Make Yourself Useful!

My father used to always say, “Make yourself useful.”  I thought about this statement on this Labor Day when many will be heading back to work and the children will be returning to school.

Summer is officially over as we start storing up our fruits of labor.  We will see the harvest and stored bounty as we prepare for the upcoming winter months. I am reminded of a children’s story that a school teacher shared with me.  She said that the animal character was asking the others in his community for food during the winter months.  They asked him what he had been doing in the summer and fall.  He replied, “Dancing!”  They told him that he needed to dance through the winter.  Hard lesson!

As one of my favorite former bosses used to say that there was,”No time for such foolishness.”  That is how he perceived any activity that was either non-productive or counter-productive.  I believe that we all have a role to play as we contribute to the whole functioning of our society.  Yet, sometimes, finding that role can be illusive.  But, some work is better than no work at all.  When the full-time opportunities for work were not available to me, I often worked as a temporary work. Surprisingly, the skills that I have amassed are amazing.  There is always some work that needs to be done.

Years ago, in the black community, there was a great debate between Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois on the role of workers or laborers.  After reflecting on those talks, both men had the welfare of the workers in mind.  Whether, one is a laborer or a leader, both work roles are still very important.   Everybody cannot be a leader and everyone cannot be a follower.  But, one thing is for certain.  It takes a good leader and good team of followers to act as a unit and meet the supply and demand.  That is a simple truth.

Washington believed in training the youth with the use of their hands.  Dubois wanted to work with the potential leaders which he called the “talented tenth” and help them develop their minds.  Both men had good theories because we know that every one cannot be, as one woman put it, “The chairman of the board.”

A few years back when my mother and I taught at a community college, students were all being told that they needed a four-year degree.  We saw so many fail and being set up to fail.  Many simply were not equipped with some of the basic skills of reading and writing to be successful in completing the curriculum.

Back in my high school days, I remember walking pass the shop classes as they were then called.  It was inspiring to see the youth engaged in drafting, metal shops, printing and mechanic shops to name a few. I saw this again some years later when I worked at a technical high school and I had the same feeling of exhilaration.  I felt that they were being realistically prepared to go forward in a chosen vocation or field.  They would leave with a sense of direction and it would be up to them to decide how far they wanted to go in that particular field.

Vocations and technical skills need to be put back into our schools on a wide scale today.  Maybe if we called them ‘specialties,’ it would add to the attraction into these fields.  There would be happier workers who could see themselves more clearly and how they fit into the whole.  Again, Wikipedia said that Labor Day celebrates the achievement of workers.  It also says, It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of their country.”

Workers would then be useful, resourceful, industrious and fulfilled as they make contributions to the ‘strength, prosperity and well-being of the country.’


Lynn                                                                              September 1, 2014


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