On the Dignity, and Value, of All Work, at Every Level of Work – Insight from Linda Tirado, Hand to Mouth

“My stint as a low wage worker/journalist had only one major effect on me: It moved me from concern about the exploitation of low-wage workers – to something more like rage.”
Barbara Ehrenreich (Author of Nickel and Dimed: on Not Getting By in America)
In the foreword to Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America by Linda Tirado

If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, “Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”
No work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.
• Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The society which scorns excellence in plumbing as a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy: neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.
• John W. Gardner


Hand to MouthI heard a stimulating and provocative interview with Linda Tirado by Krys Boyd on her radio program Think. (You can listen to the interview here). I listened; I quickly downloaded the sample pages of Ms. Tirado’s book Hand to Mouth, and started reading. And I started thinking.

One statement in the interview with Ms. Tirado was especially striking. (I’m paraphrasing – from memory). She said that, in reality, there were lots of folks for whom work as a server was it! They were going to do that work for the rest of their life. They just were not going to go to college, and get a “better job.” Shouldn’t we honor that; shouldn’t that be enough to provide at least the basics, and a little more?

I think she is right about this. My goodness, we certainly all rely on such workers. Do we value them and their work? Do I value them and their work – Do you?

If we as a society tell everyone “you should aspire to more than what you are now” – if we say that to every server, or sales clerk, or garbage collector, or street sweeper or… then we are saying “what you do does not matter.”

And it does matter. And they matter!

We need excellence in servers, in street sweepers, in all workers, at all “levels” of the workplace. We want them, we need them to be good at their jobs. And if we do not value that work, and the people doing that work, and reward that work, then we are devaluing not just their work, but their very worth and value as members of our community.

If you've never read this, it's time.  It is a "classic."
If you’ve never read this, it’s time. It is a “classic.”

Shame on each of us…

After listening, and reading, I understood better about the “rage” Ms. Ehrenreich felt, and wrote about.


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