A short time ago, my priest gave a sermon that addressed the deep sorrow and sense of worthlessness internalized by our parishioners that were unemployed. The point of the sermon, actually, was how the unemployed felt “useless” and demeaned for being unable to provide for their families, but that nobody in God’s family should ever feel useless or demeaned. Fine sentiments.
It struck me, though, that we miss a big part of what work represents: contribution. We work to contribute to our society. The value of that contribution to society is often measured by the money we make (profit is a measure of value creation). Whether you design a new i-gizmo, manage a postal delivery room, mop floors or serve-up burgers at the big-M, you are contributing and, as such, your work is noble. A mind game that I like to play when people speak of certain work being beneath them is to ask, what if that job just disappeared: no ditch diggers, no burger flippers, no cleaning people, no garbage collectors (oops, “sanitation engineers)? Not a pretty picture, is it?
I once reminded my kids of this when they made fun of fast-food service workers. Both ended up working as restaurant help (my son worked at Taco Bell). It was good for them.
I suspect that much of the angst and ennuie that we see among the unemployed, trust-fund babies and the badly-employed (i.e., those that knowingly cause damage to society) is a deep seated awareness that they are not contributing. This leads to anger, antisocial behaviors and tantrums. In many case, not only they not contributing, but they feed off the productivity of the contributors. That certainly doesn’t contribute to self-esteem. On the other hand, if you contribute, you don’t need to feel bad about yourself. I am at an age where my peers love nothing more than to mentor younger employees and pass on the knowledge they have accumulated over their careers. There is a wonderful light in the eyes of these veterans – they are contributing!
Unfortunately, I sense that our society has been drifting away from this. Work is seen by too many as something that one is forced to do in order to survive, a necessary drudgery. Wage slaves. It’s so unfair! Too many people choose professions because they want to make money, rather than by their sense of how they will contribute. I have known many such people, some very wealthy, most of whom were profoundly unhappy.
That’s too bad. I suspect that one big reason our country is in decline is because we measure tend to measure our lives by the material things we obtain rather than by how we contribute to society.
I suggest that one way we can really help our country is to re-ennoble the value of work by, as Book mentioned so eloquently in an earlier post, reframing its meaning. I don’t care what kind of work somebody does…just as long as they contribute, it is noble, it is good.
If you disagree with me, let me know. If you agree, then go let’s go and find some young kids and explain to them the nobility of work as a contribution to society. Don’t ask people what they do for a living, ask them how they “contribute”. I suggest that we could spread around quite a bit of happiness and self worth that way.
That’s just my two cents, of course.