This column was the featured commentary on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum on Monday, September 3, 2007.
Picture me, if you will, wearing an apron, holding a broom and dustpan, standing in the middle of my kitchen. The kids are screaming. My three year old daughter, having just thrown a bowl of pita chips across the kitchen floor (thus the afore-mentioned broom and dustpan), has delivered unto her younger brother a body slam that would make Stone Cold Steve Austin proud. The kids, all three of them, are going nuts and I’m not far behind. It has taken me five minutes—five minutes!—to cut up one head of an heirloom cauliflower, purchased that morning at a Farmer’s Market. It is a venerable vegetable that none of my children will eat, even though I will marinade it nicely in oil, vinegar, and fresh herbs and will roast it slowly out on the barbeque.
This, gentle reader, is why Ritalin is over-prescribed in these United States.
And as I stood there, cleaning implements in hand, the thought occurred to me: some people don’t consider this to be work.
I am not usually a stay-at-home Dad, but my wife recently had her gall-bladder removed, and so I took time off to be Mr. Mom, to keep the house (after a manner), and to care for my wife during her recovery. For nearly two weeks I have done the work in which millions of Americans engage—I have been a full time homemaker while caring for a loved one. I have never lacked appreciation for the difficulty of such work; and after my current engagement in the enterprise, I feel a growing sense of indignation knowing that many people don’t consider such work to be meaningful employment.
Unfortunately, this lack of respect is not unique to the work of fulltime parenting and caretaking. There are many kinds of labor and employment that, while being necessary for a functioning society, are considered so base as to merit little attention.
Take, for example, the work of those who stitch together the clothing we wear. If, as a society, we valued such labor we would be willing to pay more money (and, as a result, have smaller wardrobes) to ensure that the workers are equitably compensated and able to perform their work in environments free of toxins and other workplace hazards.
Something similar could be said for the ways we undervalue the labor of those who grow and harvest the food we eat. We seldom ask how farm workers are treated and paid when we bite into a salad. Few of us remember to give thanks for the producers of our food when we say grace at table. We simply bite into the cheap lettuce and think upon other things.
Our society needs a good dose of Calvinism—not the double barreled predestination kind, nor the “I’m a horrible sinner and there is no good in me” kind either—there is a lesser known, but historically important Calvinism that affirms the goodness, the holiness and the inherent equality of all work. For Calvin and his followers, the work of a shoemaker was as important as the work of a prince if the work was done to the glory of God. A modern and practical application of this principle says that if we are willing to pay top dollar to retain a well-qualified endocrinologist or attorney, than we should be willing to spend a little extra money to ensure the well-being of the folks who manufacture our clothing, and who harvest the food that ends up on our tables.
And for heaven’s sake we should never consider unemployed those people who by choice or necessity stay home to raise children or care for a loved one. Everyone willing to do hard work deserves our respect.