Presuming to Assess

“Yes I did have to read a book and no, I don’t want fries with that.” ~ My middle school English teacher, 8th grade in regards to our summer reading. The assumption at the time was that anyone who balked at being forced to read The Prince and the Pauper over the summer was doomed to work in the fast food industry.

It seems that anyone who works in any kind of service based industry has also signed some kind of contract entitling them to unlimited free judgment, to be redeemed at any time by anyone who presumes to assess the life choices of people they do not personally know. To illustrate the point, I fast forward my life to my early 20’s, when a few setbacks led me to pursuing Job Corps as a means to an end.

My mistake, admittedly. The only thing I got out of the year and a half I wasted there was the 1200 dollar stipend and I had plenty of warning that this was all I could expect from them. The warning came in the form of the words of one of the career counselors who gave this introductory speech to the group of “newbies” I had arrived with.

“If you’re a cashier in a supermarket and you’re in your fifties, I don’t consider you a success.”

His logic was flawless. It wasn’t so flawless when he and his wife, who were both employed by Job Corps at the time, were let go after the subcontractor that was responsible for the Northlands center lost the bid that year, but at the time, apparently it was flawless.

I can’t even claim moral superiority here, because in the past, even I was guilty of prematurely judging someone based on arbitrary misconceptions. One example is my attitude towards people who don’t read for pleasure.

Like my teacher, I simply refused to believe an intelligent person would not graciously accept a reading assignment. Who doesn’t love a good book? What could I possibly have to say to someone who would rather spend time swinging a bat, or kicking a ball through a net as opposed to diving into the addictive words of Anne Rice, Michael Crichton, or Mark Twain.

As I grew up and I began to understand the necessity of prioritizing the things we must do with the things we want to do, I learned to realize that people who don’t read for pleasure are simply people who have things to do that involve their time and effort.

Gradually, people became more interesting to me when I stopped trying to project my own ideals onto them. Whereas I could imagine watching Alan Grant rescue Tim and Lex Murphy from the T-Rex, a guy I met in real life performed x-rays for actual zoo predators. They were sedated, naturally, but being able to x-ray a sedated lion is a lot cooler than sitting at home and reading a book about a genetically engineered, fictional dinosaur on the rampage.

Obviously the veterinarian needs a separate set of skills from the cashier, but if the cashier is ultimately happy with their life why is it socially acceptable to negatively compare the latter to the former?

A year ago, I was with a friend who was driving us back to Salem from Boston. The truck broke down and we were stuck on the side of Lynnway, somewhere between Saugus and Lynn. An hour or so later, the tow truck came and the driver was a guy a few years younger than me.

He got down on the concrete and got under the truck to see where the damage was. The way he moved and the sheer energy with which he tackled the job made me realize something. Here was a guy driving out to what passes for the middle of nowhere in the middle Eastern Massachusetts and you could forgive him for being tired, irritable, or brusque. But he seemed to be enjoying our amazement as he examined the truck, pulled out his computer device and hooked it up, and threw jargon around like an ensign on the bridge of the Enterprise. This was a guy who not only loved his job, but enjoyed having someone there to enjoy the performance.

Of course, I have no idea what that man did prior to working a tow truck. But it wouldn’t be farfetched of me to believe that he had either always wanted to do this, or simply found his niche in a service based industry. Maybe he was paying his way through college and something bigger and better was on the way, but if he was doing this well until his fifties, this guy might definitely have told you that he was successful.

Who would I be to argue?


One thought on “Presuming to Assess

  1. Mrs Hughes

    Poignant observations as usual. Judgement is always faulty and requires senseless energy. Than you Master Hawthorne🙋


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