“I’m frustrated. I have two master’s degrees and I’m working on my doctorate. I started teaching earning $17,000 a year. I’ve paid my dues.”

Skaneateles NY Superintendent Philip D’Angelo on Governor Andrew Cuomo's proposal to limit the salaries of superintendents across NY state

The question of paying one's dues sometimes comes up, and it can be a difficult one to respond to. Does someone pay dues by time? Does someone pay dues by accomplishment? Does someone pay dues with money? And if you've paid your dues, what should you expect?

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European Parliament via Compfight

I was asked to comment on the statement above, which of course means it generated this particular post. Whereas one would applaud the accomplishments of Mr. D'Angelo, his stating that he's paid his dues because of his degrees is illogical and ill-conceived. If the number of degrees is all it takes to say someone has paid their dues then there are a lot of educated people out there who could claim that same thing without ever having to produce anything.

Let's think about money for a quick moment. For many people, they had to pay their dues to earn the money they have, and many people do good things with that money. However, there are a lot of people that have money that didn't do anything with it. They sometimes feel a sense of entitlement, and think that if they do one selfless act a year that they've earned "dues" and the right to be less than a good human being any other time.

Frankly there's a lot of jerks that have money that will do good things, often for the tax break. If you didn't earn it yourself you have never paid any dues, and thus we have to throw out money.

Now let's look at time. This is a tough one to rate because I've heard many people utter a phrase like "I've been here 30 years and I've paid my dues; someone owes me." It's an interesting statement, but all that takes is to be able to survive and possibly have no drive to make it in a job 30 years.

If you've never threatened to reach any of the higher positions within a company then longevity gets you accolades for being able to stick it out, but I'm not sure it means you've paid any dues. A lot of bad employees have been able to last 30 years or more at a job; what dues would we say they've paid?

So then this brings us to accomplishments. Accomplishments are what gives people the right to expect certain things in my opinion, but within reason. As I told someone today, I've been in business for myself almost 10 years now, and I actually helped one hospital increase their revenue by $720 million in one year, more than double what they were bringing in before I got there.

To me, I've paid my dues and deserve to live the good life, so to speak. And yet, even with such a success, overwhelmingly people have no idea who I am, and thus whenever someone wants to subcontract with me they ask for a resume. Dues means nothing when people don't know who you are.

Then there are people who really have earned their dues for some of their accomplishments, yet don't get to carry it across the board into everything. Let's look at Mel Gibson. Oscar winner multiple times over, big time movie star, donated lots of money to charity and then built a church. Yet, in the last 5 years he's gone over the deep end with bad behavior, which I don't have to document here.

This was a guy who'd paid his dues and really could have been seen in a much brighter light, and now he's a late night comedian joke and vilified, especially after admitting that he hit the mother of one of his children, and of course after we've all heard some portion of those taped rants. So, dues doesn't give you absolution from bad behavior.

Finally there are some people who have earned their dues and thus have earned the right to say certain things. There are a number of people who have marched in protests, donated all types of money to causes, and spoken out in favor of freedom and equality of others. Those folks get at least an initial pass whenever they decide to speak up when it concerns their own, so to speak.

And the same goes for every parent who gave of themselves to raise their children the best they could, kept them from harm, helped them with their education, and guided them into adulthood with a chance to succeed. None of this means anyone gets a free pass from everything; but it means they've paid their dues, and thus are granted some laxity in some areas.

Think about how you might have paid some dues, if you have, and what you feel you deserve from it. Is it in proportion with reality? In actuality, the superintendent has probably paid dues based on the job he does; he was inarticulate in what he stated. I think I'll give him a pass.

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