From the outside, it seems as though American society plays a lot of lip-service to the idea of what I would call “common work”; trades and labor specifically. People pay a lot of attention to the rates of college graduates, advanced degrees, and technical or scientific expertise–but the same kind of attention and respect is seldom given to the silent majority that does things with their hands.
What happened? When did we become more concerned about the output of unseen hands on computers and sensitive equipment than with the number of mouths fed, bodies sheltered and clothed, and hearts mended?
I wish I had been given the option by my parents to find a trade in addition to building my technical acumen. Technical expertise only extends so far in a world that still straddles the fence that separates “modern” and “post-modern”. Had someone told me that they could be as proud of me for swinging a hammer as they would if I helped find a cure or treatment for something, I’d have probably rushed head-long into both worlds.
If I ever have children, or if I’m ever in a position to mentor or be a god-parent, I’d tell them what I wish someone had told me a long time ago. Building homes for the homeless, finding cures for cancer, making ends-meet doing roofing, or exploring the far-flung reaches of Earth and beyond; I’d be proud of them all the same.
For me, it wouldn’t be about the outcome beyond that person feeling fulfilled and happy. It’d be about the effort and the joy it brings. Being happy with anything less would hurt them, and demanding or expecting anything more beyond that would be setting them up for failure. Accepting them for who they are and what they choose to do is probably the biggest thing I could do.
So what happened here? When did Americans become so unhappy with the prospect of labor and trade skills? Maybe it’s the idea of “American exceptionalism” still playing itself out long after it was declared dead. Who knows.