Working Wounded Blog: Rewarding Freaks

News Flash: The "Runaway Bride," Jennifer Wilbanks, signed a $500,000 book deal.

Duluth, Ga., officials were not pleased when they heard that Wilbanks had signed a half million-dollar deal to tell her "story" of running away just before her lavish wedding. Especially after Wilbanks surfaced on the other side of the country and compounded her troubles by lying to authorities and claiming she'd been kidnapped. If you missed the story of the Runaway Bride, you don't read newspapers, you don't watch cable news or you're just lucky.

The mayor of Duluth, Shirley Lasseter, said, "I think it's a shame that anybody could profit from this," according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Lasseter has a good reason for being upset about Wilbanks' cashing in on her story. Duluth spent $43,000 on the Runaway Bride's search and has yet to see a penny for its troubles. The city's chances of a book deal can be summed up as nonexistent.

This humble blogger is not interested in robbing anyone of their 15 minutes of fame. And as far as her cashing in, I adopt a simple rule: If someone was willing to pay the ex-Runaway Bride six figures, then she isn't overpaid. The market established her price and she got it.

I am, however, concerned about the rest of us and what this says about people who punch the clock each day. Call me a sentimental fool, but I really do believe that work can be a noble undertaking and that the Runaway Brides of the world somehow diminish it for everyone else. People like the supermarket cashier in Oakland who collects recipes to give to shoppers who don't know how to prepare a meal using the food they just purchased. The bus driver in Seattle who serenades passengers on his bus route. The boss, who someone wrote me an e-mail about, who gave an employee the day off to be with her sick dog.

I know you are thinking that I'm naïve, but I do believe that every person who works an honest living can only scratch their head when someone breaks the law, lies about it and is rewarded with a big paycheck. It's tough to not wonder why you should follow the rules when big rewards appear to come from taking shortcuts.

If life were fair, a certain supermarket cashier, bus driver and boss (and yes, some bosses do actually deserve our respect) would get their 15 minutes of fame and big rewards for their service above and beyond the call of duty.

So what lies ahead? More Runaway Brides and fingers in the chili at Wendy's, I fear. The more we pay attention to and reward a freak show, the more freaks we'll have to get used to.

But there is something that each of us can do to recognize and reward the excellent performers that you see every day at work; give 'em a big thank you and pat on the back. Remember, this is the kind of behavior that we want to encourage.

Quote of the week:
"Suffer fools gladly. They may be right." -- Holbrook Jackson

Weekly book excerpt:
From "The Boss's Survival Guide" by Rosner, Halcrow & Lavin (McGraw Hill, 2001)

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