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The system never fully worked, but sharing is good

By Hannah Selinger | RAW STORY COLUMNIST

No one really wants to read about Communism anymore, but since I worked as a waitress—okay, server—at a high-end New York restaurant, the concept has been on my mind. The New York restaurant scene is consistently interesting and the modus operandi is even more so.


I worked in what is commonly referred to as a pooled house, which means that tips—no matter how much an individual brings in individually—were split equally. On nights that I sold our most expensive wines and entrees to the best Big Apple tippers, I divided what I’ve earned with the rest of the house.

Needless to say, this is an experiment in the successes and pitfalls of a socialist society. The good parts are plentiful; when a server gets weeded (waitspeak for “too busy to function”), it is the responsibility of the entire house to pick up the slack. The house does this out of respect for the concept of teamwork and, more importantly, out of a selfish desire to protect the common monetary interest.

Conceptually, this inspires in my coworkers different reactions. One particularly obnoxious workmate of mine constantly complained that some servers didn’t hold up their end of the bargain. They’re lazy, he says, or they don’t sell the same amount of food as he does. No doubt some of this is true. Some of us are lazy and some of us don’t know the difference between Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris and could, therefore, never be expected to sell anything but moderately priced stuff.

But if the system didn’t work in some capacity, one would expect that New York’s premier dining havens wouldn’t have adopted it in the first place. At the end of the day, the good points of a pooled house—the sense of community, the understanding that you will be taken care of if you get weeded, the knowledge that everyone is actually working together for a common purpose—outweigh the bad ones.

I bring all of this up because people learn of my extreme political views and, often, accuse me of being a Communist, as if being a Communist were something shameful. My experience with Communism—Communism in the loosest sense—however, has made me more, and not less, inclined to agree with the philosophy behind it. People’s best behavior and best intentions are never extracted from selfish endeavors. That is to say, when one works and lives entirely for himself, he shows nothing of what he can give back to the human community. When, however, a communal society is forced upon a person, as it is in my restaurant, some of the best human traits are allowed to shine.

I see it for what it’s worth. I see people crumble under the weight of other people’s responsibilities and I see people rise to the occasion. I myself wonder, at times, why I have been burdened with work that is not specifically mine, and I feel guilty when I cannot take charge of the work that is specifically mine.

But that’s an American mindset. We are possessionists, obsessed with belongings and ownership. We are a nation of deeds and titles, a nation mired in proving what we have. In the end, if we have shelter and freedom and family, that should be enough to sate any of us.

The fact that the fulfillment of these needs isn’t enough is disconcerting, because if a pooled house is a microcosm of that elusive Communist society that has never entirely worked, the one truth is that success is a (distant?) possibility. But we need to divorce ourselves from the idea that each of us is directly responsible for certain things and take a more proactive role in living life. As the environment, economy, and government continue to suffer varying degrees of trauma, it feels increasingly important that we leave our individual bubbles and join a community. Call it a manifesto, or call it a practical approach to changing the world, but it seems to me that we could all be better people if we learned what our teachers tried to impart in kindergarten: sharing is good.

Hannah Selinger is a weekly contributor to Raw Story .


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