This post spins out from a conversation overheard recently at a McDonald’s one evening while I was chilling there surfing the internet and working on various writing projects. Two McDonald’s employees were working on taking care of the trash from the various trash cans, discussing techniques used. Somehow the conversation turned to this exchange:
Employee 1: “You’ve heard about the right to work… It is a privilege to work.”
Employee 2: “I thought it was a requirement. Hey, we are working at McDonald’s.”
Employee 1: “It is still a privilege.”
Which is right? Perhaps they both are.
It was interesting to see those contrasting attitudes, both at the same level of staff at McDonald’s. The same, and yet so different. To the one, who said work was a responsibility, he actually was expressing an attitude of entitlement. The one who said it was a privilege, saw work as a gift, to be treasured.
The one who saw work as a requirement was right, in that we cannot avoid work in life. But if we see it as only a requirement, we lose any sense of the joy it is meant to impart, the sense of purpose it can give. We also can fall into a sense of entitlement, almost that we are due work, a job, no matter what or how well we do it. (I didn’t impart the full conversation, but employee #2 did have that undercurrent to his conversation.)
Employee #1 saw work as a privilege. He didn’t have a complaint about his wages, which was a subtext of Employee #2. He counted it a blessing to have a job — at McDonald’s — and to do the best he could at it.
We go to that McDonald’s quite often of an evening to write, and have had the chance for the odd conversation with Employee #1. In those we have learned how he has had to walk a fair distance in all sorts of weather to get to and from work. And yet that work is a blessing. He doesn’t feel himself poor, and entitled, but blessed, and privileged to make his own way as best he can, with the talents given to him.
For myself, I wouldn’t want to take away the privilege of work from Employee #1 by valuing his job beyond what he can afford to be paid, requiring his employer to hire someone of greater skill. Nor would I devalue his labor by making it unnecessary for him to work and stealing the dignity he earns along with his wages.
We need to be careful how we propose to help such people — sometimes we don’t realize what our help may actually cost them.