Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Are noble professions less important than ignoble ones?

It's easy to find conversations regarding noble professions, and which professions can be classified as "noble."

Over the weekend, I ran across this list from Nischala Murthy Kaushik: educators, healers, and writers.

Kaushik hit one of the biggies, because there are any number of essays that identify teaching as the most noble profession of all. But many of these essays have a common theme. Take this one:

Teachers have always been taken for granted, despite doing the most important work in the world. In recent years it has gotten worse, as teachers have been absorbing the misplaced blame for the state of education in America.

Some writers (again, a noble profession) call for teachers to get more pay. Most writers call for teachers to get more respect.

But if there are noble professions, then it follows that there are ignoble professions. Tony Cookson notes that these professions do not have parades, public gratitude, or love. Note that the "Subway" in Cookson's paragraph refers to a sandwich shop, not a transit agency - but the principle remains the same.

These Subway workers go to work everyday, and they have to deal with customers who show them very little respect. When they return home, they cannot talk about their time at work as something that was meaningful in their life because ... well... society does not respect sandwich artists. That kind of sentiment can wear on you. Not many people thank the worker for making our sandwich, or tell the cashier at the food court to have a nice day.

In fact, I am willing to submit that noble professions are often less important than ignoble ones.

At this point, some of you are looking at me with a horrified stare. "John!" you exclaim. "Teachers shape young minds and prepare them for a future of service! Doctors and firefighters and police officers have the power of life and death! What can be more important than that?"

That's an easy question to answer:

Now if I were one of those people who wrote manipulative memes, I'd declare that most of you aren't willing to spam everyone with the trash collector video above, and that most of you weren't even willing to watch the entire six minutes of the video. (I'll admit that I wasn't.) Despite the title, most of us perceive nothing noble about the six minutes shown here.

But think about this - what would happen if that trash collector had never shown up at all - and didn't show up for several days? This is what would happen.

Mountains of rubbish are piling up in the Spanish city of Seville after a strike by binmen reached its tenth day.

Rubbish collectors are protesting at proposed cuts to their working conditions as the Andalusian city's municipal government battles to balance its books. So far around 6,000 tons of rubbish have been left uncollected since the strike started.

And did people step in with heartfelt pleas for the plight of the noble, underpaid garbage workers? No. Those commenters who weren't railing against the European Union were offering comments like this:

Sack the bin men, employ others that want the work. Get the managers to also do the work 1 or 2 days a month. Just so they dont get above themselves I`d soon get the Country back on it`s feet. Where`s my whip ?

And of course, there are ripple effects. The Daily Mail article noted that the piles of trash could adversely affect tourism.

They can also affect the lives of others, such as the person who has trouble navigating to his favorite sandwich shop because of the piles of trash on the street. And perhaps the trash may become so smelly that the sandwich shop itself would have to close - then the lunch eater, rather than being limited to two choices of bread, would be limited to no choices of bread. The angry person, hungry and with the smell of trash invading his nostrils, decides that he's not going to go back for his afternoon shift as a bagger at a grocery store. This makes life harder for the cashier at the grocery store (who brown-bagged her lunch that day), as she has to do the bagging herself. The lines pile up at the cash register, and the smell of trash wafts into the grocery store every time the automatic doors open.

Angry and fed up, the cashier ends her shift, walks home (the buses weren't running because of a fuel shortage), dodges the trash outside her apartment, looks in vain for her newspaper (they're on strike also), and finally plops down, exhausted, on her couch.

Perhaps the cashier, and the grocery bagger, and the sandwich maker, and the garbage collector are not employed in noble professions. But try doing without them.
blog comments powered by Disqus