Why Tip?

I come up with a lesson I learned in the course of living every day, and then I share it on this blog. Here is what I thought about today…

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I am a fairly generous tipper. I always drop 20% and round-up, even if service is less than par. I am especially generous when I am recognized as a regular customer or if service is truly exceptional.

Perhaps oddly, I am actually anti-tipping. I give in to the social pressure like most people, and I empathize with service workers, but I think the practice should be done away with altogether. I will even say I think it is despicable that we allow entire industries to rely on customers to subsidize employee wages. Why do I have to help you avoid paying your people fairly while trying to run my business?

Can you imagine if every business paid all employees $2 per hour and relied on employees to subsidize the salaries of every other business? What would our cell phone bills look like then?

What is even stranger is the nearly exclusively American practice of tipping at the end of a meal or service. When I visited the Middle East, I was impressed that it is common to tip your server upfront and the amount of the tip determines the level of extra attention you receive. As far as tipping goes, I think tipping upfront is better but I still think tipping should not be an acceptable use of one’s hard-earned money. You do not spend your life working, expecting to give 20% or more of your money away (and that’s before taxes, health care, bills, holidays, and everything else).

When I tip my barista at Starbucks (which, in my opinion is the most egregious form of tipping–they literally turn around and hand me something–is that really tip-worthy?), I can not help but wonder what the point is. Even as a return customer, my latte tastes the same every time. Starbucks and other big brands have built their business on consistency. In other words, tipping generally provides no bonus for me (the customer). I do not receive an extra side perk for tipping and that is especially true if I am a first-time or unrecognized customer. I am treated like anyone else. I am just the usual cattle walking in to graze and ushered out as quickly as possible so the next set of cows can sit.

I am not advocating for everyone to stop tipping, by the way. I think it would be laudable if employers turned the practice away in favor of better wages, but until that happens, I feel compelled to tip.

I am just asking if maybe the concept of tipping should be re-evaluated. Maybe there is a better way, such as the alternative used in the Middle East and elsewhere. Maybe not.

What do you think? Should tipping remain a staple of society–a voluntary but expected pre-determined way to subsidize salaries and acknowledge work well (or even meagerly) done? Should we move to Tipping 2.0, and what does that look like? Or, are you an irascible curmudgeon like me, who thinks tipping… is for cows?

 

(P.S. Tipping is not for cows.)

 

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Indisposable Income

When everything is virtually free, what is actually valuable?

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Giving nearly everything I own away has been an interesting experiment so far. It turns out much of the things I thought I valued are actually not that valuable to me or anyone else.

Being a practicing minimalist (-ish), I have fewer possessions than most people I know, but like most people, that is still a lot of things. Cleaning supplies, for example, unopened groceries, cooking utensils, kitchen appliances, silverware and dinnerware, which is to say nothing for the many pieces of furniture in the apartment (tables, chairs, desks, dressers, bookcases, etc. for two).

It has been difficult to give most of it away for free.

When I was just starting out in my first flat, I needed everything. I was happy to have any give-away decorations, furniture, eating utensils, and even unused groceries people were generous enough to give up. I think the world is a lot different now, though. Most do-it-yourself furniture is cheap. People do not need hand-me-downs when they can have brand new items at a decent price.

Walmart, Target, Ikea, and other big box stores have made most home needs accessible and affordable–a testament to Capitalist ingenuity. On the other hand, it seems the whole world is racing to zero. Google has nearly single-handedly transformed the world’s economy by trading services for personal privacy. For most people (including me), that seems like a fair trade (though it probably is not). Nonetheless, economies of scale and offering services without requiring payment directly from end-users has created a largely disposable world.

There are three ways to manage living in this new, bizarre economy, as I see it. The first, and most destructive, is ambivalence. Accept the world for what it is, buy whatever entices you and throw out the absurd amount of packaging provided with every item. When something breaks, do not fix it. Instead, toss it and buy a new one, which is probably cheaper and better anyway.

The second way to manage a disposable society is to decry it. Hold onto traditional values. Buy, and store, goods and services indefinitely. Fight an endless war of subtlety, trying to reduce, reuse, and recycle anything and everything. Use cloth diapers instead of disposable, glass instead of plastic, and never accept plastic shopping bags. This is a noble route, but it is also the most arduous.

Finally, we can embrace the new culture. Mark a line in the sand, toss out or give away everything you do not absolutely need and then, only accumulate things you need with few exceptions. For me, this is the best of all worlds. It allows the convenience of living as a modern citizen (albeit probably while stereotyped as a “hipster”) but still asks for responsibility for what you contribute (or do not contribute) to the rest of the world. This also ensures, while living in a disposable world, you are only burning your indisposable income, freeing your disposable income to focus on enjoying the experience of living rather than the products of living today.

