Friday, February 6, 2015

The Unwanted Collar

Today, I woke up and all of my pants were in the washer. Great. So I put on a pair of dress pants, a nice top, and my pearls. The only place I was going, was my grandparents. Oh well, at least I would look nice. 

My 78 year old grandpa had a very different morning from me. He walked outside this morning, discovered that the tree beside his boat shed was dead, and that bothered him. So, he cut it down. Alone. My almost 80 year old grandpa cut that tree down and cut it up. Alone.

I pulled up to my grandparents house and found my grandpa hauling off the first load of brush. Alone. My initial thought was, "good grief, this man is going to kill himself working this hard!" But then I realized, this is my Pa: it's not going to be hard work that eventually kills him. It will be the stillness that eventually takes him. 

He's worked hard his whole life, and when he sees a project as big as a tree that needs to be cut down and chopped up, he just tackles it. Alone. 

So what do I do? I walk in the house, nurse the baby and change the girls' diapers. I take off my pearls and rings. I put on my grandma's sweats, her oldest pair of slip on shoes, and my Pa's coat. I ask if there are any gloves, and Pa finds me a pair. After evicting the stink bugs from the gloves in which they had made their winter home, I put them on, and head outside. 

Pa tosses me a rake and we get to work. We rake sticks and rake sticks and rake sticks. It's freezing outside, and the wind is ridiculous. We separate the big pieces that he's already chainsawed and stack them. Then, we load the brush on a trailer to haul them off. 

It is at this point in our labor that I realize something: this is what is wrong with America today. We don't have people like my Pa around anymore. Nobody wants to do hard work anymore. Nobody wants to tackle hard tasks alone. How many people do you know that are willing to go out and tackle an entire tree - alone?  

I'm freezing to death and using muscles that I haven't used in years, and it's just another day for Pa. He was raised in a time when hard work wasn't valued, it was essential. Let me repeat that: when hard work wasn't valued, it was essential. That would mean that hard work, was just work 

You see, as Americans we've separated the workforce into two misleading categories: white collar and blue collar. I'd like to introduce to you a third category: the unwanted collar. 

There are many jobs in America that we've outsourced because we just don't want them. They're "too hard" or "too dirty." The majority of the unwanted collar workers in America these days are either old-timers with a sense of work ethic, or immigrants. How many white collar or blue collar people do you know that are willing to go out and pick an entire orchard for minimum wage? Or sort chicken parts for minimum wage? Or crawl through sewage for minimum wage? 

We've unknowingly undermined essential work and called it hard work. It's only hard because we don't really want to do it. 

We raked brush for what seemed like forever, and so my thought process brought me to yet another conclusion: we have also, unknowingly, overvalued education. 

One would assume that Americans get paid based on the amount of work they put in to something. However, that isn't the case at all. We go to college for 4 years, get out into the real world, can't get a job, go back to school for 2 more years, return to the work force, and eventually find a suitable job that will provide for our future family's, 3 bedroom, middle-class home. 

Now, those people easily make twice what Jose or Pedro make breaking their backs at the chicken mill. Why? Because they have an education. Sure the college kids worked hard for their education (and not all people are cut out for "the unwanted collar"), but is it fair that we undermine the quality of work that Jose and Pedro provide?

Is it fair to say that we, as a society, have made education so important and degraded "hard work" so much, that we've ruined the system? 

We have GOT to instill a sense of work ethic in our children. We have got to teach them that manual labor, "hard work," is essential. We need to instill a sense of pride in work that is done with your hands. Nobody in our generation knows what it feels like to plow a field or hoe a garden that will fully sustain your family.   

We don't need to degrade those in the unwanted collar class. Our society still has to have those people. They're essential to it. They make it function properly. We push education so hard that kids think it's the only way they'll make it. What we fail to tell them, is that it's okay to have a manual labor job. Some people aren't cut out for desk jobs. Some people are more suited to be in a trade than at a desk all day. We have got to do something about the way we talk about education. 

We've got to start teaching our kids to not only accept, but respect the unwanted collar.