Thursday, July 17, 2008

Quality of Life

When you discuss budgetting and expenditures and the economics of living you are going to run into the issue of quality of life. Many of the disagreements on previous postings have centered not around actual dollars and cents but around the idea of the "worth" of the items under discussion. And that is where the problem lies.

Quality of life is not a clearly definable item. It is highly subjective. It deals with wants and needs, items that are themselves highly subjective. And quality of life functions in more than just the realm of the individual; it also functions in the realm of the community, of the many communities that one may be a part of.

For the truly starving person, anything that will assuage hunger pains is edible, from grubs and bugs to rotting potato peels and brackish water. When you get beyond that basic subsistence level you start being faced with choices. And where there is choice there is also quality of life. For one person anything less than meat every night of the week reduces their chosen quality of life; for another it could be not having fresh strawberries/blueberries/raspberries whenever they want them. We are all very quick to point out grocery shopping is an area where people could save a lot of money and cut down on their expenses, and yes, becoming a smart shopper can help you to do so. But any budget that does not take into consideration quality of life issues is doomed to fail. Ignore quality of life and you could end up like the man who went on one of those strange deprivation diets so popular today. Someone asked him how he was doing on the diet. He answered: "They tell me I'm going to live longer this way, but what am I living longer for?"

I basically make iced tea for a flavored drink during the week. I do, however, buy sodas for Shabbos and yom tov and company. And I happen to like, even if in small quantities, a cranberry/raspberry bottled juice that is very pricey. I buy the soda and I buy the juice because they make us happy. I save on other items where no one cares much. (Note: I buy the soda on sale and stock up. Coke today at one market for 69 cents a 2-liter bottle.) Every family has its likes and dislikes and catering to those tastes is a quality of life issue. And it isn't only about food. Substitute clothing or trips or housing or any other items and the same ideas apply.

Community quality of life issues are more complex. There is a mikveh a 1/2 hour drive from your community, not a long trip relatively speaking. However, your community may decide that not having a mikveh immediately locally lessens the quality of life for the community. They may decide to build that mikveh--and they aren't cheap to build--because they want it and because they feel that want is more of a need. At the same time one of the local shuls may need to build some classrooms onto the shul building for children's groups and a program for those first coming into frumkeit. Now you have two communities that you belong to--the smaller member of that shul community and the larger geographical community--that may have conflicting quality of life issues, conflicting wants and needs. If everyone were to split their tzedaka money in half neither the shul addition nor the mikveh might be built. Sometimes you may need to choose one quality of life issue over another, may need to postpone one until after another is finished. And sometimes you can't. Sometimes you "need" both items and you will have to find someplace else to cut down on expenses so you can have those two needs. And you, as an individual, as a family, just might feel some resentment that community quality of life trumps your personal quality of life sometimes, particularly when it happens very frequently.

There is a problem, however, when community quality of life issues become institutionalized and do so without the consent of the "governed." Summer sleep away camp is one such item. For those who want them, who believe that they add to their quality of life, and can afford them, who are any of us to say no? For those who want them but cannot afford them, then choices may need to be made; what will you give up that is not as important to you so that you can have sleep away camp for your kids? For those who want them, can't afford them and have nothing else to exchange to get them, well, no one ever said that you can have everything you want in life--a tough but necessary lesson to learn. HOWEVER, when a community institutionalizes sleep away camp as a community quality of life issue, as a need rather than a want, then the parents who have to provide that money are left in a bad position. Don't discount community pressure as a real factor in making decisions. When yeshivas tell you that your children (boys in particular) "must" go to camp they are putting you between a rock and a hard place. Some parents see this as gambling with their children's future. As individuals they see themselves having to give in because one person against 10,000 isn't fair odds.

When a school says "you must do X,Y and Z to stay in our school" then one parent saying no makes no dent in the school's power to dictate. One parent is a drop in the bucket. Two or three may not be any better. You are expendable to the school. But 30 parents? 50? 100? You are talking real numbers now. The question, as any poker player will tell you, is what are you going to do if the school calls your bluff? Be prepared to ante up and go "all in." The school will have one of two choices: they can call your bluff, in which case you parents need to be prepared to carry out any "threats" of removing your children, or they can fold, and you win. Of course, they could choose a third alternative; they could offer a compromise. But unless individual parents start banding together so that they have numbers on their side then community quality of life issues that conflict with your own issues are never going to be resolved.

Back when I was single we had an acronym that was used--NATO--no action, talk only. Never mind how it was applied then; it can be applied now when people complain about something, no matter how justified, but do nothing towards solving the problem. And for me, that is a personal quality of life issue.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's funny sort of but I see the two postings you did today as sort of related. The girl who left Satmar to pursue a different lifestyle was making a choice different from the one the community dictated should be the one. It's a persdonal choice versus a community choice issue.

The problem is the young daughter caught in the middle. She is stuck between two parents who want different things for her, and that's a horrible situation for any small child to be in. No matter who wins in this custody fight the daughter loses. She is the one I have rachmanus on.

Not saying that going to9 camp is on the same level with the custody case, but they involve part of the same issue--the community's idea of what must be done and the individual's idea of what they want to do.