What’s It Worth?
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the cost of things. And not just financial cost, though that is definitely a driver. No, I mean the real cost of things. The opportunity cost.
Quiet as it is kept, I didn’t originally go to college to get a Sociology degree. The first time I went to college, (yes there was more than one—don’t judge me, that’s how we grow!) I was going to be an engineer. There was a huge push for engineers of color in the late-80s/early 90s, my brother had pursued that route, and I was going to design airplanes and the next-generation space shuttle. That was the plan. Until I got to Atlanta. The ratio of women to men in the Atlanta University Center, where Morehouse College is located, is 14-to-1. 14 women for every man. Do you understand what I just said? That meant Chris was going to be otherwise pre-occupied. I said “Fuck the plan!” and Morehouse said, “Well, thanks for playing, Chris! We have some lovely parting gifts for you.” So, after I got kicked out of Morehouse, I went back to school in Minnesota. I took a couple economics classes to satisfy some Humanities credits and found out I actually liked Econ.
Then I took calculus. Three times. I got 2 F’s and a W. I am awesome at calculus.
I wouldn’t trust me to be an engineer—I can’t compute my way out of a paper bag—and the sum total of my economic capabilities is limited to balancing my checkbook and making Amazon purchases. In both instances, engineering in Atlanta and economics in Minnesota, math helped me refine my academic endeavors.
That’s how we get to Sociology. There’s so little math and science in my degree, I actually took a class called Physics for Poets. That’s a real thing.
Anyway, in those early macro- and micro-economics courses, I learned about the concept of opportunity cost. Opportunity cost isn’t about the dollars and cents of the choices we make; it’s more about what we give up or cannot do because of the choices we make. The textbook example is guns and butter. It’s a very simple way of looking at the choices a nation must make: guns represent the defense spending and butter is the domestic. Any nation has a finite amount of money and can spend it all on guns (defense) or butter (domestic stuff) or some combination of both. The rub is what you lose when you make those choices. More guns equal less roads and schools; more infrastructure and healthcare means a smaller army or open borders.
The thing you lose or give up—the guns or the butter—is the opportunity cost. The real cost of things.
In our private lives, that opportunity cost often translates into where we put our time. Do we spend it with our kids or do we go to the movies? Do we work out or sleep in? Date night or boys’/girls’ night? We see it in our household budgets—do I get that new TV or do I pay my student loans—and it was a real guiding principle behind the healthcare debate: with rising costs, do families prioritize food over medicine? You get it.
Beyond simply the cost of the choices we make is the value of that cost, in the short term or the long term. We decide what each of those choices is worth. If you have to lose 50 pounds or go on diabetes medicine, the working out vs sleeping in choice has a different value than if you’re at your goal weight, right? If you haven’t hung out with your spouse in a minute, date night might be the better option.
I’ve talked about Skipper a couple times: she’s our niece who came to live with us in December 2013 JUST SO SHE COULD GET OUT OF HIGH SCHOOL. That was the entire deal. Originally. And like Darth Vader, she altered the deal. We got her into college right after high school, that she never went to. She moved with us to Florida to go to college down there, that she never went to. She moved back to Seattle with us. Her 6 month experiment turned into 3 years and, FINALLY (like the Rock), in January 2016, we got her monkey ass into Art School. Yay, right?
3 months later DMFRH brought her ass back to my house. Grades were shit. Alcohol was her friend. She was in a shit relationship that wasn’t good for either party. Oh, and a week after she came back, found out she was pregnant.
At this point, I tapped out of the Skipper game but she had a choice to make: be pro-choice, do what she had to do, and go back to school, utilize that scholarship and get her degree OR become single mom at 21. With a minimum-wage part-time job. Without health insurance. Or a car. Or her own place. She chose door number two.
She took all her lumps, packed her stuff while we were on vacation, moved back with her father, and is now the mother of a beautiful, healthy baby boy. I thought it was a shit choice and told her so. But what I thought about it didn’t matter. My opinion wasn’t relevant then and isn’t relevant now. Because the opportunity cost of that choice isn’t mine to bear. The diapers, the sleepless nights, the worry, the responsibility, the loss of her 20s, the sacrifice of her college experience—these were all costs Skipper was willing to bear because the alternative mattered more. Because the baby was worth it. I have nothing but respect for that.
I made a similar choice 12 years ago with The Wife, The Boy and the Honey Badger. I chose this unorthodox family when everyone around me thought it was a shit choice and had no qualms about telling me so. Had no qualms about penalizing me for it.
So I’m thinking these days—a lot—about the choices we make, the choice we have to make, and the cost of those choices. And it’s everything: from where and how I spend my time to how much I’m selling that time for vs the professional advancement I hope to get. It’s whether that time is better spent watching the political tumult or participating in it. Whether we protest or proselytize? Whether Agents of SHIELD is ever really gonna deliver or is Gotham a better bet? In the end, the only question that matters is, Is the thing we choose worth the price we have to pay?