What Makes Work Meaningful?
By Carla Brink, CLAC Representative
Recently, a photo surfaced of actor Geoffrey Owens—known for playing a son-in-law on The Cosby Show—working as clerk at Trader Joe’s, a grocery store. The photo went viral, and Owens was initially job-shamed online. However, soon many people began speaking up to commend him for doing good, honest work.
In response, Owens said he hopes his story changes the public’s idea about the dignity of all work: “Every job is worthwhile and valuable.”
I was really pleased to see that this story resonated with so many people. It is something that CLAC has stood for from the time we were founded in 1952. CLAC’s constitution states: “Human beings have been given the task of responsibly developing and caring for the resources of the world. All members of society must be given opportunity to share in this responsibility and privilege. . . . Work is a good and necessary endeavour.”
In September, CLAC’s western stewards gathered at a conference for some education and inspiration. Brian Dijkema, program director of work and economics at the Canadian think tank Cardus, spoke about the concept of work as meaningful. He discussed with the stewards the significance of all work, that each job has its place in making a contribution to society. Work also provides benefits to the individual, such as improving your skills and craft, providing income for your family, creating a sense of community with your colleagues and clients, learning and self-improvement, and providing dignity and respect for you as a person. An example was given of grocery store workers who are doing their part in the long process of bringing food from a seed in the ground to the grocery store shelves.
Geoffrey Owens’ positive response is an inspiration to us when we feel like our work isn’t meaningful or important. It is meaningful!
Martin Luther King Jr. put it well when he said: “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.” (For more about what King had to say about the dignity of work, read All Labour Has Dignity.)