Why is sharing so hard? From the lanes at the swimming pool to the big table at my favorite coffee shop, lately I’ve been observing adults reluctant to share. I don’t know if this should make me feel better or worse about the prospects for my children, who at least are more honest about their greed than most adults.
The most shocking example of greed I’ve heard lately was in a story about the guys at Enron, who finally got their comeuppance. Apparently part of what swayed the jury was the fact that Ken Lay had cashed in his own stock, while assuring his employees that the company was doing fine. The case was evidently full of examples of Lay and Skilling putting their own interests above those of people who needed the money more than they did. As one juror put it, they are “greedy people.”
If Ken Lay personifies greed, a story in Women’s Slave Narratives exemplifies generosity. One writer recalls a night she and her hungry siblings watched their mother scrape together a meal for them. The Civil War had just ended, and their mother had rescued them from the plantation that she had fled before the war. The newly reunited family didn’t have enough food to fill their own bellies, but when a white widow showed up at the door with her own hungry brood, the black mother graciously offered the other women’s children an equal share, to the disappointment but everlasting impression of her own hungry daughter.
I read this story yesterday and then later in the day caught a bit of Oprah’s show on the risks of a global pandemic (If not bird flu, it will be something else, the expert said.). We were told that we should have enough food in our houses to survive four weeks, which immediately got me wondering how I would react if we had food and our neighbors didn’t. I’d like to think I’d share, but what if my children were hungry? What if sharing meant risking exposure to the disease? Where does my responsibility to my family end and my responsibility to my neighbors begin? It’s a bit too easy to look down on Ken Lay.
It’s interesting to me that the former slave found it easier to share (with a Confederate widow, no less) than the Enron executive. I don’t want to glorify poverty, but it does seem that the less we have the more we realize our dependence on other people, a dependence we all share, whether we are poor or not. That, in fact, was the point of Oprah’s show. It’s the interdependence of our world economy that now makes us vulnerable to events that could disrupt our food supply. We need each other, whether we realize it or not.
Yesterday a mother from my kids’ school was talking about the hopes some people have for building a bigger gym that could also be used as a performance space. That way we wouldn’t have to borrow a local church when our kids have a concert, and our kids wouldn’t have to move out of the way during gym when the milk man delivers the school milk. My friend noted, and I agree, that maybe it’s OK that our kids have to move for the milk man. Maybe it’s OK that they don’t live in a perfect world, because how else are they going to learn to be resourceful? I sometimes use the same logic when my kids start arguing in the back seat of the car, telling myself that they are learning to share and deal with conflict. Maybe it’s true. I was an only child, and I don’t like to share my pool lane.