Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Appreciation Season

We have just come through the month of May when every service group enjoys its season of appreciation, among them soldiers, mothers, and teachers.

I wish it would stop.

The rhetoric surrounding these days or weeks of honors are hollow and as substantial as a magnetic yellow ribbon on the back of a gas-guzzling SUV.  Offering those who do the grunt work of a nation--defense from enemies, tools to fight poverty and oppression, providing and maintaining life--merely elevated lip-service and a ceremony is the height and breadth of cynicism.

I have not been in the military service nor have I been a police officer or a firefighter -- occupations that could result in the ultimate sacrifice, the loss of life -- but I have been on the receiving end of many, many days and weeks of "appreciation."  Personally, I find them to be a barrier to real progress in valuing service.

Mother's Day came to be reviled even by its founder Anna Jarvis, who saw it commercialized and a boon to greeting card companies--the previous century's magnetic ribbon.  Our current display of support is most likely to be made in China.

With three children of my own I am no stranger to the demands of a role that requires years of sacrifice and compassion.  Raising children was so important to my husband and I that I left the workforce for a dozen years to ensure an enriching environment.  I feel "appreciated" on a daily basis when I see how well they turned out, when they thank me by choosing to spend time with us or by asking for advice for their own children.  I also feel lucky to have been in a position to provide this full time mothering.  Few mothers today are as fortunate as I.

Teachers, on the other hand, are afforded an entire week of appreciation.  This usually involves notes in the teacher mailbox, some food, maybe a knick-knack like (another) tote bag or a coffee cup.  All of them stating some form of "We LOVE our teachers."  Most of this is meaningless to the teacher but it somehow assuages the givers' conscience.

My true "teacher appreciation" is a file I keep just for myself with meaningful notes from students or parents who have felt that something I have done has been beneficial in their lives.  Now that means something.

Well-meaning citizens are often involved in these sometimes laborious displays of support.  Why would I object to extensions of kindness?

The very act of extending appreciation to a group is one that places the receiver in a subordinate role, perhaps one who thrives on prizes or rewards, like children.  It keeps us dependent and subservient.  ("Well we thanked you, didn't we?")  When we state we'd rather be paid more the comeback is always "You knew you'd never be paid much when you started this gig."  Funny that no one says that any more. After the economic downturn our pittance is now decried as living fat off the state dole.  Sigh.

Meaningful appreciation would be displayed everyday and reveal a society which honors the values that it claims to uphold.  Those who are compensated fairly for their worth do not need a day or week of appreciation.  Have we every honored doctors or lawyers or upper-level management?  Who needs to?  Their needs and self-worth are more than met.

Drop the facade and do what is right when those who expend their lives doing what others cannot or will not.  Here is what real appreciation looks like:

  • affordable, safe child care and preschool for working mothers
  • affordable, accessible health care for growing children, veterans, teachers, firefighters
  • retirement that ensures that those who served our nation do not die in poverty (mothers like myself who are out of the workforce for an extended time sacrifice more than time.  Lifetime earnings and contributions to social security are also reduced.)
  • salaries that reflect the importance of the work done.  At the very least, employees should be able to afford to live where they work.