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Picking up the check

Everything we do requires trade-offs.

Say “yes” to one opportunity, and you have to say “no” to others. Choose the right turn; miss out on the adventures to your left. Everything has an opportunity cost, and there is no way to avoid paying it.

TANSTAAFL and all that jazz.

One of the marks of maturity is realizing this truth and making our decisions in light of not just what we want but what it will cost us. An example of this is how we handle vacations. Say you have five days on your dream vacation. You can go hell for leather trying to cram every possible experience in, with the result being that you’re exhausted, cranky, and only have a dim recollection of what you’ve experienced. Or you can cut your wishlist in half (or more!) and create lasting and pleasant memories.

Raise your hand if your tendency is to choose Option A.?‍♀️

A large part of wisdom and maturity is learning to count the cost, to see the potential trade-offs, and to make our decisions with a true understanding of the price in time, energy, and treasure. But while it’s a mark of maturity that many of us can at least partially achieve, when it comes to counting the cost that others must pay, we suck.

Allow me to illustrate with a recent example that’s pretty low stakes but still got my dander up.

After the election, there was a big hubbub by some people of a more right-leaning persuasion to abandon Facebook and Twitter. (Aside: 1. It seems to have mostly died down, or maybe they all left and I didn’t notice. And 2. I don’t have a dog in this fight. More and more, I’m convinced that all social media has more risks than rewards and we would probably all be better off reducing or eliminating it from our life.)

As people are abandoning (or claiming to abandon) Facebook, I kept seeing requests and even demands in various Facebook groups for the administrators to move the groups to these new platforms or at least duplicate them. Bear in mind, it isn’t one platform people said they were leaving for, there were about half a dozen that came up.

As someone who has experienced the character-building pleasure of moderating Facebook groups, I must ask: Are you people crazy? Moderating a Facebook group is hard. People can be rude, condescending, entitled jerks. If your group reaches even a few hundred people, you also start getting bombed with spam and less savory posts you have to take down RIGHT AWAY before Mildred starts clutching her pearls and Bob starts calling for an FBI investigation. Bless your heart, Bob.

And don’t get me started on the stupid spats in the comments. People are unbelievably rude to administrators and moderators who are providing a free service and trying to keep their group on track. Everybody wants the rules strictly enforced except for their own situation, which is different because reasons.

Seriously, this is why I’m a misanthrope.

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Moderating a Facebook group is hard work and time-intensive. But since admission to most Facebook groups is free, people don’t realize recreating and moderating those groups across your half dozen Facebook knockoffs has an exorbitant cost.

I use this example because it’s fairly low stakes, but we often ask people to pay much higher costs. Don’t like something that’s happening or think something should be happening that isn’t? “They ought to pass a law!” By which we mean our neighbors should be coerced to do what we want them to do. (See my rant here on this topic here, because BOY can I say a lot about this!)

Think the government should provide something “for free?” Again, TANSTAAFL. Somebody has to provide the free product and/or labor. And some government agency has to administer the free stuff, raising the cost and decreasing the efficiency of providing the free stuff. There is a price. Maybe the majority of society thinks it’s worth the cost. But what if it isn’t worth it to the people being asked (coerced) to provide it? That’s a pretty big problem in a free society, isn’t it?

Closer to home, we ignore or minimize costs we don’t pay All. The. Time.

Want your childhood traditions to be sustained in perpetuity? Somebody has to make that happen. Maybe you’ve taken it on yourself to make sure Christmas looks exactly the same every year, but most likely it’s Grandma or Aunt Edna or Mom. (Dear my children, at some point I’m handing off the traditions to you, and you can do them or not do them as you choose. I shall not be Santa Mom until I die. It’s exhausting. I shall be Santa Grandma, sitting by the fire and telling stories and asking someone to fetch me snacks.)

In our jobs, our schools, our churches, and various voluntary associations, we make demands. We think things “ought to be done” by people who are not us. But we too seldom consider the cost we’re asking others to pay and whether or not they are able or want to pay it.

Do I think we should never ask for something or make a trade-off that we aren’t personally paying? No. Civilization demands cooperative effort and that we all contribute in effort and treasure. But I absolutely think we should be aware of the cost and not diminish the opinion and input of those who have to pay it. And we ought to be careful not to make one small group in society bear the brunt of the burden for the rest of us—whether that’s a group of volunteers, an industry, a geographical area, or a group making a certain income. 

There is no such thing as free. Somebody has to pay. So maybe next time we ask for something, we can put a little cash on the table to help cover the check.

*You’ll notice I did not mention the COVID elephant in the room, a circumstance replete with trade-offs. But pretty much no one is being rational when discussing those trade-offs. Whatever your beliefs are about how this situation should be handled, we’d all do well to consider who would pay the price if our ideas were adopted and what that cost would be. And what kind of force we’re willing to see used to compel others to pay up. Let’s move past the simplistic “If everyone just did X, everything would be fine!” discussions and realize there are no easy answers, a lot of people are hurting in various ways and to wildly different degrees, and dismissing others pain and suffering because it’s not OUR pain and suffering is causing a whole lot of harm. 

Oh, and our elected officials and other leaders are almost universally hypocrites who should be kicked firmly in the shins.

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