Here’s a well named downtempo track “Midnight in a Perfect World,” by DJ Shadow, for a pleasant soundtrack to this post.
Since high school, I’ve given the same answer to the question, “what do you want to do/be when you get older?”
I always say, “a decent man.”
I don’t mean for it to sound dismissive, like a smartass remark, dodging the answer they might be looking for, but to me, it doesn’t really matter to me what I’ll be doing. One’s identity is not what s/he does for work.
You are not your job.
Yet, socially speaking, we have this habit of saying that a person IS their job: He is a science teacher. She is a lawyer. They are social workers.
Why do we do this? Well, some people are fortunate to find work that expresses their interests, a job which furthers their vision of themselves of the world, and others like the security of a socially acceptable identity. With people in these situations, it makes sense to a certain degree to identify a personal identity with a job. European surname tradition shows us the degree to which we’ve accepted this: “Smith,” or “Farmer,” for example.
However, most people don’t have jobs or careers that accurately describe them. For them, a work-based identity system is inaccurate at best and degrading at worst, since our society uses jobs to imply a person’s inherent worth relative to others.
She is an assistant. He is a prostitute. She is a homekeeper.
This is really unfortunate. Not only does it instill a false sense of personal hierarchy in a person’s perceived “value,” it allows others to treat a person less respectfully for no good reason. Every human is immeasurably and equally valuable, and problems ensue when we fail to recognize this. I think that suicide relating to loss of employment is, for those departed, is based in part in their internalization of a work-based identity.
On the other end of the spectrum, it gives a false and undeserved sense of superiority to those occupying positions in what we think of as an upper strata. We even have a “business class,” fare where treatment is different and respect is expected. A person should not have to occupy a certain job or pay more for respect.
I occupy one of these positions, though I came from a pretty modest background. I dress like I used to, and so you wouldn’t know what I do for work based on appearance. I can say that my experience when a person finds out is that I am treated better and respected more. This bothers me.
So try this for 2016… instead of asking a person what they do for work right off, first ask them what they spend time on that they find important.