Click here to watch the TEDTalk that inspired this post.
"We've declared war on work." With two minutes to go in Mike Rowe's solid TEDTalk on the merits of dirty jobs, the host who's done maybe more crappy jobs than anyone, he spills the beans on a huge problem. People, especially in America, we've just trashed what we are really here to do. Work, the best friend we have on Earth, it has become the enemy.
Mike Rowe starts this TedTalk off with a funny and eye opening account of just how clueless he was venturing into shepherding sheep. Not exactly your everyday job, Rowe makes a living showing TV viewers the often extraordinary world so many of us toil in. From the dangers of crewing a crab boat off Alaska, to the grisly necessity of castrating lambs, Rowe brings us not only a comparative for paralleling our own professions, but illuminative moments for personal growth too. Put simply, we can learn and grow a lot watching and understanding others. What's as vital though, we can re-learn what we already know.
There's a phrase my Mom always used to quote often attributed to the martyr John Bradford who, being held in the Tower of London, was watching prisoners being led off to execution thus commented; "There but for the grace of God, go I." Whenever she and I chanced to pass anyone seemingly less fortunate than ourselves, she'd give just due verbally like this. Now, looking back and remembering my mother's stories of the cotton farm, far back then in the 1920's, then comparing the life I've led, I find very much like Michael Rowe that "grace" often comes via an "aha!" moment.
Mike Rowe experiences the transformation Greek philosophers called peripeteia recounting in this talk when he extracts testicles from a live lamb with his teeth. All us lucky ones have been so YANKED into clarity by sudden realization. Personally, "hearing" about bloody fingers from picking cotton all day dawn-to-dusk from my Mom and her siblings, this paled by comparison to the warm red blood streaming from my own open cotton-picking-wound. And brothers and sisters, an aching back from bending over cutting okra or beans, this sucks a lot less than frozen fingers 30 feet up a telephone pole, spending several Winters hanging cable wires. I know you probably had your share of "dirty" details too, so the first thing this TEDTalk can teach us is, remembering is relearning.
Striking into the heart of incredulity in societal work ethics, Mike Rowe discusses the effect Madison Avenue and advertising has had on our work mindset, but commercialized laziness is only a smidgen of the problem facing America and the world. The lie that is "get more for less" permeates every aspect being American now, of being human, if the truth be told. From Greece to Germany, Canada down to Tierra del Fuego, everyone seems convinced you can get something for nothing. Make no mistake either, the Internet and so-called digital awareness, this technological umbilical we are all now tied to, it has hurt us more than helped us. or I hope you can Imagine my own epiphany, having gone from the world of dirty jobs to a sort of Internet guru!
What can we learn from Michael Rowe, from all those jobs nobody would want to do out there? First of all, that garbage collector out there, or the steel worker slaving over a molten sheet of metal, he or she is probably happier than your next door neighbor. Mike Rowe talks about this a lot in the TEDTalk, his coming to realize the simple joy hard work conjures out of us. While "thinking" jobs like mine are ultra rewarding, the marketing or PR moves made sometimes extraordinarily impactful, the sheer tangible reward of sore muscles and even dangerously tempted fates a truly "hard" job entails, quite often overshadows any "easy" profession. Sitting here typing this article, even thinking how you might be positively affected by it, Mike's mention of a PR campaign for hard work makes all the more sense.
What if you and I were together clinging to a lifeline in a stormy sea, instead of only tied together with these words? We could all the more easily understand not only one another, but how to apply ourselves once again to the forward momentum of humankind. This is the kind of public relations campaign each and every one of us needs to see. Hey, what if we decided to rebuild America's infrastructure as Rowe alludes? What if, that used to spur us on so well, didn't it?
What I remembered and learned anew from Rowe's talk here, is where I came from, where I need to go, and why I should be happy doing the journey. Thinking back on 40 years of tough and easy jobs, of steel mills and ditches dug, being the boss and reporting from a café on a laptop, I'm also reminded of something attributed to former President Theodore Roosevelt;
"I don't pity any man who does hard work worth doing. I admire him. I pity the creature who does not work, at whichever end of the social scale he may regard himself as being."
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