There Are No Elves

there are no elves 1Last night I started reading a book called Scratch. It was the only book I could find at the library that explored the business of writing. The book dives into the tension between writing as a passion and writing as a profession. I have only read two of the essays included in the book thus far. Each one has hit notes in me and brought forth thoughts I have been chewing on for months.

For some time now, I have been struggling to understand the systems I see around me. I have never been a good capitalist or a good consumer. These modes of walking through life don’t make sense to me. Communal or barter based systems seem to be better. They are systems that encourage true community, foster respect for craft and bring people closer to one another.

I have observed dysfunctional nonprofit boards; and heard the horror stories from friends about their work lives in the for-profit sector. In both instances, I have stated with frustration that there must be a better way.

Working at a union for some time opened my eyes to the fact that in many industries there is no one looking out for the worker. How can this be when there are more workers than owners? Also why as an owner wouldn’t you want to look out for your workers? Not only is it the right thing to do, it’s also looking out for your bottom line.

When I first started work at a small nonprofit theatre in town, my knowledge about business grew exponentially. One of the biggest things I realized is that there are no elves. The theatre was a small business with only my boss and I working full time and two other staff helping out a few hours a week. This meant that everything that happened in that space had to be done by one of the four of us, usually my boss or I. We were there every day so we had the clearest grasp on the work that needed to be done. If the lobby was a mess when I left, it was going to be a mess when I returned unless my boss had cleaned it. Day by day I realized the fact that there are no magic elves who come and finish your work for you.there-are-no-elves-2.jpg

This revelation opened my eyes. No longer could I look at anything without thinking of the people behind it. Take for instance the cup I am drinking hot water from as I write this. In order for it to get to me someone had to sell it, shelve it, ship it, package it, make it, gather materials, ensure it met safety regulations, design it, create a company to make cups. I’ll stop there, but that’s a lot of work for a simple cup.

Now when I look at something all I can see are the many hands who made it possible. Whether I’m attending an event, receiving a service or purchasing an item. My experience in each of these instances has been created and crafted by someone and most likely by several someones.

How would things shift if we thought not just about the joy we have at receiving something good but also about who helped make that happen? How would things change if we accepted that there are no magic elves?

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