I read "Broccoli and Desire" after I returned from Peace Corps. The second Edward Fischer work that found me after my third Guatemalan life was entitled, "The Good Life: Aspiration, Dignity and the Anthropology of Wellbeing". The title said it all. I read pages as one entitled and oppressed, conqueror and conquered, because as a teacher I didn’t feel a difference. This past week, two years later, that book was no longer on the new book shelf and I didn’t feel like I was either. Unfortunately between the two of us, the book had at least changed shelves, which felt like more forward movement than I had experienced. Even more ironic was the photo on the cover. An egg, the speckled brown kind.
My dad raises chickens. We have farm fresh eggs. Eggs are a food with roller coaster rating. They are the deviled root of someone’s high cholesterol and the ‘swear by’ breakfast food of the ninety year old man who fries them in bacon grease. We have too many eggs now that those dirt pecking hens feel a bit more sunlight on their downy feathers.
“We might have to throw some out,” Dad fumbles through his piling cartons reviewing the dates he marked on each one in pen.
I am trying to move product. Part of my promotional problem stems from not exactly loving the product (i.e. money) much less the chickens themselves (the producer/recipient in the system at large). Chickens are gross. They wreck flowers and the difference is stark between their fenced in area and the brilliant summery green around it. The way the chickens mess up the ground is most definitely a microcosm of environmental degradation. “Don’t do that.” I clink my plate dirty from toast crumbs into the sink. “I’ll find someone.”
“Chris might take some,” he reminds me of the neighbor. “I don’t get why I have to remind her though, and then she doesn’t pay.”
That figures. We are struggling not only with promotion of the product but valuing it enough. Why? Well, because standing up for what you’re worth is not a family trait. Unfortunately it is the people who have known you the longest who take the longest to come around to your “demands”. That has made it easier to quit jobs than to inspire organizational change.
I consider myself as the price of eggs. I am supposed to do the same thing, aren’t I? Put myself out there. Act like anyone who doesn’t take me up on me doesn’t know what they’re missing, when in reality I expect that the difference between me and someone else is probably so small as to not to be worth the higher price paid as either the chicken’s health, the better taste or the ecological conscious of the person who buys them.
However, I know you can get lucky. Climbing the stairs at the gym a trainer yells, “Want some asparagus?”
I turn and see a cut clump of the $75 FTD vase size. “I don’t,” I say, “But I’d really like to get rid of some eggs.”
“Get rid of?”
“Well we have too few chickens to advertise (meaning our endeavor lacked real commitment) and too many for us to keep up eating the eggs.”
“But get rid of. What do you mean? I’ll pay for them.” Just like that, she knows they’re worth something without being asked to see it. It happens, but not that often. For this summer, at least, it is happening to me. Not only does my new boss pay me $4 for a dozen eggs, but she makes space for me in her office. She may as well have been saying, “Well, you are smart, self-motivated, and you have great ideas. I want to encourage that not kill it.”
I have been afforded an opportunity to not return, metaphorically, to the same neighbor and her established economy where asking for more is out of the question. The outreach position requires me to identify a variety of audiences and why or why not they connect to books, reading, library services, their community, among others. Ideally, I will find a different market altogether for the eggs and those who expect me to ask for more.
“My philosophy on being a supervisor is that I lead thru example and allow my staff to be creative while empowering them to share ideas, try new things and to do what they love to do. It is actually quite selfish cuz if I have happy staff, my job is so much easier,” my new supervisor explains.
In his book Fischer argues against the temptation to define the good life in terms of material standards. The definition boils down to having “enough”, but enough of what is the question. Fischer’s examples center on “aspiration” and “agency”, “dignity and fairness” and “commitment to a larger purpose”. These would be the shiniest of descriptors to catch any buyer’s eye, but at least for now, I am in a more appropriate supermarket section without having to leave the business of education completely.
“Hey dad,” I call on my cell phone while walking my dogs the morning I start my new job.
“Can you make me an egg?”
For more wonderful videos related to teacher training or literacy program development in rural Guatemala, please visit www.child-aid.org. I have no v...