From time to time events can trigger emotions and suddenly we find ourselves melancholy, yearning for yesterday, when all was better and less complex. I am not sure why looking in the rear view mirror of life makes things seem bigger and better than they really were, but still, that retrospection often brings with it a hunger and thirst for “those days.” The so called simplicity of those times, I suppose, drives us to remember differently. Our grandmother’s apple pie or our nana’s spaghetti were always better than any we might taste today. The favorite food or dish of our youth can never be prepared quite as well as it was when we were 12 or 13, even if the exact ingredients are included. The toys and tools that we played and worked with then seemed to last much longer than the “disposable goods” we use today. Whether true or not, our memories often make it so.
Not all that many years ago we lived as artisans and true craftsmen, and whether we worked with our hands to make shoes, print the news of the day, bake, build, or shoe a horse, we often sold our own wares from our own shops and took exceptional pride in what we did. The doctors and attorneys of that day truly did “hang a shingle” near the front door emblazoned with their name, announcing to all that they were open for business, often providing their expertise and care for generations. Our names and reputations, whether stamped on our crafts or not, meant as much, if not more, to us as the “dollar” that we could demand for our efforts and labor.
Now, while many of us may still work to a certain extent with our hands, we sell our wares, and all too often our souls, to the highest bidder. Whether as an athlete or an inventor, many today still take pride in his or her accomplishment but frequently only to the extent that they can be paid more and more, and always more than the next guy. The entrepreneurial spirit has always been part of what made this country and many world communities what they are today. Someone with an idea or a creative concept, or in pursuit of a dream, could build a business or provide not only a much needed product or service but also employment for other laborers and builders. Much of that has changed today. While the same spirit of creativity may exist, the end game is often to build something as quickly as possible, issue an IPO, maybe completely sell their creation, strike it rich, retire or move on to another venture only to “rinse and repeat.” In our social media society and technological times, many of us seek out opportunities to, if not make a bundle of money quickly, at least find that Warholian 15 minutes of fame. We are often measured today not so much by who we are, but by how many Facebook “Friends” or “Likes” or Twitter followers we have, how many views our YouTube videos generate, no matter how mindless they are, or how many hits our websites produce. Perhaps nowhere is that more prevalent than in the politics of the day. The important matters of our time are reduced to sound bites and poured out into the ether for all to immediately see and never to be retracted. How sad it is that too many aim for the headlines rather than the impact on the lives of real people that their words or actions may actually have.
Now please do not misunderstand. I am a capitalist at heart and would wish all, myself included, could make more than a comfortable living to provide for and support their families, communities, or favorite charities. But in truth, the real capitalistic economy was controlled by Main street owners not Wall Street profiteers or the government. In today’s economy, Big Business and Big Government are strange bed fellows indeed. I am not suggesting that we roll back the clock and live in the past even if we could. Modern society has brought us wonderful things, including medical discoveries and cures that not only help us live longer but also enjoy a better life. The vast technological advances have helped many to control their work more rather that have their work control their lives. Because of these advances, many can now work from their homes and therefore choose where to live, rather than to have to live where they work, giving them far more family time. More time at home for many and less time navigating the asphalt jungle in between.
But I would wish for a society that was similar in ways to those times. For a time where the fruits of our labor was more in our control and accessible to us more easily, and we connected to the world around us. In the world today, one where the demands of the lives that we choose often require us to be constantly on the move, we rarely live any one place long enough to connect to our neighbors and communities. In a world where we are living online more and more, we shop and live there and never get to meet and know the owners and producers of the goods that we purchase. In a time where we find ourselves more and more in fear for our safety, we build bigger walls and gates around us, keep our curtains and blinds closed most of the time, and look at a stranger walking down our streets with suspicion rather than with welcome.
Now I recognize that I am generalizing a bit. Communities still exist where this level of sociality is lived day in and day out. But the trend is unmistakable. So on Labor Day 2015 let us be thankful for the blessing of work and the fruits of our labor. Let us look more and more for opportunities to buy from local artisans and owners. While thankful for the ease of life that technology has provided, let us find excuses to work with our hands. Let’s go plant a garden, even if only on a patio or balcony. Let each of us look for something to build or repair. Let us pull back the kitchen curtains more and get to know our neighbors better, say “hello” to a stranger, and be truly thankful for those whose labor blesses and enhances our lives.
Happy Labor Day!