Freak on a Salary

I knew who the slackers would be.

I ran the Jail-And-Bail booth three years (maybe four, it blurs) in a row for a church carnival. It was largely geared towards tweens and the occasional group of friends. For a small fee, we would “arrest” a person of your choice and hold them for fifteen minutes. Unless, of course, they could make “bail”. It’s a silly fundraiser, but it can be fun. We put chalkboard on the inside of the “jail” with chalk for kids. We kicked the obnoxious folks out. We made “warrants” with all sorts of silly accusations on them, like “not knowing how to spell transubstantiation”. We marched people around the midway, shouting that they were “naughty people”. It was a great deal of fun… and very, very exhausting.

And I could tell which volunteers would be slackers.

I had two groups of volunteers. One set came from the church membership. They were… well, typical churchgoers. The second set were people who just stopped by and asked if they could help. They were usually not part of the church and they were, nearly uniformly, freaks.

I mean that in the nicest possible way. It is, however, an accurate term when comparing the nice Catholic twentysomething volunteer to a Wiccan bisexual volunteer wearing a Korn t-shirt. And those freaks were the ones who did most of the work. They would stay later than their shift. They would be outgoing and exuberant with the customers. They would actually get into it, and put some energy into it. The parishoners who volunteered usually had to be shoved into working, wanted to leave early, and simply didn’t get into it. (There were exceptions on both counts, of course.)

The success of the Jail-And-Bail booth – and nearly all the other booths at the carnival – were based on customer interactions and exuberance. The more energy volunteers put into it, the more the customers got out of it. This was pretty obvious to anyone. Yet the parishoners, who actually had something at stake, were rarely worth the effort it took to recruit them as volunteers.

I am still not entirely sure why it worked out that way. It surprised me at first – but when I thought back to my own experiences with (and as) a freak, weirdo, and outcast, I remember us volunteering and helping with things just because they were fun to do. Maybe the other parishoners were worried about appearing silly. I don’t know.

But I think it’s important to remember when we look at our co-workers and our employees. It’s important to remember when we’re hiring people, or choosing and listening to consultants.

We often look for the “professional” look, for those who have at least the same social status markers as ourselves. We judge the value of someone’s knowledge and estimate their work based on them.

And they can be completely, utterly wrong.