48. Jobs and the Social Hierarchy

Good morning and welcome to your forty-eighth meditation. Your job. In the capitalist world in which we live this concept can be about as fundamental to your social identity as your name. Surely you’ve enjoyed the experience of being at a party and meeting people you don’t know. Typically, if they do you the courtesy of first asking your name, the question of what you do for a living tends to follow closely behind. Even if that person is merely meaning to be polite, they are subconsciously placing you in a social hierarchy where high-paying, important-sounding jobs garner respect, and low-paying jobs are held in contempt. We internalize these judgments so that our jobs can be a point of pride, or the subject of shame, for all the wrong reasons. 

You may argue that one takes pride in their job because they are proud of the hard work they do, or because they are proud of the meaningful contribution to society they make, not because of the social status that their job confers on them. And while this may be the case, it would be difficult to argue that a garbage truck driver, who may work just as hard as a high-profile litigator, and who renders a service no less useful to society, would share a bracket on the social hierarchy with the lawyer. We may despise these categories, or the very notion that humans can be grouped in such a crude way; we may be very intentional about treating everyone equally. But to do so is to subvert the socially ingrained tendency within us to reserve a special kind of reverence for people with important-sounding titles, and, conversely, to reserve a certain disdain for those who work in menial labour, or who don’t have jobs at all. And to be subversive, one must be deliberate. We need to first be conscious of the hierarchy, and then make our minds up that it is unjust in order to dismantle it. This process of dismantlement could certainly involve deciding to treat everyone equally, regardless of their social position. But be sure to include yourself in that “everyone”. Perhaps your dream job didn’t work out; perhaps you had to take on other work to make ends meet, or to support your family; perhaps you just don’t have a very flashy job-title. None of that has anything to do with how much respect you deserve. And the same is true if you’ve had all the career success in the world. Maybe you had the good fortune to “make it”; maybe you worked tirelessly every day for your whole life to achieve what you have achieved. That’s wonderful! But it has no bearing on how much respect you deserve. We all deserve respect. By virtue of simply being, we deserve respect. And we need to start with ourselves. We need to look beyond our jobs, or our social positions; we need to cease comparing ourselves to others and feeling pride or shame as a result. We need to establish a respect so basic within ourselves, that it is impervious to these external threats. So close your eyes, take a deep breath, and say it: “I respect myself. I deserve respect. I respect myself. I deserve respect. I respect myself. I deserve respect”. Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.

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