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35 years a slave

This morning I got off a plane at London Gatwick and from there these thoughts come to be generated. I missed a bus to take me to my flypark hotel where my car was parked, whilst I was vacationing in the Caribbean. I didn’t think it was cost efficient for me to wait an hour for the next bus, so I opted to spend £16 and take a taxi. [BTW I’m £381 better off as my trading carried on in the background whilst I was nursing on Pina Coladas and Long Island Iced Teas at my fav beach bar!! ]

Plane landingOn the way to the flypark hotel, I struck up a conversation with the taxi driver – male in his late 50s, he appeared. Cutting through to the main bits of that conversation, he told me that he had spotted me walking around looking for a taxi and he had hooted his horn but I took no notice (which was correct). I had then gone to the kiosk and ordered a taxi and he was called to take me to the hotel. In the 15 min journey, he told me that I just looked like someone who was looking for a taxi to a local destination. He said that most people who arrive would be looking for a taxi to take them to another town or into London. However, he said that from the way I looked, it appeared that I needed to get to a local destination. I enquired how he developed this skill to tell which people were looking for a taxi for a local destination. He explained that after 35 years in the job he came to that ability by just observing people.

I responded that 35 years is a long time. I said, “It must be a job that you like very much.” He responded with a slight chuckle in his voice, explaining, “No – it’s just a job I do to pay the bills.” – and he wasn’t being sarcastic. He went on that he did not in fact like the job but felt constrained to do it over that many years. I replied that a lot of people are like him but that they are not as frank as him. We then spoke about other things. In particular he said that he could also guess what people did for a living. I invited him to guess about me. He got it right on the 2nd guess which was quite remarkable because nothing I had said would have given away my true professional status.

I got to my flypark hotel, loaded my luggage and drove approximately 100 miles to my home. But in the first 40 minutes or so of my journey my mind ruminated on our conversation. And a flood of other ideas came rushing into my head. I could not help but think about the movie ’12 years a slave’, which had a very deep impact on me; reinforcing some of my views about the world. I recalled that my colleague in Carlisle, just a couple months ago, had encourage me to see the movie. For days and weeks thereafter, I had said several times that, “we are all slaves of a kind in a different kind of slavery..” Then an image of a T-shirt popped into my mind. This was a man on the plane waiting to disembark as we had landed in Gatwick. On the back of his T-shirt was written, “FORCED TO WORK” And then strangely an article in Scientific American,  popped into my mind – about how a certain part of the brain becomes specialised and developed among people who develop certain kinds of expertise. (This of course was relevant to the taxi driver who had developed the special ability to look at potential passengers and know with high probability what kinds of destinations they may be after, and the sort of work they might be involved in.) In this paragraph you can get a sense of the number of ideas that flooded into my mind all at once or in close succession.

beach_forced_2_workA sense of sadness came over me as I contemplated how this man spent the better part of 40 hours a week for 35 years, at a job that he did not enjoy but which was necessary for his survival in a brutal economic system. He like many others are slaves to an economic system. And like many a slave in the days of real slavery, people came to value their existence and what they did. Back then people found roles in the hierarchy among slaves which they ‘enjoyed’. In fact many people today develop a sense of pride and joy in their work, and truly believe that they enjoy their work – or so they say to others. But of course each of those persons would immediately find something better to do with their time – if they were freed of economic shackles.

I’m not here to interfere with what people know and love doing in terms of their working lives. However, I think that some people become so programmed by the courses that have been plotted for them, that they come to like what they do – and that’s fine. Plotted? Well, not exactly – it’s about socio-economic systems interacting with individuals’ abilities to perform or survive, that channel people into various careers. If they stay with it for long enough and benefit tangibly and intangibly they learn to like/love whatever they do. Of course when I say ‘careers’ I don’t necessarily mean work. There are some people who make life-style choices not to work – and find ways of surviving ‘the system’ without working or developing a true career.

The choice is yours – or so you think. But are you ready for the real world Neo?

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