Monday, February 21, 2011

What is the answer? What is the question?

The morning began with a bracing email from my twenty-five year old niece. The communication was one of several recent ones about a photography contract she had been asked to sign. My niece has spent upwards of four years studying to be a professional photographer. The singular feature of this contract is that it contained no mention of compensation payable to my niece for her photographs. An even more alarming subsequent development is that the owner of the property where the photographs were taken has at last made it clear that she never had any intention of paying for the photos, and as a result the taking of photos on the property will no longer be tolerated effectively closing the door to the least suspicion that there was any sort of commercial arrangement between my niece and the property owner other than a once qualified indulgence. In fairness to my niece, part of the reason she was misguided is that the property owner proffered a contract which would normally have included compensation but which only appropriated to her an exclusive proprietary interest in the photographs. In fairness to the property owner, she felt the taking of photographs might compromise her privacy without control of the product.
It astounds me however that my niece was either so innocent or ignorant of the true and unilateral purpose of the arrangement. As a result I spent considerable time crafting a reply to my niece. The object of my effort was to awaken her to the realities of business relations which fundamentally necessitate a clear statement at the outset of the expectations of the Parties long before one engages in a discussion of the refinements of the contract to capture those expectations. Further I wanted to encourage her to examine her own status in these affairs which frankly appeared to be clouded by not only false prospects but also wasteful accomplishments. Comforted by lack of necessity it appears that my niece has allowed herself to adopt less than functional options, certainly nothing which even remotely advances a career. I have cautioned that the rosy hue of the skies may be replaced with dark clouds, or at the very least her anticipated progress in life will be seriously stunted.

Critical thinking is of course about as common as common sense, which is to say not very. Expressed most generally critical thinking is a way of taking up the problems of life. Identifying the problem is half the battle. Too often the enthusiasm which we have for a project overshadows the nasty details which inevitably precipitate its downfall.

Lastly it is sometimes desirable to take stock of what we are doing and for whose benefit. Usually a relatively small but disappointing arrangement can be indicative of a deeper and more broadly based disease, one which is likely to spread unless contained. The reason people are good at what they do is because they do it so often and so universally, which means that if you have suffered injury at the hands of another you should be wary of future associations.

It is sadly a common complaint that people do not share their knowledge with others, whether in a professor/student relationship or parent/child or employer/employee or any other relationship between a superior and his or her subaltern. In an age of laissez-faire and political correctness we have unfortunately nurtured a spineless approach to the improvement of society. I blame the officers as much as the lieutenants. Both persons have an obligation to give or seek advice. In this instance where my niece has actively sought my opinion on the development of this now aborted contractual relationship, I thus felt compelled to get down to brass tacks and speak candidly. I used the details of the relationship to illustrate greater and more abstract generalities by which we can learn to guide our conduct in life. It has been observed that life is hard but that it is harder if you’re stupid. The way to avoid being stupid is to pay attention to detail and not to be persuaded by unrelated gloss or hopes. But this posture is one which requires training and encouragement. It is all very well to say one should go into the world with one’s eyes wide open, but it helps considerably to be instructed about where one should be looking.

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