Thursday, January 2, 2014

I Owe You Nothing

The great folksinger, storyteller, activist, and deceased U. Utah Phillips once said "keep track of people that you owe." This made a lot of sense at the time, but over the years I have come to understand that just because a word exists, we needn't assign profound meaning.

Phillips spoke strongly about the labor movement in the industrial era, as well as the "Wobbly" - IWW  - Industrial Workers of the World movements. A union organization that believe in fair wage, fair labor, quality of life. He spoke fondly of hobos and "tramps" and the foot-based history that never made it to our history books.

Our forefathers and mothers are individuals I am not indebted to. With the exception of owing monies or some formulated contract such as, "You help me move, I'll buy you a cup of coffee", I think we owe each other nothing.

Magazine title Mother Jones is based on an actual woman named Mary Harris Jones or Mother Jones. She was an agitator, not an organizer as Utah Phillips would say.  In1902 she was called "the most dangerous woman in America" by Theodore Roosevelt rallying mine workers and their families against mine owners who enforced unfair labor laws. Jones died at the age of 93. 

Portrait by Robert Shetterly

What do we owe this woman? Nothing! I am grateful, I am thankful, and I admire her spunk, her grit, her fire, her love. Not only is it impossible to owe a dead person, but what is it could I possibly owe? Also; I have a hunch that she did not make such strong efforts in the hopes that she would be praised and congratulated.

"The world owes me nothing and we owe each other the world", sings folksinger Ani Difranco in her song Joyful Girl.

An amazing lyric line, and a humble idea. Ultimately I think it is wrong. I would hope that we would live our lives with generosity, altruism, and empathy; but who can enforce this as law or demand? There are no "shoulds" here. I understand temptation, and earnesty, but ultimately you do something benevolently or you don't. You may even been charged with an exclamation, "you owe me!", but why? I certainly walk lightly in terms of inconveniencing others. I consider a person's feelings, but a favor granted is not a favor owed. Why? Simple. It is nonsensical and it is a terrible way to maneuver through life.

If a person does not greet you with gratitude it may hurt, and you may be confused. Feel free to approach that person and ask what happened there, but know ultimately that there is nothing that they have to do for you. Going forward in discussion with a person who understands that there is no real need to owe, will be an interesting and challenging task. I am not immune to frustration but with truth in mind, I will work towards a clearer and cleaner way of life. Move, dance, and find free spirit with me. If you choose not to, you don't owe me a damn thing!

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