Prior to spring of 2020, if someone had told you that society would be treating grocery store employees with the same reverence as first responders, you probably would have thought they were nuts.
But in the early days of the pandemic, when everything was shut down except medical facilities and grocery stores, we suddenly came to realize just how important a seemingly “easy” or “entry level” job was.
While it was great to see people thanking cashiers, delivery drivers, and shelf stockers and treating them with reverent respect, it also made me think. These people weren’t doing anything differently than they had been before COVID-19 changed our daily lives. Before the pandemic, most customers probably treated grocery store employees as indifferently as the inanimate shopping cart they pushed through the aisles. Shoppers with high-paying salaries or a number of degrees under their belt may have even scoffed at these people, wondering why anyone would want to work in a grocery store. Now all of a sudden society was seeing these people in a new light — a light that perhaps should have been there all along.
For ages, there have always been invisible lines drawn designating some jobs as more valuable than others — EMTs, nurses, police officers, and teachers are always held in high regard. While I’m not trying to take anything away from those professionals, it’s interesting to think about how the exceptional value of these positions can actually cause us to look down on other jobs inadvertently.
In my last post, I talked about my husband not necessarily feeling valued at his job. To make matters worse, he’s under some delusion that all the work he does around the house isn’t anything of value either. While he’s not a professional, he’s probably as close as one can get without having any formal training or experience.
Within the first few days of us moving into the new house, he installed a water pressure regulator and replaced the wonky toilet, shower doors, and shower head in the main bathroom. He’s slowly replacing all outlets and light switches in each room. Along with his friend, he spent fourteen hours refinishing the hardwood floors before we moved in. He ripped up the ugly tile in the dining room and replaced it with solid, modern flooring. He’s painted, put up curtains and shades. He took our kitchen down to the bare bones and rebuilt it piece by piece. He did the same thing with our basement bathroom. He’s hand-dug holes and set fence posts, wired up chain link and constructed gates so our dogs could have a safe yard to run freely in. He’s replaced locks and fixed leaks, installed a dishwasher and a water line for our refrigerator. While he was working on the fence one day, a random guy driving past slowed down to ask him if he was in the fencing business. Even after J explained that he was a DIY-er, the guy pretty much offered him a job at his contracting company.
The last time J went to see his PCP, he was telling his doctor about how he’d hurt his thumb working on the fence. The doctor replied with, “You’re building a fence? I thought you remodeled your kitchen.”
“I did that too,” J replied. “And the bathroom.”
This doctor, a man who had attended medical school for an absurd number of years, furrowed his brown and said, “Isn’t that stuff hard?”
There he was, talking to a man who was automatically placed on a pedestal because of his occupation, yet that doctor was beyond impressed with the projects J had tackled as a DIY-er.
Now, my husband had said multiple times how much he likes and respects his PCP, and in a world where doctors tend to rush patients out the door and throw pills in their faces for every ailment, J’s PCP is probably one in a million. But as cool and helpful and educated as this man is, he was obviously stymied by home improvement projects that J tackles on a regular basis.
For someone who in all likelihood has endless office hours, J’s knowledge and ability to fix a leak, change a faulty plug, or remodel a bathroom is probably invaluable. Yet it is no secret that society tends to treat laborers with less respect than people who hold degrees.
The same can be said when it comes to celebrities and athletes. When an NFL player suffered a terrifying cardiac event in the middle of a game a few weeks ago, the world seemed to stop while millions hoped and prayed for his recovery. That same day, a police officer from Pittsburgh was killed in the line of duty, and I saw several posts on social media about how that officer’s sacrifice should not have been overshadowed by a football player.
But it’s not a competition. There is no one counting the amount of posts, ‘likes,’ or prayers sent into the universe about the NFL player or the fallen officer. The fact of the matter is that all people deserve care, respect, and recognition for what they do — no matter how difficult or “easy” their jobs may be, no matter how much they get paid or how much or how little the public knows about them.
Before I worked in the auto-adjacent industry, I could have cared less about tow truck drivers. But over the years I’ve learned just how much these people do on a daily basis and how dangerous and difficult their jobs are. They climb under 4000 lb. vehicles to hook up a tow chain or change a flat tire. They risk their lives every time they climb out of their truck on a busy highway. They maneuver cars without brakes or cars missing tires. They keep your car safe if you’re transported from an accident by ambulance. They work in every kind of weather, crawling on the wet, muddy ground, fishing their hands into places where they could slice open their skin. They’re out there in the heat, the snow, and the rain. They answer emergency calls at 3am are often the first to arrive at the scene of accidents.
Nearly every job out there holds some type of hardship or difficulty that outsiders know nothing about. Yet we place value on positions and people because of our limited knowledge of what they represent.
The school bus driver who kept kids safe and calm after an accident — the same guy who doesn’t make much more than minimum wage and doesn’t have benefits.
The customer service rep who answered the phone when my devastated husband called to make our dog’s appointment to cross the rainbow bridge and soothed him through his sobs.
The Z Trip driver who helped an elderly man carry five heavy bags of personal belongings from his wrecked car.
The custodian who grasped my hand while I was sobbing in the hallway during my mom’s most recent hospital stay.
The animal rescue worker who stopped her car on the side of a four-lane highway to save an emaciated dog darting in and out of traffic.
The administrative assistant who came into work on her day off to help her boss find an expensive, critical piece of equipment that went missing.
The Hallmark employee who took money out of her own wallet so a ninety-year-old man could buy his wife a birthday card.
Employees are people. Their work is valuable, no matter what it is or what it pays.