On the importance of getting dirty…

I don’t always watch television, but when I do, I prefer Dirty Jobs. It’s one of the very few shows I can tolerate on a consistent basis.

Not only that, I think it is an important program, especially for young people. Let me explain…

At first glance I took it as just another low-brow “reality show” targeting the lowest common denominator, with the running gag of a handsome wise-cracking television personality being forced to endure the sort of “elbow grease” that a lot of blue collar workers have to encounter on a daily basis.

That’s the basic premise, to be sure, but I believe there’s something more to this… an idea, just beneath the surface.

I suspected there was a bit more to it after I first heard the opening narration, where host Mike Rowe describes how he travels the country looking for people “who earn an honest living doing the kinds of jobs that make civilized life possible for the rest of us.”

When I researched the man himself, as well as the inspiration for the show, and then read the following statement on his personal website, everything clicked into place:

Doesn’t it seem strange that we can have a shortage of skilled labor, a crumbling infrastructure, and rising unemployment? How did we get into this fix, are we just lazy?

Our society has slowly redefined what it means to have a “good job” while the portrayals in Hollywood and the messages from Madison Avenue have been unmistakable: “work less and be happy!”

For the last 30 years we’ve been celebrating a different kind of work. We’ve aspired to other opportunities. We’ve stopped making things. We’ve convinced ourselves that “good jobs” are the result of a four-year degree.

That’s bunk. Not all knowledge comes from college. Skill is back in demand. Steel-toed boots are back in fashion, and work is not the enemy.

Now that might just be a bunch of eyeroll-inducing boilerplate rhetoric for the proletariat, but I dig it in a big way.

There is a cost for so many of the luxuries we’ve come to appreciate as necessities. Not simply a financial one, but a human cost. In time, in resources, and in plain ol’ physical exertion.

Every time a toilet is flushed and automatically refilled with clean water, there are staffers working at the local water treatment plant to ensure it stays that way. The electricity even, which keep our houses comfortable despite the harsh elements of heat or cold, can trace its source to people working at a lignite-burning power plant or petroleum refinery to make it so.

Of course, I come from a long line of carpenters, metalworkers, and yeoman farmers, so I have an inborn appreciation for augers, sliding-T bevels, and reciprocating saws. As such, it’s important to me that my own children grow up with an appreciation for hard work, irrespective of how dirty it might be.

We’ve started with them taking out the trash as well as cleaning their bathroom or other odd household chores, and we plan to build upon this foundation. I hope to teach my sons how to change their own oil and my daughters how to grow their own food, or vice-versa.

In an age that seems to be preaching the “gospel” of easy living, I believe it’s important to know how much hard work is required to makes things so easy.

My father has worked mostly as a carpenter and diesel mechanic over the course of his life, most of the men in my family work jobs that are grueling and often result in getting a bit dirty.

I’ve had my own share of “dirty jobs” ranging from industrial welder to scraping the barnacles off the bottom of yachts at Port Annapolis.

Of course, my current trade is a bit more abstract than that of an “avian vomitologist” or even a run-of-the-mill sewer inspector, but there are certainly important traits shared in common.

While I may not clean pig troughs or harvest ant larvae for a living, you’d be surprised at how easy it is for me to arrive at the end of my workday seemingly covered in filth.

It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it.


3 thoughts on “On the importance of getting dirty…

  1. I couldn’t agree more. I love the quote from Rowe’s website.

    There’s a farmer in northern Virginia, Joel Salatin. I saw him do a lecture on family enterprise. His family lives on what they produce. He worked for a newspaper and sold advertising space for about a year. In that time, he read ads for all kinds of jobs and determined that he would never be unemployed as long as he were willing to do anything. http://www.polyfacefarms.com Cool guy!!

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