Today is Labor Day, a holiday born out of a desire to celebrate the American labor movement, honor workers’ economic and social achievements, and pay tribute to those whose contributions helped make our country prosperous and strong. The original proposal suggested a day beginning with a procession through the streets to show the public “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations,” followed by a celebration for the workers and their families. The Knights of Labor and Central Labor Union organized that first parade as a “holiday for the workingman” in New York City in 1882.
Of course, our current “Labor Day” isn’t celebrated by everyone. People in many careers (nurses, firefighters, police officers, newscasters) are all working. And, very few retailers are closed because it’s simply become another weekend to celebrate with more consumption.
Working has, obviously, changed significantly since the 1880s. Often there isn’t any division between”home life” and “work life.” We’re “on” from the moment we wake up until we close our eyes at night. Parents frequently miss important events with their children because they “have to work.” Family meals are a distant memory in many homes, and despite “take our daughters and sons to work day,” family life often suffers for the sake of career. Salaried people are regularly expected to work “as long as it takes to get it done,” regardless of the time of day, day of the week, or personal cost.
“Blue Laws”—which kept many businesses closed on Sundays to honor the Sabbath—have been repealed in most cases. Our obsession with the “stuff” of life creates pressure to earn more so that we can buy more, and the cycle of accumulation continues. Sadly, what we’ve gained in speed and automation has not allowed us to slow down or be more present.
Of course, we have to work to pay for housing, food, and clothing. Of course, many are passionate about careers they love and truly make our world a better place to live. Sadly, however, the pursuit of financial and career success has become paramount in many people’s lives. Although the coronavirus altered much of that, some folks spend hours a day commuting to their place of employment or work 60+ hours a week. They come home exhausted, unable to fully participate in their family’s or friend’s lives, and on days off, rush from one thing to the other, trying to “squeeze in” all the stuff they didn’t have the time to think about during the workweek.
People often work all their lives waiting for retirement to really have fun, take that memorable vacation, spend time with the ones they love, or simply enjoy life. They put real life on hold, believing that they will make up for it when they finally get to slow down and retire. Before you know it, the children or grandchildren have grown up; you’re in the twilight of this life and realize that you missed so much and think, “If I could do it over again, I’d recognize what’s truly important.” (And, as I write this, I know that most of us must work to survive.)
What are we rushing to or from? What do we miss in the blur that is our life? How can we be responsible, hard-working people who are grateful for our careers and yet have balance? How do we honor our lives?
Of course, let’s show esprit de corps—devotion, loyalty, and enthusiasm—to our careers, but let’s show that same spirit to those who are most important in our lives.
Happy Labor Day,