Now, Who Is Essential?

There is a saying that all work is honorable; whether you are the maid or the mayor, the governor or the gardener, the work you do, the service you provide, has honor. But, somewhere along the way, we forgot all this and started to admire specific jobs (hedge fund manager, oooh!) and idolize individual careers (pro golfer, wow!). As we went about our typical day, we lost ourselves in their glittery high-flying worlds to the point where new nouns emerged: Starchitect, yes, an architect who was also a star. Celebrity Chef, Influencers—so glamorous! We dreamed of what they could do for the world and how much we wanted to be them. Gorgeous cloud-high penthouses for billionaires, unique dishes comprising nothing but seaweed foam and a single nasturtium petal, perfectly arched eyebrows complementing the must-have pink pouty lip, we wanted them—we needed them!—and we were willing to part with loads of cash to be part of their sparkly worlds. Don’t bore us with your dead-end job because what glamour does a bus driver or a teacher bring to this world? 

And then the pandemic hit, and we quickly learned who we couldn’t live without. Slowly, the truly “essential workers” emerged. Suddenly, we looked to the nurses in the hospitals, we needed the shelf packers in the supermarkets, and we waited for the humble delivery guy, our lifeline. The pharmacist preparing our meds, the factory worker making sanitizer, the bus driver getting the hospital porter to their jobs, they became our stars. Forget the Influencer peddling some weird gloppy drink. What we truly needed was for the shelf packer to restock the toilet paper. Now, the hours spent scrolling through that famous-for-being-famous person’s social media posts were replaced by checking how much protective gear your local hospital had or how long the lines were at the drive-through testing sites. 

Then, in the space of days, parents all over the world awoke to a simple fact: school teachers are gods! The same people we hassled and complained about because little Maggie deserved an A, not just an A- emerged as angels-on-earth. We were ready to quit the home-schooling lark within hours, and yet these underpaid, under-appreciated treasures do it for 6+ hours a day, 10 months of the year!

As a society, we happily throw mind-boggling sums of cash at people whose only job is to throw a ball through a hoop. (LeBron James, 35yr, $134m) Or punch another guy in the face. (Boxer, Canelo Alvarez, 28yr, $94m) Or act in one episode of a TV series. (Sofia Vergara, 47yr, $1m per episode in Modern Family) These are the people we value, and we show how much we need them by paying them the big bucks. In good times, they are entertaining, but when the pawpaw hits the fan, they become nothing more than empty fluff.

At the end of this pandemic (whenever that may be), I call upon us all to remember these truths. Instead of Award Ceremonies for overdressed so-called celebrities, let’s hand out awards to the doctors, the nurses, and the teachers. Let us prepare swag-bags for all the supermarket staff and delivery people. Let us never forgot that in our real hour of need, some people put their lives at risk, and I am damn sure it wasn’t an Influencer! 

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