Amongst the many careers I have had, the one in which I could see human nature more than any other was when I worked as a waiter. Alcohol is well known for reducing inhibitions and as such, when one is out wining and dining, one also, almost inadvertently, shows one’s true character. The sober waiter has a unique perspective.
That is one advantage of a career in hospitality; being able to view this behaviour. A second is that it provides an opportunity to meet various people and it was under such circumstances that I met a particularly interesting gentleman. A taxi driver.
He would come into the restaurant where I worked regularly after his shift. He would order different things; he didn’t have a usual. He did, however, know a great many things and when probed I discovered that he, not only was a college graduate, but had two degrees and a trade certificate. The obvious question, and the one I asked, why was he driving a cab?
Because that’s what he wanted to do. That was the answer. He had two degrees and a trade certificate because he was interested in those subjects. He didn’t want to make a career of it, he just wanted to broaden his knowledge out of interest. His true career choice was taxi driver.
And there is nothing wrong with that. In his classic novel Brave New World (1932), Aldous Huxley presents a “utopian” society where the proletariat are bred to be ignorant, the lowest of which, clad in black, are referred to as the “Epsilon-Minus, Semi-Moron.” The pretense is that the tasks which these individuals perform are so distasteful that they must be kept in the dark about the brighter opportunities that others enjoy.
But those opportunities aren’t brighter for some people. Ron Livingston illustrates this very nicely in, the hauntingly familiar (for those in the industry) 1999 vocational comedy Office Space. At the end of the film his character, Peter Gibbons, decides that he is much happier working with his blue collar neighbor, shovelling the burnt out remains of his high tech office, than actually working in it. Believe it or not, people like Peter Gibbons actually exist.
And the reverse is true. Again drawing from cinema, the 1986 film Gung Ho (marketed in Australia under the title Working Class Man – universally agreed to be a better title by those to whom I have imparted this information) depicts the executives joining the assembly line workers to help meet a deadline. The work is not beneath them, except for one individual who is singled out, highlighting the point the film attempts to make (quite successfully, in my opinion).
An educated proletariat is not, as Huxley suggests, a liability; something that should be avoided. Quite the contrary. We should encourage the learned cab drivers. The common response is to grimace and ask “why?” with incredulity. Instead these people deserve accolades because not only do they fulfill required services to our communities but also strive to be aware.
It is an official position of the Church that there are no problems that cannot be solved with education and that a base level of education is required for a society to function efficiently. The most fundamental lesson: never let anyone make you feel bad for what you do and that you have, not only the right to your own destiny, but the right to defend that right.
Remember that, next time you see someone doing a thankless job, and take a moment to get to know them. Maybe it’s not thankless, after all.