 

Today’s Lesson: Since you can’t take it with you when you go, try not to accumulate it in the first place.

 

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5 Ways To Live Better: Live For You

This week, I have a theme: 5 tips that have helped me live better. I hope one helps you live better, too…

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I have covered the importance of curiosity, eating more plantsbeing active, and having great integrity.  Always keep your word (even to yourself), live an active life (with or without “exercise”), eat more plants than animals, and question everything. I think those habits have transformed my view of the world and made my life wholly my own, which brings us to today’s post.

5. Live for your Self. Life is barely the whisper of a thought forming in a nigh-infinite universe. Life is so fleeting that I refuse to believe it should be lived for any one other than the individual living it. Many people think there is value in living for others or under the rule of others or by the guilt of others. They would have you feel ashamed for any success you achieve and expect you to share your health or wealth or property with others who did not earn it. I think those people mean well but are terribly misguided and perpetuating evil in the universe.

If you made a billion dollars from an idea that changed the world and improved the lives of millions, there are those who would demand you give away your profits as a penance to “pay back” or “pay forward” a debt to society you never incurred. Such people would shame you to give away your riches until you are as poor in money or health as they are in character, despite your having enriched their lives in the first place. This, to me, is the essence of misaligned evil–the idea that we should punish others for achieving.

I do not accept that “guilt” should be the default motivation of humanity.

There are many ways this concept of valuing the Many over the Individual has pervaded society like a parasitical cancer and brought down the living wages and mean success of all people. For example, consider how much of your money is stolen from you in the name of charity. Every cereal box or candy wrapper or clothing line or big box store that cleverly markets thievery under the guise of nobility by claiming to offer 1% of its profits to some charity or other or 5% for the world or a 3 cents to fight hunger… is taking money you earned and using it to subsidize what they should be paying to a charity of their choice. How many dollars have you given to nameless charities you are not even sure if you actually support?

How many tip jars have you dropped change into because you would feel socially guilty if you did not? How many homeless people, with shameless signs shaming you to give up the pay you worked hard to earn, have you felt chastised into giving part of your salary to?

Do not misunderstand. There is nothing wrong with charity or contributing to the homeless or other causes. There is everything wrong with giving away your money or time because you have been socially bullied into doing so. Imagine if, instead of having robbed from you 1% of the price of goods for unknown alleged rain forest coalitions, or cajoling your quarters from you for this association or that legion or those children who you have never met or heard of prior to someone schilling for change outside the supermarket… imagine if you could keep ALL your money and either spend it on enjoying the life YOU dreamed of, or at the very least, if YOU could consolidate your own funds and choose which person or charity you wish to give that full amount of your own earned salary to?

What if you could have all those nickels and dimes thieved away from you by social guilt or cleverly disguised bullying and were able put them toward your ailing parent or child if you needed to? Imagine if everyone had that same opportunity… to actually keep all the money they made and designate however much they chose to the thing or things they care most about.

That is the difference between living for yourself and living for everyone else. There is no shame in thinking for yourself, in questioning so-called truisms, and choosing a life on your terms. There is only shame when you accept the guilt of others as your burden for living.

This does not only apply to charity or money, of course. When you are in control of your destiny, you challenge yourself to create ways of turning the fiction of your dreams into living goals brought into reality. Living for yourself means living a life of adventure based on your moral code instead of whatever other people have told you is good or bad. It forces you to distinguish right from wrong based on logic and rational thinking because those are the primary tools of the self-made man or woman. Our bodies are living machines with external senses designed to provide data to our brains so that we may use our minds to navigate through the real world successfully. Our minds are not designed to be subjugated to other minds. This is obvious. We exist as individual beings, not as one collected homogeneous and amorphous jelly of tissue, nerves, and brain cells (by the way… gross!).

Living of my accord, however, means I can not rely on tradition, superstition, or mysticism to make decisions for me. It is at my own peril that I abdicate my ability to judge and define my world to other people or ideas instead of living on my terms.

Living this way forces me to break down concepts like “integrity” and “love” that otherwise have no intelligible definition for most of us (what is Love?). I have to think hard about the essence of these things and define them for myself. I must decide if murder is bad or religion is good, not based on news and hearsay but by really inspecting the essence of their values until I have found their intrinsic nature and motivations, and only then can I make a choice about their merits.

It is not an easy way to live, admittedly. I am ever skeptical and vigilant. I try to be both arrogant enough to know I am right because my decisions are made based on my values, yet also humble enough to accept when I am wrong because I have misunderstood or miscalculated something. That means accepting there are things I am simply not qualified to have an opinion about, either because I have not given appropriate attention to them or because I do not know enough about them regardless of what agenda popular media or friends or family might be pushing me to believe.

