6 months into the lockdown, we can admit beyond doubt which professions and work are in essence, truly essential.
When it comes to essential workers, kids had it right all along. When asked about future professions, kids want to be firemen, doctors, teachers, police, truckers – you know, people who truly build a society. Kids recognize innate value. Its us adults who diminish essential workers by treating them like scum. ‘One becomes a teacher only if you can’t do anything else’, ‘Government servants equals corruption’, ‘Let’s pay sanitation workers as little as we can get away with’.
Let’s finally introspect on why we treat essential workers as non-essential. Let’s also question, why we instead idolize celebrity and wall-street? Our society coalesces around carefully crafted demigods. We aspire to and even worship, the rich and famous. Often having unrealistic expectations of them. It takes a pandemic to realize that they sit smug in their million dollar homes on an island somewhere singing ‘imagine’, while wall-street honchos scavenge off market fluctuations. But guess who is in the streets cleaning, sanitizing, delivering, treating, donating, teaching, protecting, testing? You guessed it – essential workers.
The multi-billion dollar question is – why are we still praying to the wrong gods? During the pandemic it’s become ever clear as to which professions are truly essential, but that our treatment of them leaves much to be desired.
Below are 7 professions we call ‘essential’ but don’t treat them as such. And the next time, we can hopefully give them more respect than we currently do.
One: Nurses and medical professionals — Apart from doctors in the medical profession who are treated with immense respect, and paid well (in most cases), other medical professionals like nurses, healthcare workers, hospice workers, etc. are often taken for granted. It takes a certain kind of heart to get into claustrophobic PPE kits day after day, risking personal safety to serve other human beings in medical need. Think about the unconditional care hospice workers and ICU nurses provide patients when even close family sometimes takes a step back.
Two: A good teacher is like a candle, it consumes itself to light the way for others. – Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Turkish statesman. Having ~1.1 billion students globally in ‘online education’ for nearly 6 months now, parents and society at large is coming to terms with the value that educators provide. Not only do they productively engage billions of students during peak working hours for billions of working parents, but also mould a whole generation. How many of us think of teaching as a first choice for a profession despite having teachers in our life who have shaped our thinking so keenly?
Three: As the rush to create a vaccine for the coronavirus intensifies, professionals in the hard sciences feel the heat and pressure. While in school, many of us think of becoming scientists, inventors and researchers. The reality of painstaking focus, unwavering patience, and relentless perseverance involved in such types of professions dissuades many of us. Top minds graduating each year increasingly settle for higher ROI professions in investment banking and consulting vs. professions in the pure sciences. Kudos to those who choose instead to solve real problems in the world.
Four: As the world grapples with misinformation and fake news, unbiased and committed journalism and reporting becomes foundational to building societal trust among communities and its foundational organizations. While fewer of us are willing to pay for news, deep pocketed advertisers and large corporates drive reportage, editorials, and programming in both print and broadcast media. As a result, the risk/reward equation for a career in good journalism looks bleak. And yet journalists remain essential to how the world’s story is written.
Five: Without sanitation workers cleaning up the streets and trash, police and fire-fighters maintaining law and order, government services like 24X7 electricity, clean water, communication networks, transportation infrastructure — the world as we know it would collapse into anarchy. The clockwork of these systems, more importantly the workers within them maintain the delicate equilibrium we all hang in.
Six: Moving away from a vastly agrarian society allowed humans to focus on more specialized skills and professions. However, we all still need food to survive. Food that farmers grow, food supply & delivery workers and truckers distribute, and retail workers stock on the well-lit, water sprayed shelves in near rows in our grocery stores. Barring some lack of choice with certain food items, food professionals did a fantastic job of ensuring everyone was well-fed, during the entire lockdown. Time for us to think deeply about how we treat those who help us stay alive.
Seven: While it seems like everyone lives in cities, we forget how a majority of the world’s population still lives in remote and rural areas. Items like food, medicines, personal care goods, and all other stuff we buy online, gets to our homes thanks to long-distance logistics truckers, fulfillment center workers, and last mile delivery workers. Think about how often we have thanked our delivery worker after we got a package we really needed.
What other types of work do we discount?
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