You probably know someone like the fellow I’m going to tell you about in this piece. See if you do and if you, like me, have wondered from time to time why the person doesn’t do something more with their time.
Let’s call him Doug. Doug is unemployed, late fifties, Caucasian, typically wears his ball cap and t-shirt with jeans and runners, walks with a slight limp, and hasn’t worked in recent years. On the flip side, Doug has a cellphone with various apps on it, reads the paper daily, can converse with people easily, and is knows computer basics.
I’m the first employee to arrive where I work each day, choosing to arrive around 7:30 a.m. for my required 8:00 a.m. official start time. Most days, when I arrive in our lobby, there’s Doug. Doug arrives about the same time as myself, gets off the elevator on the second floor, takes a drink from the water fountain, then goes and sits down on a hard chair in our lobby and waits until the Resource Centre opens at 9:00 a.m.
So why does Doug come and plunk himself down where he has to wait for an hour and a half before he can access the computers in the Resource Centre or talk with anyone? After all, on summer days he could be out strolling in the park, getting some exercise, sitting at home flipping channels on the television or listening to the radio, etc. But those are my values transferred aren’t they?
I have watched Doug and what he does is come in, have a drink and sit down. Sometimes he uses our bathrooms, then he opens up a newspaper that is one of a dozen we get delivered for our clients to read. After that, he plays games on his phone, and then when the Receptionist arrives at 8:00 a.m., she flips on the television in the lobby, and he watches and listens to the morning news. He greets all the staff that acknowledge him, chats with some more than others, then he goes into the Resource Centre and checks out his email.
Ironically, he only stays in the Resource Centre for about half an hour and then he’s gone for the day, although from time-to-time he makes an appearance later in the day at some point and re-checks his email. Doug isn’t really all that likely to gain work anymore, as his age and health are detrimental to his chances given his employment field of choice. I suspect but cannot confirm that there are some mental health issues which have taken root as well.
When asked why he’s here so early he says, “Why not? I can walk around outside later.” Hard to argue with simple logic. He’s got the whole day. He’ll be down at the soup kitchen, talk here and there with the usual friends he knows, and the man has a routine.
Where someone with less wisdom might say that Doug and others like him is just wasting away his life, and could be a lot more productive, again I might counter that until you live the man’s life, its impossible to know what he is capable of and what is beyond his ability. To judge Doug and tell him to do something productive with his life would be akin to someone who is in the Fortune 500 club looking at you and I and ask why we aren’t doing more.
And what would you respond with to that question? “Mind your own business?” “I’m quite happy with things the way they are thank you very much?” So might Doug. Of course another person might argue that Doug is a financial drain to taxpayers whereas someone with a job who could be looking for a better job, a second job or volunteering their time to give back is at least paying their own way. Yes you’d be right about that.
However, doesn’t it come down to the values we hold as a collective society? If we truly believe that we have an obligation to financially support those who are most vulnerable and unable for a variety of reasons to contribute economically to society, then the Doug’s of our world will always exist. Consider that Doug is not holding his hat on a street corner begging, nor breaking the law to steal food money, nor is he drowning his misery in a back alley with drugs and alcohol keeping our middle class kids awake at 3:00 a.m. with lamentable out-of-key singing. He isn’t peeing in the park, he’s maintaining his hygiene, staying up on the world, has some technological know-how enough to master a cell phone and its apps, and we are part of his social support network.
You see Doug and others like him have a life; it may or may not be one that you or I would find satisfying but then again its his life and he’s living it. Who am I, to take ownership of my thoughts, to judge him and push him to do more with it? What I can do is engage him in conversation and keep him connected socially, make sure he’s aware of the resources available to him and also acknowledge to myself that I have my limitations, and to try to ‘save’ everybody is not only impossible, it’s imposing my value judgement which would be a grievous error.