Labor Day marks the unofficial end of summer, a time when many people go back to school and others return to work. Labor Day is also a time to think about the role labor plays in bringing meaning to our own lives and value to our community.
A creation of the labor movement, Labor Day pays tribute to workers’ contributions to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country. On September 5, 1882, the first Labor Day was celebrated in New York City. However, it wasn’t until Congress passed legislation in 1894 that the first Monday in September became an official federal holiday. By then, 23 states had already recognized Labor Day as a legal holiday.
No one can deny how much respect for workers and their working conditions has evolved since then. Yet despite the acknowledgment of the value of labor, why does our society continue to diminish the “value” of an individual based upon outdated notions of age or (dis)ability? In a time when we ought to know better, why is it that many “older” and displaced workers allow themselves to question their own self-worth, or doubt the type of “labor” they can perform.
This may be particularly true, considering the difficulties in which many individuals and communities find themselves in today. The lack of local jobs, “qualified” workers, and a questionable work ethic all conspire to lessen the contributions we each can make. If you add in the proliferation of substance abuse, addiction, incarceration, and the absence of stability in the home and in the workplace, it’s not difficult to see why too many of our friends, neighbors, and loved ones are faced with some level of anxiety, if not outright despair.
When bad things happen in our lives, it’s often easier to place the blame on someone else. However, to paraphrase William Shakespeare, “the fault, dear reader, may lie less in our stars than in ourselves.” If that is the case, the answer may be found in how we view our situation and our “work,” our willingness to take responsibility for our actions, and how much we believe in ourselves. The answer may also rest in how much a community either respects or disparages age and ability or views a person’s situation in life.
To many psychologists and sociologists, the need to be needed is thought of as a universal trait. It’s often defined as “the sense of significance that comes from having a community, group, or individual that needs us.”
Consider this point in terms of having a job–any job–and what that can do for one’s self-esteem. Even the most menial of tasks can take on new significance when viewed from the right perspective. There’s a certain sense of pride that comes from doing something well and being recognized and rewarded for our efforts. Often the reward is monetary. Other times, it’s in the form of a thank you. Either way, it’s about doing something that can lead to a better outcome. Whether what we do is directed towards the wellbeing of our country, the betterment of another, or the reinforcement of our own self- worth, doesn’t really matter.
Meaning and relevance in a person’s life are as necessary as the air we breathe. Yet too often, we fail to recognize our own significance because of the barriers we place upon ourselves or biases others place upon us. Creating more opportunities, not less, at any stage of a person’s life can mean the difference between adding to or detracting from the greater good.
If you knew that you might live to be a hundred and the opportunities were there, would you do anything different than what you’re doing now? Would you follow your dream? Pursue a passion? Change careers? Change direction? Give yourself permission to take a second chance?
That’s what organizations like Third Age, Encore.org, Experience Corps, Second Chance, Generations United, the Corporation for National and Community Service, AARP, the Senior Community Service Employment Program, and public libraries are encouraging people to do. They are among a growing number of organizations that believe a person’s value does not diminish with age nor should anyone be denied the opportunity to contribute.
This Labor Day take the time to consider the value of your labor, you may well discover it’s more than just work.
-Jeff Rubin, 9/3/18