Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Some thoughts on gratitude and jealousy

I've been watching the Charlie Sheen crash-and-burn with some dismay. I never cared much about his show; it seemed that (the few times I watched some of it), it was one giant joke about erections and that kind of humor is really not to my liking. And from what I knew of the guy's politics and opinions, he seemed like kind of a twit.

But anyway. I see this going one of four ways, I sincerely hope the first is how it comes out:

1. Sheen realizes he's hit bottom, he goes in for both rehab and psychiatric treatment, he gets clean, maybe he retires, maybe he continues to work, but he gets clean.

2. He goes to rehab but doesn't keep up with it, winds up dying from his addictions.

3. He winds up dying from his addictions without doing rehab

4. He winds up in some kind of bizarre-horrible situation that involves guns and a SWAT team.

But some of his rantings - even discounting whatever is messed up in his brain - strike me as the comments of someone who's deeply dissatisfied and is ungrateful for whatever he has. Because in my experience, stopping to be grateful for the good things you have - even if they may be small compared to what some others have - kind of short-circuits tendencies to jealousy.

As you know, I work on a college campus. I HEAR a lot of jealousy every day: "The coaches make more than we do." "The administrators make more and work less" "Some of the students have better cars than the faculty," so on and so forth.

I've been trying to make a conscious effort to avoid those conversations, or to either try to redirect or decide I suddenly have something pressing that I must do when a conversation I'm in takes that turn. Because it just does make me unhappy to hear people talk about what they DON'T have.

I have two friends - a "real life" friend that I've known for years, and a friend through an Internet message board I frequent - who work as adjuncts. You want to talk about underpaid and unappreciated? Tenured faculty are pashas compared to what adjuncts get and do. So whenever I hear people with tenure on this campus complaining about how they get shafted, I think about K. and V. and what they're trying to do to keep body and soul together. (At least K. is married, and her husband makes somewhat of a living. But not enough for both of them to live comfortably on, not in the high-tax state where they live).

I have tenure. In fact, I'm on track for the "biggest" promotion (to Professor), which will carry a small raise with it. I make enough money to be comfortable on, and enough to put a decent sized chunk away each month in investments, which hopefully will grow enough that when I can't or don't want to work any more, I can retire and live in reasonable comfort.

And I have a roof over my head - a roof that I own, where I don't have to worry about some crazy adjustable mortgage "resetting" to a higher interest rate. And I have enough money to pay my utility bills, and the property taxes, and to provide the food I need, and even some left over for fun stuff.

And despite the occasional worries or frustrations of my career, I have a job. I have a paycheck. I have (enough) benefits. Most of the people I work with are enjoyable (most of the time, when they're not griping about how much more the coaches make).

I guess part of my frustration with the people bitching about stuff like coach salaries....it's not going to DO anything. I mean, if I see some kind of injustice, like a student getting bounced around between offices that are SUPPOSED to help them because the person in the office is confused or lazy, and I can call the office and say, "Hey, this is what the student needs, and I'm a faculty member, and I'm asking you to do this," that's one way of using your unhappiness with a situation to fix it. But things like perceived unfairness in salaries...short of joining the Faculty Senate (which is, in itself, a giant time-suck), there's not a lot you can do.

And I don't like spending excessive amounts of time rehashing things that I can't do anything about; it just makes me feel worse. (Also, in some cases, I wonder if some of the political things people around here complain about, if there isn't more to the story than what they're talking about).

But whatever. If I stick to my own little circle of control, where I can control my own behavior, where I can focus on my own teaching and research and helping the students and doing things where I can make a difference (however small) in the world...then I'm happy. And then I can see the things I have to be grateful for, instead of seeing the things I don't have.


Dave E. said...

I saw Sheen's Today interview this morning and it was much more coherent than the other one I saw a few days ago. The "well, this is going to end badly" aura is still there, but now some of his critics are going so over the top(not you) that I was briefly tempted this morning to applaud him for angering some of the right people.

I know what you mean about dissatisfaction, but I think he actually does appreciate what he's got. There's something else that is pushing him down his likely path of self-destruction.

Kate P said...

"Little circle of control"--I like that. I have been struggling to end the "compare-a-thons" between my life and others' for a long time.