What kind of work do we value?

If your kid loves to fiddle with electronics, will you encourage her to be an electrician or maybe a mechanic?   Did you think it was weird that I just said “her” in that last sentence?

What if your son loves to sew?  Will you tell him he could be a tailor?

My guess is that the answers will be “no”.  You might tell your kid she could be  an electrical engineer, perhaps an automotive designer, or your son that he could be in fashion design, because those ‘careers’ have status and sound more like something someone should want to do.

And that’s one of our biggest problems.

We don’t value our laboreres.  We would NEVER encourage our child to pursue such a profession.  They are all going to be artists, doctors, inventors of Facebook; they will be EXTRAORDINARY!!

How about an extraordinary mechanic?  An artistic house painter?  An alterations expert?   Aren’t those things every bit as valuable?

Of course they are.   Not only are they valuable, they are necessary.   If no one washes the dishes in a restaurant, that restaurant is not going to be in business for long.  If no one knows how to repair a car, we’re going to need to find a different mode of transportation in super short order.

If no one drives the bus, a lot of people are going to be late for work and find themselves walking really long distances.

And if no one cleans the rest area bathroom, it will take less than one afternoon for it to become a health hazard.  I know this first hand, having spent an entire summer cleaning two rest areas outside my hometown.

Do you know that in the three months that I worked there – a summer job – not one person said thank you as I cleaned the god-awfulest messes left by other patrons?    My co-workers and I might have been invisible.   I imagine it is the same way people used to treat lepers.  If someone has had to stoop so low as to clean restrooms for a living, they must be beneath acknowledgement.

But we all expect the restrooms to be clean.

Telling every children that success can only be found by way of college (and probably grad school) reinforces this prejudice against laborers.   In other words, if you take a job for which no college degree is required, you are “lesser”; a failure and must be treated as such.  You will not be paid a living wage and should not be proud of your work.   No matter that such work is essential for our society to function.

In Europe this is not the case.   As I was reminded during our recent trip to Germany, manual laborers are valued.  Children are not all expected to have 4 year degrees.  Schools acknowledge the trades and encourage kids to do what is best for them.   Trade schools flourish, as do the universities.   Apprenticeships abound.

A lot of people in this country like to talk about “values”.   In my opinion, our values when it comes to the worth we place on various types of work are among the worst in the world.

Want to test that theory?   Think about all the people who do work that makes your daily life happen;  the grocery clerks & bank tellers; the guy at the gas station and the mechanic who fixed your transmission;  the busboy at your favorite restaurant and the garbage man.    The street sweeper, the tollbooth attendant, and the people who clean the restrooms in any public place.

Now take those people away and leave that work undone.

Terrible, right?  What would your life look like without those “invisible” people?  But would you want your kid to do any of those jobs?  Not for the summer, but as their career?  It’s difficult, right?   When your friends ask, “And what does your son do?”, you don’t want to say “He’s a rest park attendant.”

The question is, why not?  If a person is happy in his work and can take pride in the job she does while making enough to support him/herself, isn’t that what we should value?


One comment on “What kind of work do we value?

  1. Steven Davis says:

    Actually, I’ve been telling friends and family that I want my 18 month old daughter to become an electrician.

    The reactions are highly entertaining. Especially when I say that I’m serious about it.

    You can’t outsource electricians to Asia 😉

    I do think that there is a distinction in Europe between skilled laborers (most jobs with apprentice programs) and “non-skilled” general laborers… and certainly before we all up and emigrate, there are some serious class and ethnic problems in these countries.

    As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to appreciate the difference between “live to work” and “work to live”… and there is a huge difference between a person’s work and the person’s value.

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