Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Difference

When you work hard at something you believe in, something unfueled by the engine of commerce, your hands and your back get called into play pretty quickly. Yesterday was the annual Memorial Day fundraising picnic at the library in an exurban community not far from where I live. A highly-placed woman in that organization, who lives with me, advised me to take part on the grassroots level. I was on sign-making, photography, table-moving, cinderblock-hauling and street-sweeping duty.

How hard do you work for your job? If the printer chokes, do you slip your tie between the second and third button, roll up your sleeves, and stick your arm into the rollers like James Herriot birthing a calf? When you came in that morning, did you PLAN to get toner on yourself for the good of the company and for your own bottom line? Your own sense of satisfaction?

If you work with your hands for your livelihood, what made you choose your job? Good prospects in the field? Scarcity of willing labor? Lack of other opportunity? A particular skill?

Whomever you are, do you take on jobs you know will take time, get you dirty and pay nothing? Do you go out and collect garbage along the riverfront? Have you ever helped a family rebuild after a storm?

Maybe this past weekend, like me, you watched a parade dedicated to people who’ve taken on dirty jobs because they thought it would help. Sure, soldiers enlist for all kinds of reasons, informed and otherwise, noble and material. But mostly, these are people who’ve been taught to love something and are willing to protect it regardless of the cost. They see a job that they believe needs doing, and they step forward and agree to take it on, no matter how bad it’s going to get. That surrender has an inherent nobility.

Which makes it infinitely wrong to betray them with lies. It makes it wrong to taint their selflessness with commerce. It makes it immoral to luxuriate in wealth, security and ignorance while they toil at your command. It debases their choice; future soldiers can no longer make their choice in faith that their goodwill will go toward the envisioned good.

The “hard work” I did this weekend was not only easy, it was fun. Carrying one of the library’s heavy particle-board folding tables back down into the electric closet, I knew that the board president on the other end wasn’t making any money on the deal either. His time’s more valuable than mine, in fact, if you look at the balance sheet.

He could have just taken another week’s vacation and sat it out. If he wanted, he could be doing his token hard work at home, clearing brush from his own acreage, behind the gates, up the hill.

But no, this president is working on something he believes in. So he’s down in town, carrying his end of the table.

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