The relevance of charity

I have wearied of reading articles on how to dress for success, demand and get a promotion, and make a million dollars by borrowing the venture capital to start my own business. I am tired of the good name Greed has been getting. Until recently, I worked in a company training managers on goal setting and performance appraisal. I was all for overtime, merit pay, and networking as a career hedge.

I talked to social workers who were getting their real estate licenses, leagues of corporate trainers who were refugees from the classroom, and nurses studying for master's degrees in public administration. They have tough, demanding jobs and are underpaid. I am glad women are scrambling up the organization ladder toward success.

The press and our culture are obsessed with portfolios and tax shelters, silk suits, and condominiums. Like the Doonesbury character, I am scornful of the ``Y-word.''

Mind you, this is not a jeremiad for the good ol' days. We have worked very hard to get to 1985.

I fear, though, that women of the Yuppie generation, if not relentlessly pursuing those materialist values we spurned as adolescents in the Age of Aquarius, are embarrassed about compassion and altruism unless we can define those deeds as enlightened self-interest. We have had to overcompensate for our image as nurturers, caretakers, and healers of wounds.

I remember discussing years back how the entry of women into the corporate world would change that environment. Our sex -- so went the discussion -- was not consumed with profit margins, closing sales, and scheming our way through office politics to the exclusion of all else. I was going to put a vase of fresh flowers on my desk and take time to smell the roses.

In essays written in the 19th century, the suffragettes likewise theorized that once women had the vote, those inventions of male governments -- war, corruption, and all manner of ills -- would cease.

No, we are not (contrary to the assumptions of women's discussion groups of years gone by) a morally superior gender. Yet the '80s are a different time, and the mood of the country is different. Yes, women, as a group, still earn salaries that average half of men's incomes.

But it is vitally important not to forget who we are individually -- including the proud embracing of charity. One needn't be a chump to be involved in the community, to work in a non-glamorous job with no bonus program, to make less than the next guy. For too long I felt the numbers in the paycheck were a form of social approbation, that I owed it to my sex to strive for a place in the hierarchy and the more equitable distribution of goods.

``The Organization Man'' and ``The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit'' depicted the automaton to another generation. It is not an achievement to androgynize the symbol.

Sharon Johnson is a free-lance writer.

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