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Monday, May 3, 2010

THE DIGNITY OF WORK

I had a friend who used to be very class conscious when it came to work. He wouldn't socialize with other people he deemed below him and was very choosy when it came to where he lived. If the wrong class of workers were in the neighborhood, he wouldn't visit the area (let alone move into it). It had nothing to do with race or religion, only the types of jobs people had. In his mind, there was a clear delineation between people based strictly on their livelihood; e.g., blue collar labor, technical people, middle management, professional people, and executives. I guess we are all a little class conscious about how people make a living, a kind of one-upmanship, but I never saw it quite this vividly before.

This bothered me because I believe in the dignity and honor of any job, regardless how mundane it may seem. This caused me to do some soul-searching as to why I felt this way and I suppose it is because I am acutely aware of my family's history; e.g., how we came to this country from Scotland, which certainly wasn't in a luxury liner, how we struggled to get a foothold here, how we survived the Great Depression, and how we prospered following World War II.

Like many of you, I can recall the menial jobs both my grandfather and father performed to help the family survive. Interestingly, they never complained about it but, rather, always spoke with pride of how well they did their jobs. For instance, my grandfather used to be employed by the Wickwire Steel Company in Buffalo, New York where he ran a machine to make the rebar mesh used in such things as concrete sidewalks. It was certainly not a glamorous job. In fact, it was rather difficult as the machines would frequently break down. Instead of waiting for the machine to be fixed by someone else, as his union wanted him to do, he learned how to fix the machine himself. He figured he couldn't get paid if the machine was idle, so he devoted his own personal time to learn as much about it as he could. His knowledge of the machines grew to the point where he eventually became the head of maintenance. Whereas he could have done nothing, instead he elected to take a proactive approach.

To my grandfather's way of thinking, his job was no better or worse than anyone else's. He was just thankful he had one and did it to the best of his ability. This taught me you should not look down your nose at anyone for the job they have, but rather how well they perform it. I have much more respect for the common uneducated laborer who knows what he is doing as opposed to a well educated professional who is a derelict.

It is fundamental to the human spirit that we all believe we are leading a worthy and honorable life. Since work is an inherent part of our life, how meaningful our job is depends on what we make of it. If we take a defeatist attitude and treat it as a triviality, we will suffer from low self-esteem and become jealous of others. However, if we adopt a professional attitude towards our job, regardless of its magnitude, we will have a more positive sense of self worth.

With this said, I don't understand the obsession a lot of High School Guidance Counselors have in pushing students towards a college education. Not everyone is predisposed to attending college, some are better served by going into a trade school or the military. Yet, many guidance counselors pooh-pooh such institutions thereby creating a snobbish attitude towards them. Believe me, there is nothing dishonorable about learning mechanics, auto repair, plumbing, carpentry, or serving in the military. Imagine where we would be without such professions.

One of the main reasons I have enjoyed my time in the Masons is that we are taught regardless of your station in life, everyone serves on the level. In other words, everyone has an equal say regardless of who they are, thereby taking ego out of the formula and creating a sense of cooperation.

I do not know how well we are passing this lesson of work dignity to our young people, but I fear we are creating a generation of people who are more class conscious than the last, and never satisfied with the job they have, regardless what it is. From a psychological point of view, this should have profound long term effects on our productivity and our culture.

Keep the Faith!

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Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

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