What is an “essential worker”?

One of the things I struggled with when I worked at various businesses was the thought that I didn’t matter. The job I did wasn’t important, and I wasn’t “essential” to the running of society. Today we have a whole government that has decided who is and who isn’t essential, and everyone else has been deemed unessential. To have the work you do to earn a living dictated in such a fashion seems a bit harsh, but we did it for a good reason, right?

“Essential worker” is an interesting thought experiment. What do you need? Let’s try a laptop to work from home. How many people are required to make that laptop, ship the various ingredients, refine them, mold them, and assemble them? How about tech support when it breaks, or a repair person? How about electricians to keep the power plants running, ISP workers to keep your internet working, and all the people necessary to make the parts (fiber optics, copper wires, mechanics for the trucks, etc. Etc) that the techs are going to need.

Everything can be bought through Amazon, but they don’t build it. They don’t get the raw materials or refine it. They don’t keep the system running that you need to use it.

Heck, even thinking about Avocado toast and all the people needed to grow, pick, process, bake, ship, and sell the items in that simple meal…. It’s a chain of people and they all have their place.

It has taken me a while to realize that it wasn’t the jobs I had that made me feel unimportant. A lot of it was the fact that management made it known that I could be replaced with anyone else, and it wasn’t my job that wasn’t important, it was me. They boiled the job down to the necessities, and it didn’t matter who did it, they just needed a warm body.

And if it wasn’t the employer reminding me how little they needed me it was sometimes the customer that looked down on me for having that job. The shouts, snide looks, or condescending attitude that said they were better than me because they managed to get a “real” job. And yet they were there for my customer service. What would they do if that job disappeared?

One of the jobs I had was making noodles at a noodle factory. It seems like an unimportant job, but in the first days of the corona virus noodles were one of the first things to disappear from the shelves. It seemed important to all the millions of people who eat noodles every day.

Another job was a storage facility. It seems like a perfectly useless job, so many people just have them for “stuff” right? But I met so many people who had just lost a parent and were storing their stuff while they dealt with the funeral arrangements. Or people moving to new opportunities. Or people who just lost their home and had to have storage because they had no other option. I had so many people thank me for a warm smile, or a kind word. I had people cry telling me about their mom who just passed away, and how they just didn’t know what they were going to do now that she was gone. For those brief moments… I mattered.

What is “essential”? Humanity has been building upon the jobs and inventions of past generations for centuries. Each part fits together to hold up the other.

I think if you feel a job is “unessential” then you shouldn’t go there. If you think they really don’t matter than stop giving them your money. Eventually the unessential jobs will fade away. But the jobs that do exist are there for a reason. They provided a service someone needed, either to feed them, cloth them, shelter them, or just keep them entertained. And each job is an intricate part of a greater whole.

I think once quarantine lifts we’re going to realize just how essential some things are, things we perhaps forgot or gave up for a time. I only hope that this reminds us to be kinder to those who serve us because we need them as much as they need us.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s