Monday, February 10, 2014

Human Dignity

Roughly ten years ago I took some classes at a culinary school.  One of my favorite classes was my pastry and bread making class, which is a bit ironic given my later Celiac diagnosis.  That, however, is not the point.  This class was taught by this talented and incredibly kind chef.  I learned a lot about baking from him, but the more important lessons I learned were about the value of work and of human dignity.

This particular chef had been born in East Germany.  He talked about the limitations that were placed on what kind of work he would be suited for.  Not every young person was permitted to go on to college or pursue technical careers.  He hadn't wanted to in any case.  He loved to cook and bake.  He wanted to be a chef.  This pursuit was supported by his family.  

And then the Berlin Wall came down.  Germany was reunited.  His family, once divided, was able to move back together on the Western side of the country.  Suddenly his dream had criticism.  In West Germany all young people were encouraged to study math and science.  They should want to go to college and become doctors, engineers, or academics.  Whatever they chose to do, nothing was lower than a job working with one's hands.  Chef was mocked, ridiculed, and paid horribly despite having a great education.  (And baking the best bread I have ever tasted)  He eventually moved to the United States.

In Germany, he was not valued even though he provided a service that was vital to the economy.  He was seen as a lesser member of society because he worked with his hands rather than in a science or math field.  (I would argue that proper baking involves an understanding of both science and math).  He was taken advantage of and oppressed by the larger society for not conforming, despite his skills being necessary to their comfort and lifestyle.

Though this chef found greater success here, we are no different.  We live in a country where CEOs of large corporations make as much an hour as their employees will make all year.  This is while many of these same employees need to work multiple jobs or rely on food stamps and medicaid.  Arguments are made that the work being performed is somehow 'lesser' than other jobs and careers.  It is not.  All work is work for the betterment of society.  All of it is necessary for us to continue to function.  The person who does back-breaking labor to pick fruits and vegetables for the tables, the person who prepares it in the kitchen, the person who serves it, and the CEO who runs the company are all necessary.  Just as the person who manufactures an item, the person who stocks it, the person who rings it up, the person who manages the store, and the store owner are all necessary.  None exist without the other.  All should be honored and valued.  All should be paid in a manner that they can feed their families.  None of them should be looked down on by those of us who depend on all of them.  

All people are worthy of respect.  The human dignity of another is in no way diminished because of what they do for a living.  They deserve to be able to make a living doing it.  

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