Two articles in today’s New York Times (February 10, 2010) point to a troubling pattern in American life today, a pattern that reflects a sharp divide between the way one group among ourselves is treated and another. Why is it acceptable to pay those laboring in the vital sector – what we need for basic social decency and function -- health care aides, janitorial services, educators, and farmworkers -- such low wages that food assistance is necessary for many of these fellow human beings to survive? Another article, about the ire shown to e-book publication rates shows we seem to feel similarly about cultural workers, in the resentment shown to those who write, edit, and publish, and create in other was to meet our voracious demand for entertainment. The meaning sector – those who are involved in creative endeavors that supply entertainment, make meaning, and provide reflection – is being devalued like the vital sector.
If we devalue the worker behind the fruits that we consume – literally, food, cleanliness, health, the arts, sports, and religious life – then we pave the way for those of us working in other sectors to be similarly devalued. We are in this together.
As a minister – a religious worker -- I regularly witness great sacrifices made to care for what we value. Where our heart is, as Jesus observed, there our treasure also is. Religious life – across the world religions – asks us to remember the inherent value of every person around us. And lest we forget, we’re invited to remember how we would like to be treated.
If the Golden Rule were easily lived, we might not see this troubling pattern of treating each other as lesser beings. The question I’ll ask those who feel it is acceptable to steal creative ideas and not to pay living wages to vital workers is: how would you like to be treated?
Having one’s labor valued so cheaply is demeaning. I know this personally. I know it, too, from sitting with people who have been out of work for long periods of time, or who have scrabbled to make ends meet while holding multiple jobs. What does it mean that nationally Americans are devaluing the vital and meaning sectors of our lives? How do we cultivate a greater sense of “we” and “us”, a commonality that cares and lives with gratitude for the many ways our lives can have worth and dignity? A basic common level of worth and dignity is essentially within our grasp. As a society, we do not have to strip away some people’s basic worth and dignity so that some others of us may have a little more. But that’s what we’re doing.
Today, I invite you to consider all the ways your life is affected by and affects the lives of other people. When you visit the library, remember that its resources are available because of your willingness and ability to pay tax dollars. As your trash is hauled away, pause to reflect on the lives of those who are doing that. When you eat today, whatever you didn’t grow, harvest, butcher, or cook yourself, think for a few moments about the many, many lives involved in bringing your meal to table. When you ready yourself to rest, undressing is a chance to remember those who made your clothes, those who support your health, those who maintain the water pipes, the electrical stations, the environmental monitors. Your life is not lived in isolation from others. The basic quality of your life comes through the labor of others. How amazing and wonderful is that care and labor! How grateful we all can be! How will that change your valuing the world tomorrow?