011


The newspaper in the lobby had a photo of an irate protester yelling at a legislator “Your job doesn’t require you to run into a burning building!”

Let me offensively reply “Your job doesn’t require you to miss a paycheck when customers don’t come in. And then another paycheck, and another one.” Why do I dare such an offensive comment? Because I have the former sort of courage, and I don’t have the latter. So I quite naturally consider the latter courage to be the greater.

I admit I can’t lay proof to full burning-building physical courage. Also, I may have less physical courage now than I did in earlier decades. But I have the credentials for the courage of a job that puts one in physical danger, because I’ve done it. I have stepped forward to deal unarmed with someone angry and stronger than I. I have been injured and persevered in the restraint, and I have come back after injury to do it again. And I have had moments at work where the great sadness comes into the back of my mind whispering, “I wonder if this is where it all ends.”

I don’t want to oversell that. Staff seldom get killed here (two in my 30+ years, neither in my building). My current position has much less risk than my previous one. There are many fields more hazardous than mine. But then, neither to firemen and police get killed all that often either.

I don’t think I have an entrepreneur’s courage or a salesman’s courage. Or at least, I don’t have the courage they might have to show, if business goes downhill, if customers stop coming, when no one wants your product or services, when you’ve got mouths to feed or employees to pay. Not all who go into sales or have their own business ever have to face that humiliation and failure, certainly. But it’s a possible outcome. And I have willingly made the trade of a regular paycheck, however modest, rather than take that risk. It is impolite and seems ungrateful to even mention it, but there are firemen and policemen who have made essentially the same trade I did. I don’t imagine it’s all of them or even most. But it’s there, and it’s damned offensive for people to pretend it isn’t.

Perhaps I would have developed entrepreneurial courage had I had to. My dad was a salesman all his life, my brother had his own business, and I’m similar to them. We can all endure a lot more than we think we can. Had I done so, I might be writing the opposite essay now, telling you that having a business slowly fail under you doesn’t take anywhere near the courage of running into a burning building. So be it. My experiences are what they are, and I want to express my admiration for those willing to endure risk, sit at table with humiliation, and dine with insecurity every night for years. It takes courage, and you’re a better man/woman than I.


Dubbahdee said...

Well, I haven't had much chance to run into burning buildings, but I made my living as an independent contractor paid by commission for 7 years. Currently working a commissioned retail job and building a business as a freelance commercial writer.
At this point, the whole thing could be interpreted not as brave, but as kind of stupid. But then who knows the ultimate outcome? In the long run, I believe it will be a better deal, but the proof will be in the pudding. I am certainly living out the result of my risky choices, and I tell you right now it ain't pretty.

It was 4 years of steady decline, and then a tsunami. 2 years of staring into the economic abyss now. I can't say I've enjoyed the experience. I can say that when we emerge on the other side I will be stronger, smarter, more prudent, more grateful and more compassionate than when I started.

I am trying to figure out how it is affecting my politics. I can't very well rant against gov't support programs when I am leaning on them myself.

I don't ask for sympathy. Nor am I complaining. We lie in the bed we make.

I'm a little abashed that that might be considered bravery.

Marj the Truck Driver said...

I think there is a grand difference between leaning on government help while struggling to work one or more jobs and using government support as your only source of income.