Last week, Fox News “discovered” actor Geoffrey Owens, who had been on the Cosby Show, working as a cashier in a Trader Joe’s. Fox did a predicticably nasty little piece.
They picked on the wrong guy. First of all, the vox populi responded that there was nothing wrong with being a grocery checker. More importantly, Owens, with quiet dignity, defended himself.
He spoke out against being “job-shamed.” He talked about the satisfaction he got from his job. He never indicated that this was some temporary gig until he got his acting career back on track.
I saw him being interviewed by Ari Melber on msnbc. Owens repeated the axiom I have tried hard to live by. “We have to get away from the idea that some jobs are better than others,” he said. “All work is honorable.”
“All work is honorable.” My father taught me that. I wish I didn’t have such a hard time living by it.
I went to prestigious schools. I was trained to be part of a high-status profession. My classmates have done amazing things — they have been successful and, in some cases, powerful.
That’s not what I have chosen to do with my life. I raised children, and after that came to an end (what do they think they are doing, growing up like that?), I have worked a series of temporary jobs which, for the most part, I found enjoyable, if for no other reason than I have usually worked with wonderful people. These were low-level, low status jobs which were part of larger efforts: working on the census, getting a progressive elected to the county commission, and most recently, helping to make sure that the wheels of the democratic process run smoothly.
Any enterprise needs people like me: grunts who do the dirty work, who process the census questionnaires or the ballots, or (lowest of the low) call people to convince that a) our candidate really was the best choice and b) they needed to vote. (One of my favorite memories from that last job was the woman who defiantly stated in 2012 that she was voting for Romney. “I don’t care if you vote for a pink polka-dotted penguin, as long as you vote,” I replied. This was not the stance of the very liberal organization I was working for, but completely reflected my views.)
I find my most recent (and hopefully future) job incredibly satisfying. It requires a mix of problem solving and artistic judgment that is right up my alley. I am damn good at it. And yet…
“All that education to waste,” the voice sounds in my head. “Why aren’t you out changing the world?”
But I am changing the world. I am making sure people’s voices get heard. People like me matter. It’s not important that, in some sense, we are totally replaceable. We are doing this work, not those who could ostensibly replace us — and we take pride in it. I just need to remember that “all work is honorable.”
Thank you, Geoffrey Owens, for reminding me.