Friday, January 23, 2009

Questions of Value

Writing is the only profession where no one considers you ridiculous if you earn no money.
Jules Renard
(1864 - 1910)

I'm watching live coverage of people waiting for the New York Governor to announce the state's new U.S.Senator. What a mess! A couple of weeks ago, Illinois was the center of the world of insane politics with the governor allegedly taking bids for the Senate seat vacated by our new President. Saturday Night Live, Leno and Letterman made darn sure no one missed the latest absurdity in Illinois. Yet, once a new Senator was appointed, there were token objections before the whole thing became yesterday's news. Today, the emphasis is on New York and speculation about Caroline Kennedy's dropping out of the running for the Senate seat.
I do not know why Mrs. Kennedy withdrew herself from consideration and, frankly, I don't think anyone needs to know. I am struck, however, by the contrast between this Jules Renard quote and comments I've heard about Caroline Kennedy. One commentator suggested that Kennedy was held back in her political career by having taken most of her 30s and 40s out of the spotlight to raise a family. Caroline Kennedy has not been hiding out in a cave. She has written books, organized the Profiles in Courage award, served as trustee on boards. She is a remarkable and accomplished woman. She has decidedly not been on "the Mommy track."
I wonder how we develop our view of what has value. The CEO makes millions of dollars while the assistant who keeps him (yes, still in most cases, a him) on track, organized and who often makes his "high pie in the sky ideas" work earns less than a tenth the salary. The person blessed with great physical skill for sports earns millions while the teacher entrusted with the minds of our future can barely afford a home and food. For that matter, why do football players earn what they do and baseball players so much less? Why is the woman who chooses to be a mother while writing books and managing foundations less qualified to be a Senator than a woman who chooses to be a politician while raising her children.
Do we value those who promote themselves over those who promote others? How does compensation reflect our values?

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