Get our newsletters

Chatterbox: We’re working here


More years ago than I care to remember, someone was working at my house. The lawn guys showed up and I closed the window, saying something about how noisy the machines were. My friend responded to me, “They’re working.” It wasn’t so much the remark as her tone that got me thinking, and I wish my keyboard could capture her inflection. She was gentle, but still advocating for them and trying to be enlightening. She said it as if to remind me that work is … well, work.

In Italy, I took a photo of some men replacing blocks of pavement in the road. Much of Italy isn’t paved, but stone blocks; it’s a smart move because only the damaged blocks have to be replaced and not whole patches of roadway, and Italy certainly has lots of natural materials such as granite and marble with which to create the blocks. The men were working. With all hand-held tools and hard labor on this small side street in such a sweet city, the repair work was all clanking, banging and chatter, a lot of noise, because … they were working.

Their shouting of commands, between which they sang, made the labor a show of its own. They neither objected to nor posed for the photo; they just worked, though I did capture a moment of curiosity as they were aware of my camera. I’m sure I wasn’t the first crazy tourist to take their picture … but I digress.

I have never forgotten my friend’s words because, though obvious, she really raised my awareness to a higher level, and I’m grateful for that. It was the way she said, “… working.” When I’m working, I’m working. When anyone is working, they’re working. Hmm, I just can’t type the tone.

When we are being held up in the road because of paving or patching, we may get annoyed with the delay, but those people are working. It’s nice to remember and be considerate of that fact. They most likely are, to some level, uncomfortable, thirsty and hot. The asphalt is steaming; cars are passing close to them, maybe some too fast. Hot and toxic exhaust goes sputtering by, and they keep working. In the winter, they’re freezing. Labor is called labor (even in the delivery room) because it is just that … labor.

As I did in that moment, anybody can sometimes forget to be aware and considerate of the worker bees. People leave wet towels around the hotel room or trash at a baseball game. Someone has to take care of that, and though we don’t want to put anyone out of work, it certainly doesn’t hurt to be as considerate as possible.

These days, there is, all around the world but especially in America, a growing glamour surrounding unique wealth and it is being erroneously equated to power, beauty, and a feeling of personal superiority and self-worth. Past ostentatious, it’s becoming obscene. Sadly, this attitude negates much altruism, as well as respect for, the belief in, and the pursuit of, equality and, yes, remembering the workers.

As this subculture grows along with the attitude that rich makes us better or more beautiful, or more worthy of what’s good in the world … not to mention altering the perception of what the good in the world actually is … we have consequences.

Many of these consequences can be ignored. They are the superficiality with which many people live on the daily. Few people, past those who buy into this exaltation of themselves, are impressed by such self-admiration and excess. Most of us know that merely being rich doesn’t actually make anyone a better person. The problem comes in at the point at which it begins to deeply affect the feelings or beliefs that anyone may have about others or the attitudes or limitations they direct onto others. Today, we also deal with those who are faking wealth just to try to feel a part of the movement.

Regardless of position or tax bracket, anyone who is as magnanimous as possible, who lives a life that includes some level of service and caring, and those who share whatever they have in whatever way they can, regardless of what kind of handbag they carry or car they drive, are the best kind of quality people. They are those to emulate, to be envied and admired. Tax brackets don’t count; they never did, nor should they. These people are working.