When I was 8 years old, I saw my first James Bond film, Goldfinger, which commenced a nearly-unceasing fascination with luxury watches. In the 1960s Bond films, 007 wore the iconic Rolex Submariner, exquisitely befitting the secret double-life of a naval commander and Casanova. But in subsequent films, other Bonds wore different watches, including the like of Seiko, Breitling, and Omega.

Despite that they were all technologically fascinating and individually unique, the Rolex always stood out to me. Thanks to Bond, the Submariner became an unequivocal symbol of the debonair, and it was something I simply had to have one day. I’ve wanted one ever since; well, until recently.

Don’t get me wrong. Watches can be impeccable works of art, exhibiting true aesthetic genius. Jaeger LeCoultre, for example, known for making the best watch movements in the world, specializes in tourbillion watches that sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s quite an investment, to be sure.

What makes a tourbillion watch like the ones made by Jaeger LeCoutlre particularly worthy of an art collection are its few thousand independently moving parts, woven together by hand like the finest silk. Every microscopic part represents an intricate filament of a patchwork masterpiece, which in the end takes highly skilled technicians up to two years to complete. The finished product is astoundingly beguiling, though. Accurate? Most definitely. In fact, LeCoultre tourbillion watches are so accurate that they’re not off time by more than a second to the leap year! Surely, nothing short of a chef-d’œuvre. But still…

“Excrement.”

Thank you, Robin Williams, for such an appropriate poetic expression. All that watch really does is tell time. That’s it. Just the time. Some watches, like those by Movado, don’t even do that much (since they don’t have hour or minute markers, forcing you to make a general guess).

Of all the most futile things in the world, the tourbillion watch may top the charts. John Mayer, if you’re listening, your multi-million-dollar time-telling device collection does nothing more for you than help you stylishly arrive on stage at the right time. Oh wait, that’s right, you have stage managers to help you accomplish that. Well don’t worry, John, I understand. It’s an easy trap.

I tried many times over the years to convince myself about the futility of the watch, but it never really sank in until now. Would you like to know what finally shed the shiny scales from my eyes? Sadly, it was something that most of us don’t really think or do very much about.

Poor, single women with kids. Yes, that needs some qualifying. Being out on the road gives you plenty of time to think about things, like I mentioned in my last post. But beyond that, you also see a lot of things, too, that you may not see if cooped up in an office cubicle or suburban neighborhood. Over the last year and a half, I’ve met several starving women; most of them having kids to feed as well. Many were waitresses, others were beggars on the streets. I could see the diminished hope in their eyes, and I could hear the despair in the ways they drudged on with their lives—thinking there was literally no way out.

After talking in depth with a few, I learned that most of them came from broken homes, have had multiple divorces, and lacked familial support. One young lady, about my age, had a son who had a rare stomach disease that left him incapable of eating or drinking just about anything without having an acid reflux-like reaction. You should have seen his face light up when, after buying him his special hamburger with no bun, I said let’s get you a Coke, too. I’d buy him a thousand more to see him smile again. His mother, astonishingly, never asked for a thing.

And this experience was similar to many others. It made me think about the incredible resilience required of women in our era. Yes, required.

Having spent most of my adolescent life a fairly conservative Christian, studied the Bible relentlessly, and gained understanding of various theological positions in-and-out, I noticed there was one doctrine that seemed obvious, plain, yet also completely unapplied: care for poor women and children. The Bible clearly suggests it’s important to provide for the poor, especially women and children. Which is all to say that such a dogma plays an interesting role for me now, posing a psychological backdrop from which my feelings and existential agitation stem from.

Back in the day (even many still today), women spent the majority of their time in domesticity, caring for their children and often helping with odd jobs around the house. They were expected to, they had few alternative options.

Now, many and innumerably more women are active workers in our vast and complex economy. They’re expected, by a neo-liberal dogma to fend for themselves just as man have been expected of for thousands of years before. Indeed, the two are still incomparable; most women still navigate a complex cultural paradigm of competing visions. But there is no doubt we have progressed toward a liberation of women, which is a wonderful thing. But after those I’ve met, I wonder how this new ideology impacts women who are poor and destitute?

Each of the poor women I’ve met felt completely determined to figure things out on their own. They highly appreciated gifts for their children, but they were reluctant to accept gifts themselves. They wanted to be overcomers. There could be myriad reasons for this, but it was regardless a surprisingly common thread.

Perhaps they wondered if a young, single man could have good intentions. Or perhaps their reluctance signaled a belief in the American dream, providing determined women of our complex society the hope of pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps. Many other reasons come to mind. It seems clear rather obvious to me that the liberation of women in our age may make it harder for some women, requiring them to be resilient and independent. And yet, these women I’ve seen are in dire need. It’s a dilemma to be sure.

I bet you’re still wondering what this has to do with a Rolex. Just hang on, nearly there.

So, curious about the situation of the destitute American woman with kids, I dug deeper. Depending on the reports you read, there are approximately 3.5 million impoverished single women with children in the United States. Most of them work 1-2 highly underpaying jobs that make it logistically impossible to on top of that care for their children without expensive (usually unaffordable) assistance. These mothers make less than $15,000 per year, and wonder if they’ll be able to feed, clothe, and raise their children.

Of the several that I spoke to at length, they feel public welfare is, of course, too bureaucratic and hard to navigate. Oddly, the programs are innumerable, as I’ve researched. But when you think through the time those mothers have after meeting all of their basic obligations, you soon realize that expecting them to take a few more hours each week to complete paper applications for government subsidies acts like a third part-time job. Many women won’t even try because they know it’s too tough of a process. This situation seems ridiculous to me.

But what can I do? I can’t make the bureaucracy more easily navigable. That would take years of political maneuvering, maybe to no avail at all. A few women I met who did not have kids, beggars who were clearly destitute and deprived of any reasonable ability to obtain food or decent clothing, were equally dismayed. So I realized that there may be something to this Biblical thing about giving. But what’s the best way?

That was when it hit me. The watch had to go. And millions more with it, I should say.

Rolex manufactures nearly a million watches per year that sell on average for at least $7500 per watch. That means that around the globe, just for one watch brand, people are wasting nearly $10 billion per year on something completely futile. If those rich 1%ers gave their watch money, they could bring a quarter of the impoverished women with kids in the United States up from poverty for an entire year, enabling many of them to find better jobs, go to school, or provide for their starving, deprived children.

A man needs no watch when he can tell time by the number of lives he changes. So I’ve decided to end my desire for the Rolex and instead donate the money I would have spent on it to various organizations or single women with children I meet along my travels. It’s certainly no long-term solution, but when I compare the ideas of buying a nice watch or helping someone out, there’s a markedly clear decision: sell a watch, save a woman (and her kids, too).

Now that’s a better movement.

Tom

Tom

Management consultant, entrepreneur, sociologist, and blogger, Tom sees things differently. In his writing, he offers a unique perspective on a wide range of American business, culture, political, and social justice issues.

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