By Suzanne Sparrow Watson
In 2004 I was watching Hardball, the show formerly hosted by Chris Matthews, when his guest for the evening was Donna Brazile. Ms. Brazile was coming off an unsuccessful stint as Al Gore’s campaign manager and at that time was the chair of the Democratic National Committee’s Voting Rights Institute. On that episode of Hardball, she was asked about Tom DeLay, who was the House Majority Leader. DeLay had made millions in the pest control business before entering politics (where he no doubt made millions more). She made a derogatory comment about DeLay being “just a pest exterminator”, which in her estimation made him unequal to his task. Matthews stopped the interview and told Brazile that being an exterminator was honest work and that in his religion “to work was to pray”. Matthews also noted that DeLay had been a successful exterminator while she was a failed presidential campaign manager. He finished by saying, “There is honor in all work.”
I couldn’t agree more with that sentiment, which is why I am a bit befuddled by the high number of job openings in this country. Work is good, and there is nothing like the satisfaction of doing a job well. There are innumerable articles that have been published over the years about the benefits of working and they mostly boil down to a few things. Work provides structure. When all else is falling apart, it is good to have a place to go every day that provides stability. A workplace can also provide friendship. Sometimes it’s our friends at work that make a job bearable, especially when the boss is a jerk. Nothing better than having a common enemy to bring people closer. Work also provides money. This seems obvious, but for anyone who has ever wondered how they are going to pay rent or buy food, a good job is invaluable. When basic needs are taken care of a job can provide the cash to do fun things, like planning a vacation away from work.
If you are fortunate to find a job that you love, and that gives you opportunity to expand your horizon, work can go a long way toward a positive sense of self and becoming expert in your field. Personally, I love watching people who are good at their jobs, whether it’s the street cleaner or a mechanic. There is a poetry in watching skilled hands do what they’ve been trained to do.
So why are so many people choosing to stay home? And how in the heck are they supporting themselves? I’ve been told it’s the “gig economy”, where people pick up jobs as they feel like it and jump from place to place. While the freedom that provides sounds enticing, I question how satisfying that is in the long run. In my father’s generation people worked for the same company until they were ushered out with a gold watch. My generation was influenced by the “Me, Inc.” philosophy, where people divorced themselves from lifetime employment and took more control of their careers. These days it seems like it’s a free for all.
Of course, COVID has not helped the situation. There has been a great, and unfair, divide between people who could easily work from home in their pajamas and those essential workers who were asked to show up regardless of how rampant the virus was in their community. And then, of course, those people were subjected to some customers who treated them poorly. That might explain why people are reluctant to return to work – who needs the abuse?
I recall my own experience with a bad customer. After I retired from banking, I took a job one day a week in a yarn store. One day a woman came in. I didn’t know her but was aware that she lived in my community. Without preamble she began to make demands, messed up the inventory and generally treated me as her personal servant. Twenty minutes into her visit a mutual acquaintance walked in who commented to the nasty woman, “You know, Suzanne also lives in our community.” The customer’s jaw dropped to the floor, as she said rather incredulously, “You do??!!!” After that she bent over backwards to be nice to me. But it was too late. I knew who she was. She was a nasty person, one who treated those she deemed beneath her in a despicable way. As it turned out, she was later brought up on charges at our club TWICE for berating our employees.
So maybe we all have a part to play in getting people back to work. We should honor all work…and be nice!