Andy-Johnson-Columnist-use

The value of work.

For young workers it is a critical part of the journey towards self-reliance, and being able to strike out and be productive, contributing members of society.

Money also teaches us the value of prioritising purchases, budgeting and saving.

Each day you have the opportunity to affect positive feelings on the lives of others. Doing this in jobs where friendliness is unexpected is even more of an opportunity. Even though their work will not count towards most people’s dream job, the employees know they have an opportunity to make customers happy. It helps build self-esteem. Cleaning toilets, wiping up someone else’s vomit, dealing with unhappy customers. It teaches humility, and it makes other people’s lives more bearable.

When you work, you give yourself over to a bigger mission. It is not about you. These are some of the thoughts of Matt Ragland, an American leader, trainer and writer.

Michael just stopped talking one day. He was taken to a home where he remained until he died. Going to see him was heart-rending. The best practitioners in such situations continue to treat such “clients” as if they were regular human beings.

Winston Maynard once referred to them as Ships in the Night. He had had an idea for a night-time talk series on the subject. People who do things which others really don’t consider important, but which add value to our lives. The late Clyde Gaspard had a friend named Mr Cy, pronounced sigh. He was an expert maker of iron pots and pans.

In Afterlife, the multiple award-winning writer from the Dominican Republic Julia Alvarez refers to the “invisible people”, such as the men who get up way before the crack of dawn to milk the cows. She describes them as “the people who keep our world going”. In Norma Rae, Sally Field stars in this 1979 drama, playing a woman who becomes a trade unionist. She was working in a textile factory, with little education, and watching her mother grow progressively deaf from the constant din of the machinery on the plant. But it is also paradoxical that trade unions themselves are some of the worst employers.

Honest work, whatever it is, helps build character. It is true, when we are told that the devil finds work for idle hands. In tributes to the late Owen Baptiste, I refer to the time when in 1984 he was trying to convince me to take the job as News Editor of the Express. I turned it down. “That’s because you have no (expletive deleted) ambition, he shouted back. But at the core of the issue was the extent to which one came across people on a daily basis who had problems with what they were doing.

There are people for whom being on the job is an opportunity to bitch, to find fault with everything. They derive no pleasure in what they signed on to do. It is one of the toughest challenges in management. I have always found it easier to dress down a colleague who refused to give of his or her best on the job, when we were on the same level, as opposed to when he or she reported to me, as has been the case too often.

When asked during the sedition trials in 1937 what was her profession, Elma Francois proudly announced she was a “washer of clothes”. In The Birth of Caribbean Civilisation, O Nigel Bolland lists her as one of the region’s foremost intellectuals of that era. Prof Rhoda Reddock describes her as “a Caribbean political and social figure of considerable stature”. She saw dignity in the “washing of clothes”.

In the movie, The Help, one got a graphic Hollywood treatment of the kind of responsibility assumed by many of the women in the Forest Reserve, Beach Camp axis in the oil belt, from childhood recollections of the late 1960s into the 1980s. The value of that kind of work in the maintenance of family life for the largely foreigner-occupied homes in enclaves such as these, remains inestimable.

The sound of George W Bush, 43rd President of the United States, yearning for a greater emphasis on the creation of “jarbs” (jobs) for Americans during his term in office still resonates deeply. It remains a high priority for every type of government, anywhere in the world.

Employers and entrepreneurs create opportunities to make things happen, to change lives and to improve living conditions, at whatever level. Too many of us look that in the face, snaring and snarling. After conducting hundreds of interviews over two years across the US, Barbara Carson wrote her findings in a publication in 1975 called “All the livelong day”.

Despite its socialistic orientation, the author made the following statement right at the beginning. “I realise now, much more deeply than ever, that work is a human need following right after the need for food and the need for love.”

The massive disruptions to life as we knew it before the onset of Covid-19 somehow managed to push these perspectives to the fore. Employers need to be re-assessed for the value they bring to the meaning of our lives.

• Andy Johnson is

a veteran journalist

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