If you look up the word ‘altruistic’ it describes a person who is ‘unselfishly concerned for or devoted to the welfare of others’. I am not that person. Like most members of the human race, I tend to be selfish and more concerned for me (and mine) than I am for you (and yours). That is not to say, however, that I am completely unconcerned and I spend quite a bit of time, money and energy helping where I can. The primary focus of my benevolence is animals in general and dogs in particular. Human beings do terrible things to animals and not enough people care about that.
Where humans are concerned, my approach tends to be one of tough love. I feel strongly that if every able-bodied human took proper responsibility for his or her choices and taught his or her children to do the same thing, poverty could be minimised, the birth rate would fall to manageable levels and everyone could have a job so that we could all live with dignity. Needless to say, I don’t believe in handouts because that just creates bottomless pits that will never be filled. If, however, you are down on your luck (for whatever reason) and you ask me for a job, I will oblige if I have work for you to do. I will pay you a living wage, I will show you the respect you deserve and if you do that job well, I will encourage you to continue working for me. I will give you an increase, I will give you a bonus at Christmas time and I will become your friend.
My business is designing embroidery, writing about it and putting kits and packs together. I am not in the business of looking after anyone’s life savings, neither do I save people’s lives. I don’t need to employ people with seventeen degrees and an MBA. I just need to employ people who are willing and interested. To this end, when I need help in my business I take my time finding that help and I tend to look for people who themselves need help. If you are a pensioner, not quite making it on your fixed income, I will give you a job. If you are widowed and lonely, I will employ you so that you have somewhere to go and people to see on a few mornings a week. We have one job in this business that requires almost no skills. The studio, and the area surrounding it, needs to be cleaned a few times a week. To do that job, I employ a middle-aged black man. I found him after making enquiries and he has worked for me for about two years now.
I live in the country that has the highest rate of HIV infection in the world and the province that I live in has the highest rate in the country. Along with these statistics, there is stigma, superstition and desperation. My middle-aged black man (who I will not name) is one of the statistics. A thoroughly decent, but unsophisticated human being. A person who, despite his illness, wants to work. He comes to work a few times a week and we allocate his working days to fit in with his visits to the AIDS and Tuberculosis clinics that he has to attend to keep himself alive. In the same way that I pay my other staff members, his wages come from the proceeds of my business. My contribution to the fight against poverty and AIDS in Africa is not huge, but it is larger, on a daily basis, than that made by the average citizen in the developed world.
My country has a per capita income of US$6.85 and an unemployment rate of 24.7%. This morning I received the following email from a person in a country with a per capita income of US$40.88 and an unemployment rate 6.2%.
“Some time ago I purchased the full embroidery kit from you for your Floral Pomander, which I have recently completed (and am exceptionally pleased with the end result).
I am a member of the (name deleted) Embroiderers Guild, in (town and country deleted).
Our traditional embroiderers (a sub group of 12 members of the Guild who predominantly specialise in Traditional Embroidery) have asked if they could do this project as a Group Challenge (doing one panel per month for the next 12 months).
I am writing to ask if you are prepared to give your permission for us to photocopy my original pattern rather than having to purchase 12 more.”
This was my reply:
“The sale of my embroidery designs in kit form is the nature of my business.
Apart from the normal business expenses, a major share of the income derived from these sales is how I pay the salaries of the people who work for me. One of these is an older lady who depends on her children for financial support and by working for me, their financial burden is eased a little. Another is a middle aged black man who has AIDS and is unable to find other employment or access a social grant. He comes in twice a week to clean the studio and the money I pay him is his only income.
Our country is not a welfare state and it falls to people like myself, people who run businesses and have a product to sell, to take care of the more vulnerable members of our society. Personally, I earn very little from my embroidery designs as I pay salaries without drawing one myself.
I realise that your members would like to save a few pennies but I am going to have to ask you not to photocopy and distribute that design amongst your members. I am prepared to send you 12 pattern and print packs, without threads and beads, to make the cost lower but I must ask you to take the ethical route and order from me.”
If you embroider, or indeed have any hobby, it means that you have the kind of income that affords you this indulgence. You don’t need to worry about how you are going to feed yourself from the little you can earn in between your visits to the AIDS clinic. Reasonable or not, I have sat here working away for a whole morning feeling outraged. Have I over reacted?