In Praise of Manual Labor

Once upon a time, between careers, I worked as a trim carpenter for a few years. The experience taught me a great deal about wood and tools, but more importantly it taught me the dignity of manual labor. To this day, I have a deep respect for tradesmen who make a living working with their hands.

So I read with interest this article by Jazz Shaw, who argues that our society’s shift away from skilled trades toward a knowledge-based economy is a bad move.

Is it any wonder, then, that our nation’s manufacturing base has been in decline for so long? It’s easy enough to blame external market forces, but the fact is that a once proud tradition has fallen into a shameful state of disrepair and blatant disrespect. And yet physical work will always need to be done – at least until Skynet’s robots are nearly ready to take over our society. Might some of us find more satisfaction in washing the dirt or grease off our hands at the end of a long day, seeing the fruits of our labors in fully functional use by others? Would it be so terrible if more of our children sought out these “useful trades”?

Being a “handyman” is another description generally employed with scorn, much like the tinker of old. But a man who is handy will likely find work no matter where the Dow Jones closes tomorrow. The real world is full of things, and they impact our lives on every level. Treating them as if they are magical beasts beyond our comprehension represents losing something which our society once held precious.

Hmmm. I’m still looking for work after being laid off from my white-collar job. Maybe I need to go back to carpentry.


2 responses to “In Praise of Manual Labor

  1. Maybe you should become just a “handy man”, working for yourself! You would probably get more work than you could handle.

  2. Along that same line, I’ve found it fascinating to discover over the last year or so just how many women are going back to the basics of housekeeping and learning the art of frugality, reusing whatever they have, making whatever they need, sustaining their families through growing/cooking/canning all their own food. It’s a movement, really, and I can’t help but think that it’s brought about from people realizing that it really is better to do things ourselves, with our own hands.

    I also read a fascinating book recently called “Better Off” by Eric Brende. It’s an interesting look at what our world of “machines” has done to us, and how we’re really better off without them. You’d like it.

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