Yesterday I was making the joke with one of my co-workers about taking back the the concept of paying it forward. Like so: one of my co-workers got me sick so I am merely wandering around the workplace in an attempt to get someone else sick as a way to pay it forward, or, one of my co-workers startled me in the morning so I have carelessly slammed these two bins together to startle another of my co-workers as a way to pay it forward. The extension of that joke about paying it forward was to claim, in a perverse twist on humbleness, that it is not I who startled or sickened my co-worker, but the original person who startled or sickened me. I am just a middle man.
As you have probably guessed by now we are having an ethical discussion. The tip off is that none of these jokes are funny. Whenever your jokes are not funny you are forced into a psychological and ethical reckoning, which is why humor is so dangerous, and why the phrase "It was just a joke" will never do.
For the psychology let us say I feel guilty about wandering around sick at work, infecting all the vulnerable people around me under the perverse guise of being too tough to be held down by a light illness. And then too my jokes are a joking-on-the-square hostility towards both those who came to work sick and so contributed to my current condition and that persistent sense, not unwarranted by my work culture, that I would be faintly letting down the team if I had stayed home.
I should have stayed home.
I think now, though, I am post contagious, so the entire library can enjoy my occasional coughing and nose blowing without fear.
Unless, of course, it's already too late for them.
That explained we can discuss ethics.
I know, excellent!
I am, at work, occasionally, a very pay it forward kind of person. This is mostly, but certainly not always, in the good, not evil, version of that concept. I like to put extra slips around, and get a new, empty box, and polish up that patron's record and get a fresh roll of tape, and resolve the issue right here where I am. But I am aware that the virtuousness of all that, the paying it fowardness of it, is supposed to be traditionally predicated on providing a kindness to those other people coming after me. And yet, curiously, it almost never is.
You heard it here first. I am rarely seeking to anonymously benefit some unspecified future co-worker. Unless, perhaps, that person is me. The biggest reason I do these things is from the delusion that, in six hours, or 22 hours, or 70 hours, somehow, I will be the recipient of all these caring preparations. I am attempting to transact a kindness to myself through a series of middlemen.
They rarely come through, but that is not my fault.