Respect Your Domestic Help

In Colombia, in the ‘60s and ‘70s, if you were middle-class, you probably had live-in domestic help, and you probably called her La Muchacha. She might be an adult. She might be a kid. She definitely came from the countryside.

The topic came up at lunch a month or so ago. My mom remembered the Muchacha from her household, a young girl the same age as my mom was at the time. But unlike my mom, the Muchacha did not get to spend time with her mother and family and did not go to school. She was invisible to Bogotá society. She did not rate.

Today things are a bit different in Colombia. But everywhere, including the U.S., a similar problem persists, where disadvantaged people perform domestic work within an informal economy for less than minimum wage, and the like.

If you want to do right by the people who do paid work in your home, treat them with respect. Meaning, treat them the way any kind, fair boss would treat an employee. I suggest the following:

Provide expectations. Tell her how you want the floor cleaned. Tell him how you want the grass cut.

Provide clarity. Tell her that you plan to stay with her for at least six months at two visits per month, for example. Mean it.

Pay people reliably and on time. Duh. 

Pay people at least minimum wage. Come on. 

Talk about how to handle reschedulings and cancelations. They will happen.

Offer a “Thank You” gift at Christmas time. This is a nice thing to do.

Respect is not about going above and beyond. Respect is about treating people the way anyone deserves to be treated.

Just because you can’t measure it, doesn’t mean it’s not important

John Boyd said that. But they say the opposite in science fields. They say, if you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist. 

Of course, we know this isn’t true. Still, people get in a lot of trouble this way because a heuristic unfolds. It goes something like this: if you can’t measure it, it doesn’t matter, and if it doesn’t matter, it can be ignored. 

If you can’t measure it —> Ignore it

Feelings, emotions, ideas, and other abstractions are hard to measure. Activities, dollars, and things are easy. Don’t ignore the abstract, the hard to quantify and measure. Pay attention to it. It might be important. This short piece in The Atlantic says it best.

Try New Things As A Family

It’s easy to sit and do nothing with the family this holiday. Making memories takes effort. You are busy. You have a long to-do list. Most people only have Thursday and Friday off. I’m not being pejorative, either. These things are all true. And sure, there is the Thanksgiving event, and that is a thing, but what about the rest of the days when everyone is home?

Trying new things doesn’t have to be epic. It doesn’t even have to cost money (well, maybe a little). All you need is something out of the ordinary to create a memory. Here are some ideas: 

1. Ride bikes or walk to the nearest grocery store only to purchase a four-pack of Dove ice-cream bars. Eat them immediately. 

2. Go to Target or Walmart and purchase Monopoly Deal. Play it. 

3. Go for a walk in inclement weather. Dress appropriately. 

4. Get vanilla cones from McDonalds. Since most fast-food dining is closed, eat them sitting on the curb. 

5.  Create a media event, with popcorn and candy, and watch the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe (or maybe just Infinity War and Endgame). 

You can come up with a dozen other things. Better things. Easy things. Don’t play on your phone all break. Don’t let your kids languish on the iPad the entire time. A lot of iPad or Xbox time is fine and realistic. Set aside an hour or two for something different. 

Quiet Persistence and Force in Leadership

I’ve been reading this book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, so that I can once and for all address what to do about this problem I have of, well, being quiet. Fortunately, this problem is common, if not weird, and in Quiet, Susan Cain is on a mission to prove that being introverted is not inherently weak or odd but instead can wield power.

I’ve arrived at the part in the book where she introduces the idea of Quiet Persistence, which she describes as a soft power that involves day-to-day, person-to-person persistence in interactions that eventually builds up a team. For example, she sites Mother Teresa, the Buddha, and Gandhi. I thought about this the other day as I watched Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Amy Coney Barrett. During the cross-examination, Judge Barrett came across as extremely competent and composed, as you would expect of anyone nominated to the Supreme Court. Of particular interest to me were her feminine characteristics—her dress, her looks, her facial expressions, her soft-spoken manner—none of which undermined or distracted from her position or message at all. And at that point, I thought, here is a great role model for women on how to be in a position of influence.

Except for one problem. In certain lines of work, like the military or law enforcement, it’s not about the quality of your ideas, presentation skills, or brainpower. Instead there’s an added criteria on which leaders are based which I will loosely describe as Force. This makes sense since the nature of military or law enforcement work is conflict based. As a result, the team-sport jock archetype and the military leader mold often appear to be the one and the same. For example, when I used to sit on a service academy nomination board, we’d pour over applications and student essays while evaluating candidates. If you were captain of the football offensive line, great! If you were first chair clarinet in the orchestra, hmm. Our reluctance had nothing to do with an inherent bias for football over band, but I realize now that it had everything to do with accounting for Force. Orchestra and other soft extracurriculars told board members little about whether a candidate had it in him or her to exert and withstand Force.

In the military, at least, this has left us non-jocks, and non-jock women and minorities, with few role models on how to be. And in such a situation, there’s only one place I can think to turn to: Game of Thrones, and I’m lookin’ at the likes of Yara Greyjoy and Brianne of Tarth, for a little inspiration. I only wish they were real people.

Homesick? Maybe not.

Friends from the Guatemala City zoo.

I’m prone to feeling homesick when I get to a new place. In my hotel, the people down the hall stopped playing their loud (but well-curated!) playlist very late so the rest of us could sleep. Of note, I chose a hotel without a microwave or free parking. For my first time since Coronavirus and doing my monthly travel, I see I’m out of practice. This was my initial thought after reviewing my astronomical rental car agreement. My feelings of my travel ineptitude continued through the late afternoon.

My first time feeling homesick was the summer before my senior year of high school. That was an epic summer; I went to this thing called the National Youth Leadership Forum on Medicine, and a week later went to the U.S. Naval Academy Summer Seminar. The Forum on Medicine was a ten-day program at the University of Chicago for kids interested in studying medicine. In case you didn’t know, every college-bound kid with immigrant parents considers studying medicine at some point, the way middle-class people consider dumping money into college funds for their five-year-olds. It’s just what you do, although it might not be right for you. I remember arriving in my dorm room, meeting my chubby Asian roommate, and for the first night or two, I felt myself in a distant place and very remote, with a hallow pit in my stomach. This was before cell phones, by the way. Of course, this feeling disappeared after a couple of nights, and I ended up having a superlative time. I learned things about medicine like open-toed shoes are not allowed in a laboratory, and cadavers’ faces become smooshed and disfigured after lying face down. I also came away, having forever ruled out a medical profession for myself.

The U.S. Naval Academy Summer Seminar thing was different. Since the organizers treated it like a boot camp, I had no time to sit around my room, thinking about how I didn’t know anyone, especially once things picked up. I ended up enjoying the Summer Seminar and showed up to the Naval Academy as a Plebe two summers later. Perhaps that’s something I love about the military: there is no pressure to make friends because you get grouped with people to make your little unit together, for better or worse. As a junior military person traveling with the military, I rarely felt homesick.

But every once in awhile, when I travel by myself, I remember that I’m prone to feeling homesick. Part of that is missing out on the creature comforts and family time at home, but the other part is the drudgery of living out of a bag. Last year I lived in a hotel for two and a half months. It sucked. Maybe if I just figured out how to build a routine for when I go away and learn to “live well” from a hotel, including not eating tuna packs for consecutive dinner/breakfast, maybe I’ll find that I don’t mind being alone all that much. Perhaps I’ll see that I’m not homesick after all.