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Monday, September 1, 2014

Labor Day – Honoring All Kinds of Work

First appeared on Blogcritics.

Labor Day always falls on the first Monday of September, and much to the dismay of school children everywhere, this traditional “end of summer” holiday also means that school is about to begin. Yes, in some places children are already back in school, but here in New York Labor Day means one final day off before getting back to those classrooms the kids gleefully fled back in June.

labor 4 wikipedia.orgBeside horrifying school kids everywhere, Labor Day cultivates different reactions from adults as well. While it may be one last day to sit back, throw some shrimp on the barbie, and enjoy a day of leisure, many people work on Labor Day. Roughly 45% of American workers are laboring on Labor Day. Having just come back from the small local coffee shop, I can attest to those people being up early to make sure I got a hot cup of joe.

In my family, we always have to laugh when remembering my paternal grandfather’s opinion of work – he hated it. Growing up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and sharing a small tenement apartment with eight brothers and sisters, Pop had to quit 3rd grade to start working after his longshoreman father died from a heart attack on the dock. He had to help his mother support his younger siblings, and he never stopped working after that, so it’s not surprising after working for many years of his life and finally retiring, Pop had enough of laboring.

Work is seen as a necessary evil for some and a necessity of life for others. There are many people like my grandfather, forced into labor by circumstances beyond their control, and they must work to live. For them work can involve pressure and stress that can be overwhelming. Still, that does not diminish the work they do and the services they provide. We never know the story of that person we see performing his or her job, but we should appreciate it nonetheless as a contribution to society

Then there are those fortunate individuals who live to work. They happily go to work each day, believe their work matters, and see their jobs as one of the best things in their lives. They are the lucky ones to be sure, but no matter how enjoyable their work is it is still also a contribution to the greater good.

So whatever you are doing this Labor Day – enjoying one last cookout, getting to the beach for a swim, hiking in the wilderness, taking advantage of big department store sales, or even getting on the bus to go to work – it is important to know why we have this holiday. Sadly, many people have no idea why we celebrate holidays on our calendar, and Labor Day is no exception.

According to the the United States Department of Labor, the day “is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”

labor 3 harvard.eduNow that we have that official explanation out of the way, it is necessary to honor all types of workers – union and non-union. Whether the person is handing you a cup of coffee, mopping the lobby of the hotel where you are staying, using a jackhammer in the street as you walk by, standing in front of a classroom teaching your children, or sweltering on the tarmac making sure that your plane takes off safely, all work has value and is important in and of itself.

It is too simplistic to categorize work as easy or difficult. A truck driver who has to unload hundred pound bags of flour all day may see the newspaper editor’s job as an easy one, and the guy washing windows on a skyscraper may look down and see all the people walking on the street below and relish his bird’s eye view. This is all about perspective, about the inherent worth of work in all its diverse possibilities and venues.

As I write this article indoors because of inclement weather (instead of taking my laptop down to the beach as planned), I am “working” on Labor Day. If you don’t think writing is work, think about this quotation from one of my favorite writers, the great Pete Hamill – "Writing is the hardest work in the world not involving heavy lifting." Whether you believe it or not, there is truth in his words that anyone who has had to write something and stared at the blinking cursor on a blank screen can identify with.

labor 1 norturk.no

I hope you can enjoy your Labor Day no matter how you are spending it, but at some point stop and watch someone who is working and be thankful for what they do, even if it is the person grilling your burgers at the family barbecue. Thank him or her for the effort, and make it a habit that your practice regularly. By thanking anyone performing a service for you (and giving a gratuity when appropriate), you will be honoring the work that they do and the spirit of Labor Day every day of the year.

  Photo credits: wikipedia.org, harvard.edu, norturk.no    

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