“You must bite the hand that feeds you. You are perhaps always told the opposite of this. The opposite of this is often said to you, ‘Do not bite the hand that feeds you.’ But from time to time I tell you, you must.” – Jamaica Kincaid
I read this quote a few times, over and over. I stumbled-upon it while sitting at work on one particularly boring day. Lately I’ve been feeling like most of the days spent here are boring, a waste of time and energy stressing out over things I don’t (and never will) care about. Why do I care about some huge corporation’s advertising dollars? Why should I worry about the loss of revenue from traffic sent by shady vendors? There’s an answer to that of course: they pay me. They pay me to care, to come to my desk in the morning and care for 9 hours of my day. They pay me enough to make my family happy, or at least make them feel like the hundreds of thousands of dollars they invested in my education was not a complete and total waste. My family has made countless sacrifices for my education and given me the chance at success in a society where a degree, despite its relevance, is mandatory.
One of my best friends got me this job. I was desperate for a steady income, the pay for freelance journalism not on par with the lifestyle required. He recommended me for the position and I had a job two weeks later. The position is not difficult, though it should be. In fact, I would say that managing accounts on corporate levels is something that only takes time to get used to, but does not otherwise require much critical thinking.
I’ve been told since I was too young to give an age that you should not bite the hand that feeds you, that gratitude is the most sincere outcome of appreciation and should be expressed and not forgotten. I was told to not look a gift horse in the mouth and mockingly would retort that I would not want a gift from a horse’s mouth. I was eight years old and a sarcastic brat. I have not changed.
You must not bite the hand that feeds you, the grown-ups say, and we accept this axiom as reality. Who are we to disagree with an age old aphorism? Who are we to say no to the gift horse? To take a look at what is offered and then refuse? They tell you it is bad (or another synonym that implies one should feel guilt at any sort of opposition) to disagree. They tell you that you should not complain, to accept, and to respect. In short, they instill a layer of accountability, a sense of allegiance, and the fear of perfidiousness. We are all guilty of these expectations. We give and expect that our gifts are used in a way that is egoistically correct. In all of our “good doings” we set unspoken intentions and create the façade of idealistic outcomes for the people we choose to help. When I read this quote now, I see that this proverb creates a layer of guilt, and a fascia of entitlement.
This is not to say that you shouldn’t be grateful, but I believe there needs to be a level of loving detachment from both parties. We learn guilt from a young age, and as we get older we struggle with that guilt and our personal calling. If we are brave enough to dream, we are faced with that stigma under the guise of love. We look at our gifts, we remember all of those hands, and instead of feeling thankful we feel burdened. We are afraid that our actions are misinterpreted. We do not bite the hand that feeds us. We remain.
I’ve been thinking about this phrase a lot lately, especially as I sit at my dual-monitor desk, Starbucks latte on my left, my iPhone on the right, headphones in, the sun streaming through on this January morning. After taking the time to write this out, I can see that the phrase is wildly misinterpreted. The people that extend out their hand in the hope that you accept their offering should be appreciated and respected, but not so much to deter you from your own calling. The phrase “you should not bite the hand that feeds you” implies obligation and I agree that there are many instances in which we should obey.
But sometimes we should not.