There is an ancient parable that starts with a landowner hiring some workers for his vineyards. He hires the first group at dawn and they reasonably agree to work for a denarius (usual daily wage). After they’ve started, the owner realizes he needs more workers, so he goes back into town several more times and hires more workers. He keeps hiring more until there’s only about an hour of daylight left.
When the work is done, he calls them back from the vineyard and begins to pay them. The newest workers are first in line, and they receive a denarius each. Seeing this, the early hires expect to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. Obviously this was unfair because they had worked many hours, but they were now being treated as equal to the ones hired last.
The owner responds that it is his money, and he can pay whatever he wants. Further, they had gotten exactly what they had agreed upon, so they have no reason to complain. Until recently, the owner’s logic made a lot of sense to me. I didn’t think much about the workers because they were clearly wrong to complain. But a few months ago I found myself in their shoes.
I had been working at the same job for about 3 years when I found out I would be getting a bigger raise that year. I had gotten a 2% raise each of the previous year, but this one was going to be 7%. I was excited. Until I realized the minimum wage was being increased so I would be making the same as new hires. I was unexcited.
Robin Hobb deftly captures the mood I imagine those ancient workers had, because it’s what I felt. Assassin’s Apprentice is framed as the earliest memories of a boy who suddenly found himself to be a prince. An early scene involves a stable boy who is upset because the prince has been given special training and a horse from the king. Looking back, the older prince writes that he heard something more than jealousy in the servant’s tone. “I have since come to know that many men always see another’s good fortune as a slight to themselves.”
For me, that meant each time a new worker came into my office, I felt something more personal than simple jealousy. I felt like management was saying that my years of dedication and experience apparently meant nothing. When I saw how fortunate others were, there was a part of me that felt disrespected. And because of that perceived snub, I was less thankful than I had been for smaller raises in the past. My bosses, just like the king and landowner, were in reality just being generous. But I lost sight of that as I was looking at the good luck of those around me.
The truth is that it is much harder to be grateful when you focus on the good things received by others.