The Dignity of Work

Is there anyone more important than the one who serves you a hot coffee, with a smile and one of those divine teeny-tiny buttery biscuits on the side?  Or the clued-in shop assistant who jumps on the free till because they can see you’re weighed down and weighing up the merits of continuing to wait.  The Garda who gives you a warning and not the ticket…  I’m not saying that’s happened to me, I’m just saying, you know, imagine that.  Some fabulous people have a real vocation.

Shockingly, I’ve never worked in Hollywood.  But then, not everyone can or would even want to.  We all hear the Hollywood gossip and know of the misfortunates who have veered off the tracks;  Lindsay Lohan, remember that car crash?  Ben Affleck unfortunately seems to be following suit – and there was the guy from Different Strokes.  Tom Cruise and Mel Gibson certainly both had their brush with, let’s be kind, ‘nuttyness’.  These fallen stars all proved themselves to be human and not every mere mortal can play the fame game forever.  So what of those who disappear from the silver screen altogether?

Actor Geoffrey Owens, (remember him?) who once played Elvin, Sondra Hustable’s husband on The Cosby Show, was exposed and publicly humiliated for – deep breath now – working in a supermarket.  I mean, could somebody actually, please stop the lights?  It’s a hot story full of shift work, work-place banter and tea-with-biscuit breaks.  I’ll agree – it’s not very rock & roll, but we all need to make ends meet.  Following an ‘outing’ by some genius on social media he underwent a public process of general ridicule, which left him feeling ‘devastated’… for about five minutes.  Until he and the vast majority of balanced, right-thinking people realised this shaming exercise was all wrong.  Can a person not be respected for working hard at an honest job?  Whatever about different career paths offering varied levels of remuneration and power, shouldn’t the respect bestowed on all people who work – whatever their job is – be somewhat equal?

I type this as so many kick off their third level of education – the level which should hone and harness strengths and skills and likes and teach one how to make a living from something they will hopefully be good at and enjoy.  Isn’t that the dream?  Even at that, a job is only ever one facet of our being.  There is a bigger picture.

Speaking some time ago Brian Dyson, Coca-Cola’s former CEO, made an interesting assertion in relation to work/life balance:  “Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air.  You name them work, family, health, friends and spirit.  And you’re keeping all of these in the air.  You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball.  If you drop it, it will bounce back.  But the other four balls are made of glass.  If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered.  They will never be the same.  You must understand that and strive for balance in your life.”

You are not a job.  A job just happens to be one aspect of you.

Out of all of this embarrassing-for-the-state-of-the-human-race has come an interesting lesson, as Owens himself spoke about the ‘honour of the working person and the dignity of work’.  We are all aware of the ridiculous snobbery that has been constructed around different job types and, as Owens himself put it there needs to be a ‘reevaluation of the idea that some jobs are better than others’.

Why do we continue to judge and rank people based on their job title or profession?  And worse still, revel in perceived failings and falls?  I’m hoping it’s just a hangover from the reverence once reserved for priests, big farmers and bankers, which I feel we’re definitely recovering from.  I would hope we are now slightly more evolved and less judgemental.  Mine is a generation pro- ‘live and let live’, ‘follow your dream’, ‘we’re all equal’, right?

I’ll be optimistic and hope we’re getting there.  Because whatever about the reality of needing to get a job, some people really, really need to get a life.


The noble art of wall building – not exactly glamorous, but a lasting legacy


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