Do you like to vacuum? Weed in a garden? Plant vegetables? Wash your car? Maybe you enjoy grilling out when the weather is good or taking on a small chore like painting the porch floor or sanding a piece of furniture out in the yard. I’ve done all of these things and more, because I enjoy some physical labor. There are benefits for sure. Physical labor can: burn calories; increase pride of accomplishment; satisfy the urge to be creative.
The Decline of Manual Labor Jobs
Victor David Hanson writes about our changing society in his article AS PHYSICAL JOBS DECLINE, SOMETHING IS LOST. He asks if the reader thinks that the decline of physical jobs in our new culture is to our advantage. “…life superficially appears to get better. Cheap cellphones, video games, the Internet, social media and labor-saving appliances all make things easier and suggest that even more and better benefits are on the horizon.”
But is this a good thing? Hanson talked to academics, lawyers and CEOs, to find that most of them made sure that they biked or ran or lifted weights. So if obesity rates are higher in the class of people doing manual labor, why is this. One possible answer I found: these men and women started out being active and their diet consisted of many calories to support that activity. But as they aged and their metabolism slowed, their eating habits did not change. And possibly they rose up in their jobs and were foremen, more than laborers. Thus age meant packing on the pounds and not burning the calories. Of course not all are overweight. Many are quite fit due to their active work and healthy eating.
But Hanson And I Have A Question For You
What did you do in your past life that you would love to brag about? Or what did you watch or experience that really got your juices going? Hanson claims that the greater percentage of answers would include physical work–the expending of exhausting energy. Like climbing a mountain, conquering a sport for the first time, building something–and to that effect watching someone else expend that physical power. Hanson writes: THERE SEEMS A HUMAN INSTINCT TO WANT TO DO PHYSICAL WORK.
Does TV Have the Answer?
Think about how content on television has changed. While we go to the pantry to get more chips or some caloric snack, we might watch reality TV where people do energy expending stuff. Hanson writes: “In a society that supposedly despises menial jobs, the television ratings..suggest that lots of Americans enjoy watching people of action who work with their hands.”
WHY IS THIS? Because despite our advances, physical labor is the platform, the basis for our success. Men and women have to build cars, pump oil. No app can do that. Hanson writes: “The high-tech, post-modern society still depends on low-tech, pre-modern labor.” That could be you working to prepare a meal for your family, or the mechanic trying to discover why the computer on your car is reading an error. Someone has to get down and dirty to make things happen.
Those I Depended On
When my husband worked in his white collar job, I tended the household. There were many physical things that I could do to keep our home running smoothly. Some of them I mentioned above. But when the basement began to seep water, when termites were found behind a wall, when the roof leaked–I needed the American worker. Without them, house and home would crumble around us. Though to be fair, right this moment my husband is repairing a drawer in our kitchen, one with an odd working angle, not a fun project. He’s found the necessary part and powered up the drill. I will allow a brag or more when he gets the job done.
More of Us Need to Do Physical Stuff
There are many upsides to taking up a chore. As Hanson writes doing what my husband is doing saves money and increases independence. It also helps we humans identity and find common ground with men and women who work.
Philosophical Benefits of Manual Labor
Hanson also mentions something we might forget when shut up in our air conditioned houses and cars, or eager to always dine at a restaurant where we don’t see the slime of meat or the detritus of vegetables. That kind of life hides reality. Some things that we encounter in day to day living must remind us of the struggles of human kind. Maybe they are not our immediate struggles, but someone’s. Hanson writes: “Working outdoors, often alone, with one’s hands, encourages a tragic acceptance of nature and its limitations.” He goes on to say that people who work 20 hours or more in minimum wage jobs know reality more than he did teaching in college.
Hanson ends his piece by quoting Euripides, the ancient Athenian playwright: “The hopes of countless men are infinite in number. Some make men rich; some come to nothing. So I consider that man (or woman) blessed who lives a happy existence day by day.”
Thanks for reading. I’m going to do some chores now.
PS The Bureau of Labor Statistics States: Among workers age 25 and over, those with an advanced degree were more likely to work at home than were persons with lower levels of educational attainment—43 percent of those with an advanced degree performed some work at home on days worked, compared with 12 percent of those with a high school diploma. (But work at home means sitting at a computer, not building a highway or putting out fires.)
Photo Credit: The New York Times. Take a Labor Day Tour of Blue Color Art.