“Valuing Our Neighbor’s Labor,” Ensign, Sept. 1996, 27
Some time ago we were witnesses to a failed deal between two friends. One of the men, a lawyer, offered to draw up a simple will for the other, an artist, in exchange for a family portrait. The artist was deeply offended because the value of a family portrait was hundreds of dollars more than the lawyer’s usual fee for a will. However, the lawyer thought he was giving the artist a good deal but simply didn’t know how to value the work of an artist.
Undervaluing the work or professional services of others is an easy mistake to make. While I was speaking with a sister who had labored more than 5,000 hours to make a magnificent quilt, a woman who admired the quilt offered her $300 for it. The lady meant no harm, but in effect she had offered to pay less than six cents an hour for the labor alone, not to mention the cost of materials.
Such misunderstandings are not uncommon. Of course, in many such instances no offense is taken and certainly not intended. A seller need not be offended if a potential buyer does not know the monetary value of a product or service. Neither can a person be blamed for seeking a good deal. That’s all understood in most any bartering situation. Rather, the problem is if we become so blinded by self-interest that we ignore or intentionally undervalue or discount the efforts and contributions of others. This offense can be particularly acute, of course, if we are dealing with friends.
Looking for a bargain at another’s expense is not the Lord’s way. The prophet Jeremiah said, “Woe unto him … that useth his neighbour’s service without wages, and giveth him not for his work” (Jer. 22:13). In the Latter-day Saint community, in which we associate with so many talented and giving people, we may be inclined, on the basis of friendship or even mere acquaintance, to request their professional help and expect to pay very little or nothing for it. Such presumption, though possibly innocent, is unbecoming, especially if we appear to be more interested in finding a bargain than in being mindful of the feelings of others.
If we do not know how to gauge the value of another’s services we are seeking, a simple inquiry will help yield the information we need to arrive at a fair and mutually acceptable offer. We show how much we value the efforts of others if we seek not to gain unfair advantage but to be fair and gracious in our dealings. We also show appreciation for them by paying them promptly or honoring any other conditions we agreed upon.
Sometimes people volunteer their labor with no expectation of any form of repayment. Such gifts of time and service come from the heart, given freely and generously as a service in behalf of the Savior. Such selfless, charitable sacrifice is of great value, whether it comes from a child raking leaves, a woman crocheting afghans, or a professional person offering services without charge to one in need. When I think how poorly I have thanked people for their free loving help over the years, I feel deep shame. It has not been my intention to undervalue another’s sacrifice; it has been ignorance.
I now try to remember my own follies when someone asks my husband’s professional help as a “small favor.” I help him stay awake as he labors through the night to accomplish that which would ordinarily require much longer and then smile secretly as he turns down the token payment offered.
Whether the help we seek from others from time to time is given on condition of payment, as an exchange of goods or services, or as a free, generous gift of time or service, we do well to remember the Golden Rule (see Matt. 7:12) and King Benjamin’s counsel to “render to every man according to that which is his due” (Mosiah 4:13). In so doing, we will appreciate the great value of our neighbor’s labor. Moreover, we will value their goodwill and friendship as the priceless gifts they are.