Let’s talk about taking on a new commitment. It is based on the experience of my friend, Bob and his wife, Pam. (Of course, their names have been changed to protect the innocent.)
Before we begin here’s a reminder. It is important to remember that the amount of Time, Energy, Resources and Funds (TERF) that each of us has is limited. Whatever TERF we use for any purpose, we give up whatever else it could have provided. Of necessity in that context, there are our prior priorities. They include, first and foremost, taking responsibility for taking care of ourselves and fulfilling any obligations that we have taken on, as well as any prior commitments we made — in that order. Fulfilling those priorities requires some of our Time, Energy, Resources and Funds. In order to take on any additional commitments is necessary to have Surplus TERF. Without additional Surplus TERF the performance of the prior obligations will be compromised.
Bob is a fine woodworker in his late 60s. He is actively pursuing his passion and career. He keeps coming up with new ideas and products. Bob is especially known for his Adirondack chairs which are made from unfinished local Eastern red cedar with stainless steel hardware. They weather naturally and beautifully. Pam is a teacher who works with preschool children some of whom are developmentally disabled. It is their second marriage. They live on a 1.5 acre property in rural North Carolina about an hour south of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area where we met. Their house, along with the workshop, was designed and built by Bob. They enjoy hanging out with each other and going to concerts and NASCAR races together. They have some goats and other animals on the property.
Bob and Pam went to an animal rescue center and decided to take on the commitment of taking care of a King George spaniel . The pooch had a prior history and had been returned to the center twice. Her name is Daisy. Habitually at 3 o’clock in the morning Daisy came into the bedroom and started barking. To put it mildly that was disruptive. Add to that the medication for a heart problem cost them $100 dollars a month along with her special dog food. Talk about an unexpected commitment that cut into their TERF!
Bob and Pam decided to return Daisy to the shelter so that she did not cut into their peaceful night sleep. It is important to recognize that fulfilling any commitment requires TERF over and above the amount we expended previously. In order to ensure that there is enough TERF available to sustain the prior activities, it must come from Surplus TERF — over and above that required to meet those objectives. A certain amount of the TERF is always required to perform sequence of tasks necessary to meet any desired objective. Unless all the components required to complete the new project come out of Surplus TERF it cuts into our ability to successfully perform the obligations and commitments that take priority — that includes taking care of ourselves.
Taking on additional commitments is more difficult, or impossible, for those at the lower-end of the income distribution. Some individuals and households just do not have sufficient TERF to take care of themselves and fulfill their obligations. Furthermore, regardless of whether we take the likely consequences of our actions beforehand or not, once we take on the commitment we bear the consequences. That includes both the expected and unexpected and the favorable, and the unfavorable, ones. Furthermore, when the experience is a new and novel, like COVID-19, there are bound to be unexpected effects, that are simply not predictable ahead of time. Under those circumstances it is useful to have additional Surplus TERF in order to adjust to those outcomes, like additional hospital beds and ventilators. The new circumstances can also make it necessary to reorder one’s previous priorities. The pandemic is a classic example.
We always have to remember that it is necessary to have enough Surplus TERF to take care of the unexpected glitches that are bound to happen, including the perversity of inanimate objects, like the times when we turn the key and the car won’t start or when we wake up with a severe headache. Circumstances that require some of the Surplus TERF, including taking on any new commitment, not only applies to individuals and households, it is relevant for firms, governments, organizations, institutions and for society as well.