Monday, November 22, 2004

Prince Charles -- Suck It!

There’s no doubt that some of the rich and powerful who inhabit the realm of social, political and economic elites take a dim view of the paycheck-to-paycheck living rabble of the industrialized democracies, but they’re usually too guarded to say so. But Prince Charles, the future King of England, provided a life of ease by accident of birth has now said publicly, in response to an employee’s request for a promotion, what most in his position would be, at least, too polite to point out.

From the November 19th, 2004 New York Times:

“It began when Ms. (Elaine) Day told the tribunal that during her time in the prince's employment between 1999 and 2004, she had asked whether the royal household offered a route to promotion for secretaries.

"What is wrong with people these days?" the prince responded with evident exasperation in a memo written in 2002 and made public Wednesday at the tribunal. "Why do they all seem to think they are qualified to do things far above their capabilities?

"This is all to do with the learning culture in schools," it added. "It is a consequence of child-centered education system which admits no failure. People seem to think they can all be pop stars, high court judges or brilliant TV presenters or infinitely more competent heads of state without ever putting in the necessary work or having the natural ability."

It’s not hard to guess why Charlie boy would see things that way, being born as he was into a life without responsibility, subsidized by the British taxpayer and a prodigious family wealth which he did nothing to create. It must terrify Charles to think that the rabble might get uppity and decide that their royal playthings aren’t worth the money. That Charles lacks a sense of irony is evident enough.

But, what about his comments about a “child-centered” education system creating unrealistic expectations in folks as they enter the work force? That really isn’t a new complaint, is it? Just about everyone I know believes that they’re either underpaid, deserve a job in a different field, or deserve more freedom and authority in the job they have. Is that a problem?

Or, is that the way the economy is supposed to work?

Charles seems to be wishing for the days of when people kept their place, where the son of a mill worker would work in a mill, not fail to become Vice President. This belief entirely misses the concept of work. People don’t go to their jobs because they believe they’re ordained to do so. They’re actually making an exchange -- trading some of their time, freedom and creativity for in a transaction that they believe will not only pay money to cover current expenses but will improve the worker’s quality of life in the long term. That’s the trade.

Sometimes, the trade doesn’t work out. Sometimes, people on both sides are frustrated because the phrase “long term” can mean different things to different people. But, that’s still the deal. Labor is provided in exchange for current benefits and future material and non-material improvements. The salary gets a worker to show up, basically, and perform the minimum requirements of the job. It’s the future ambitions that motivate the worker to outperform.

Imagine you take away the “future” part of the trade. A lot of jobs do, of course. They’re called “dead end” jobs. Give Charles his way and every job becomes a dead-ender. In fact, Charles had his way. The result is that an employee leaked an embarrassing memo that he wrote to the press and his reputation has been harmed, yet again.

Funny thing is, I wouldn’t do something like that to any of my bosses. That doesn’t mean I don’t have complaints. It doesn’t mean I think I’m getting everything I deserve. But it does mean that, on some level, I think my bosses want me to succeed, that they’re on my side and that they’re worthy of some loyalty and friendship.

There is, however, a stark difference between school and life. When you’re in high school or especially in college, the authority figures are paid to help you decide on and realize your personal goals. They perform the task with varying degrees of success and certainly with various methods, but the focus of the educational endeavor is clear enough -- give the student enough knowledge and confidence so that they will be able to pursue bliss.

Outside of school, nobody cares about your damned bliss. I found that transition jarring. Heck, I still do. But the answer is not to change the educational system to eliminate the bliss-chasing aspects. The answer is for individuals to realize that the bliss chasing never stops, even as the support structures fall away.


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