Saturday, 19 October 2013

Freedom to speak out

Throughout my life I have known people who think they will never be able to give up working hard, not because of personal circumstances, but because gainful activity is in their blood. They need to be mentally stimulated, they enjoy the income, and they are prepared to sacrifice much of their leisure time for regular but brief moments of high-level self-indulgence. To them this self-indulgence is a justifiable and reasonable recompense for the personal effort put in.

They also have the less quantifiable rewards of success and enhanced reputation in their field. They like being on top of whatever game it is, and want the satisfaction and trophies that come with that.

Their self-motivation is often extraordinary: it clearly isn't necessary to be inspired by a morality that imposes a strict work ethic. I dare say that if you probed, you would generally find that they had always been achievers, with interested and encouraging parents at the back of them. But in the end it comes down to the individual. These people work hard and long because it's in their nature, and they will never really retire.

In contrast you have people like me, who always recognised the necessity to work, but regarded it as one of life's chores, something to be endured until age and opportunity offered a release. Then one could really start living, after having put life on hold for so long. 'The Job' was never my reason for existence, and certainly not the thing that defined who I was. It was simply a money-generator, and when release came I turned my back on it and walked away - and have stayed away.

Some would say this is an appalling attitude, and point out the health benefits of working, even if the money isn't needed, and the status-rewards mean nothing. I acknowledge all of that, but remain unmoved. Because I have a prize beyond compare: unlimited freedom. Unlimited leisure to do what I want, when I want, and without having to consult anyone for their permission or approval. I therefore have no need to justify what I get up to, no need to apologise or feel guilty; and I experience no stress or feelings of inadequacy. What I do is my own business, and anyone who thinks they can interfere will get a custard pie in their face. Done in the most friendly fashion, of course - unless they are intent on being a bore or a brute. This freedom is a magnificent prize, and I am not minded to surrender it.

And the freedom makes me powerful, because I have become - for ordinary purposes - untouchable. By which I mean that with no job at stake I can speak my mind without repercussions.

I remember being on a train to work once, and an announcement was made about penalty fares for those travelling without a valid ticket. It didn't bother me, not the message, nor the tone. It seemed like a perfectly fair warning. Shortly afterwards, one of the train crew passed through the carriage. A professional man who looked like a lawyer stopped him, and in a domineering voice asked him whether he was the person who had just made the penalty fares announcement. He said he was. The lawyer then viciously tore into him with with all the sharpest words at his command, threatening him with a personal lawsuit that would, he promised, cost him his job. Apparently the penalty fares announcement, clearly a statement that the crew member hadn't composed himself but was simply reading out, was in some way not strictly accurate. I was sitting not far away. I itched to intervene and rescue the poor man from this legal bully who was sadistically exploiting his nasty way with words. I'm sure that I wasn't the only one to feel that this was inexcusably rude and cruel behaviour, and that the self-important lawyer needed to be taken down a peg or two. But I stayed silent. The right moment to intervene passed. Ingrained caution against speaking up against powerful people, especially persons who might be able to harm one's career, had made me hesitate. I have little doubt that this vindictive lawyer carried out his threat, and that a letter of complaint went to the railway CEO, and that the unfortunate crewman found himself in trouble.

I wouldn't let it happen now. That lawyer would get a no-nonsense reprimand from me. I would embarrass and humiliate him, because I'd have no employer for him to write to, and he wouldn't be able to threaten me. I think it would actually help that I was not quite the usual sort of older woman, but a person he might be reluctant to mess with in an exposed public situation. I could wrong-foot him, because he'd know the law and the danger of any retaliatory slander or harrassment in front of witnesses. He'd soon see that I was dangerous to him. I'd make it my pleasure to throw that custard pie in his face and grind it in. And I would accept cheers from the carriage as I did so. It's a daydream of course, to strike blows for ordinary folk like this. But you see my point: with freedom comes the chance to play the comic-book superheroine for real, and right wrongs.

Retired people are often considered spent forces. They need not be. I don't want a job to earn money. But I think I'd consider being a voice against unfairness and injustice wherever and whenever I encounter it. There is nobody now left in my life to appease. Or be afraid for. Just me. I'm free to speak out if I want to.


  1. Well that's it, I am not travelling by train again if you are on it Lucy! When I started to read this I immediately thought you had been reading one of the articles presently on the AOL pages. it speaks about fare dodgers and their excuses. Next i thought you were talking about the likes of myself who actually love work for a couple of reasons, one is that it keeps me active in mind and body and two, it is very rewarding to me to know that I can achieve many things and that gives me great satisfaction. I get financial rewards too if the work is for someone else!

    Shirley Anne x

  2. I trust you got the main point, that NOT working gives you freedom, because nobody has a hold over you. And that because nobody can apply any sanctions, you acquire power, to be used as you see fit.


  3. Being your own boss has a similar freedom. I have the freedom to work as and when I wish and for whom. I can understand why you are saying you have the freedom now whereas before you didn't. When I was employed by a company I was in the same boat but when I became self-employed everything changed and for the better.

    Shirley Anne x

  4. I didn't see this before posting my latest missive. Interesting, though, that we should both extol the joys of not working. What I really appreciate isn't so much the freedom to speak out, as the freedom to pick and choose what I want to do, and simply walk away from the rest.


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