For example, I am sometimes asked where I stand on Genetically Modified (GMO) food because I am vegan. People on both sides of the debate are usually disappointed to hear me say, “I do not have an opinion. I am not a food scientist. I do not have degrees or extensive knowledge in chemistry or genetics and I don’t accept pop journalism or good camera work and narration as truth at face value.”

The value of living for yourself, though, is straightforward. Living for yourself means living for your Self. You can not rely on the esteem of others to build your “self”-esteem any more than your car’s engine can rely on fuel from other cars to run itself.

The nice thing is, applying the other 4 tips I mentioned at the top of this blog basically do the steering for me. Living for yourself starts with keeping your word as a matter of integrity–the essence of being true to one’s Self. Staying active ensures the machine of your body is able to continue providing good feedback to your brain. Eating plants instead of animals is the fundamental choice of Life over Death (no matter from which side you look at it) and the first step to morality and building ethical character. Being curious enough to ask questions and avoid assumptions, “Why do I think that? What if everything I have ever heard is not true? How does that work? What if I do this?”, helps provide the foundation for making decisions and living a life that is truly yours, beholden to no one else’s ideas, shame, guilt, willful ignorance, or self-destruction.

 

Today’s Lesson: Live your life. Live YOUR life. Or, think about it this way: if you are not living for your Self, then who are you allowing to live your life for you?

 

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Today’s Lesson: Why You Should Pay More For Some Things [141015]

“But that’s DOUBLE the price!” the gentleman in line before me exclaimed.

The tailor was polite and explained, for the third time, that if he wanted his pants hemmed and available by the end of the day, it was going to cost extra for the rush service.

Eventually, he ponied up the cash and left shaking his head. I was next in line and explained to the tailor I needed the same service and would be happy to pay double. She looked at me appreciatively and said, Thanks for understanding. I’ll have it ready by 5:30 for you.”

I said, “Even double is not that bad a price here, and I consider the price fair. If anything, it is my punishment for not planning ahead and asking you for a big favor. I’m glad it is just double.”

By the way, she did a remarkable job, too. The pants look great and they were ready at 5:30 as promised. I never understand people like that first guy. The world does not owe any of us anything in return for our poor planning or general stupidity.

 

Plan better next time or just pay up and move on.

 

 


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Today’s Lesson: Name Your Poison [140916]

Names are powerful. I know because my mother would never let someone call me “Mike” instead of “Michael”. She would correct them before I could say it was okay and now I have the same habit ingrained in me. Almost everyone knows me as Michael (my brothers will sometimes call me “Mikey”) and most people can not fathom relating to me as a “Mike”.

 

We name everything, of course. As a society, we love labels and breaking things into categories, perhaps to a fault. When we name something or someone, we are in essence, assigning it to a specific class or category. We are saying this thing, which we all agree to call “car” is somehow intrinsically different from those things, which we call “trees”, “roads”, and “signs”.

 

In other words, This is not like those.

 

My two younger brothers (notice the labels “my”, “younger”, and “brothers”) and I share the same father but they have a different birth-mother from me, which means we are technically half-brothers (more labels: “father, mother, brother, half-brother”).

 

The funny thing is, we never learned the distinction of being half-brothers until I was well into my thirties and someone explained it to me by chance. We always just called ourselves “brothers” and did not know there was such a thing as only having half a brother or that it mattered if you only share one parent. A brother is a brother to us. I believe this is why we are so close and why we love each other like… well, like brothers.

 

By acknowledging a distinction called “half-sibling”, I wonder if we alter the family relationship between two people, instructing them that they are somehow different from a “real” sibling.

 

Think about how these labels play out in other areas. Before you have a name for something, how is your world different? Think about babies who bump into things, get up, and move on until they learn how to name their pain, “Owie!” All of a sudden, life becomes much more dramatic.

 

Or consider the labels, “USA”, “China” and “Atlantic Ocean”. They are just arbitrarily created names but we give them tremendous significance. We believe this is different from that as if the world’s geography actually worked like it does on a map with great big, bold lines magically dividing our country from the ocean and other parts of the world. Of course, when you walk to the ocean, there is no giant bold-faced wall where the land ends and the water begins. They flow into each other seamlessly because the Earth itself does not recognize the distinction of the labels. They are the same.

 

So today’s lesson is something for us all to think about: What if we did not have so many labels? What if we simply never acknowledged the difference of a “dark-skinned” man versus a “light-skinned” one? Does Racism exist only because we give it a name? Will it only exist as long as we acknowledge it does? What if we simply did not have labels for Black, White, Straight, Gay, Male, Female, etc.? What if we only grew up knowing we are all human? What if “human” was not a label we created? What would the world look like then? Would we treat other animals and the environment differently if we never decided there was a difference between (us and) them?

 

What names are you willing to give up today?

 

 

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