In Support of Bribery

I am an unapologetic fan of bribery. Not the transactional type - a fistful of cash in exchange for some insidious deed - but the act of rewarding someone for enduring the demands of daily life. The key to making bribery meaningful, however, is to recognize what is rare and meaningful to each recipient. This takes effort and, often, personal time. It’s also what separates this kind of mindfulness from simple subornation. So, for instance, my daughter was an obsessive bookworm as a child - she wanted, more than anything, for people to read to her before she could read herself. So when I dragged her along on countless errands and long dinners, the promise was always that we’d read an extra chapter in Harry Potter before bed, or we’d go to Books on the Square to choose our next book. Did I fall asleep reading as we lay in her bed? Often. Did she nudge me awake so she would get her reward? Always.

I find that this type of bribery has only increased in value as I age - though I’m often scouring the recesses of my brain for what I truly need to fulfill the day’s responsibilities with joy. These days, I generally lure myself into extra hours of work or obligations with the promise of time: to read, to go for a walk, to try, in whatever way, to really escape the imposed pace of the world. But a lot of that down time is inevitably tied to home and the need to have it feel - sincerely - like a respite from outside pressures. Creature comforts may be silly things but they work in a visceral and meaningful manner: the smell of your favorite candle is transportive, the taste of a perfect cookie is a respite from the pull of opposing tasks, the embrace of your bed is the ultimate prize for running yourself ragged all day. 

Perhaps the only issue lies in what we call the rewards that genuinely make us feel valued. Prioritizing the happiness of a person who gives of themselves to the world in some small way - simply by offering patience or kindness or generosity - is a gift that creates some order in a world that increasingly seems bent toward chaos. It’s not that the items themselves - a snack, a book, a nap - are worth much monetarily. We value those items because making the time to offer them to others and to ourselves make it clear that we are worth protecting and nourishing. So if you feel you need a bribe just to do what needs to be done, embrace it. The most critical commerce is the one that prioritizes self-confidence, resilience, and the desire to do it all over again tomorrow.