(Don’t) Make Them Pay

When I was in the planning stages of starting my local Introverts Meetup, some suggested I require a nominal fee to attend the meetings. The argument was that nobody who signed up for the group would feel obligated to honor their “yes” RSVPs if they didn’t have a financial investment in the group.

When I do community theatre productions, a similar rationale is made, in reverse. There is often at least one or two people that figure they are volunteers, and that if they need to drop out of a rehearsal or two any given day when something better comes along, that’s their prerogative.

On the other side of the performance fence, there is often a reluctance to schedule free performances of certain plays. One the theatre side, the fear is that the audience won’t be motivated to keep quiet during the show and watch respectfully if they haven’t had to pay for the seat they’re taking up. Again, financial investment, so goes the logic, is a prerequisite if we are to have any expectation of courtesy. A fair number of people in a free audience may think the same thing…that if they didn’t pay for this show, they might as well treat it casually as a place to get out of the rain for a while.

These positions, to me, all represent essentially the same basic belief: that personal respect and responsibility can only be bought. That the one true motivation to do or be anything in society is to move money around. This is a sad, if not pathetic approach to take to all of our endeavors.

You may not like it, but that’s the way the world is. That old excuse for not putting an effort into anything at all is what some have told me about all of this. And while I certainly accept that there are some things about the world that cannot be changed, personal responsibility and respect are not among those things. Those things, which give us true value as individuals outside of our wallets, are in fact within the personal control of each and every one of us.

An honorable person does the right thing, even when it is not convenient. That is what makes them honorable. They choose to honor their commitments, their obligations, their agreements.  They do so because they value their name. Those that behave in such ways only when there is a financial stake in the matter are unconcerned about the value of their name. And if they do not even value themselves enough to do what they say they are going to do, how much value can they really see in other people?

Now, I can’t control whether or not everybody else shows me respect and courtesy. I can, however, control my emotional investment in such people. I have the ability and the right to decide that if Jake Smith doesn’t honor commitments without financial benefit, I will not work with him anymore. He is not welcome to take part in my endeavors. And while that may in the short run drain my talent pool of the Jake Smiths, is that really a bad thing in the long run? If I behave in such a way as to insist I go into business or friendship only with honorable people, eventually honorable people will make up the majority of those with whom I associate.

Nobody can make you volunteer for anything. The moment they can force your hand it is obviously no longer volunteering. Volunteering is a choice, whether it’s at a soup kitchen, in an amateur theatre production, or to meet someone for brunch.  Your name and reputation are based not upon what you are paid to do, but on what you choose to do. What does it say about you when you never choose to do what you agree to do? What does it say about me if I expect you to give me money of some kind before I allow you to associate with me and what I do?

Business is business, and there are contracts for that. People in business should not give away their products and services. Customers should not expect free stuff. But if the only contract you are willing to honor is the one signed in ink, which can lead you to the courthouse if you ignore it, I think it is best that I ignore you.

Financial investments are an aspect of life. They don’t define it. At least they shouldn’t. They certainly don’t for me. And if that’s the way the world is, it’s time each of us as people accept some personal responsibility, and insist on something better from one another.

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1 Comment

  1. It’s true. I have heard this same debate rephrased for different subjects, including politics, charity, and music. The mercenary mindset can be helpful in some cases, but when it comes down to basic politeness and respect, it sounds selfish.

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