Friday, February 18, 2011

On Being Useful

When I look at my job, at my education, at all I’ve done with the professional side of my life, I realize more and more that I am, in the grand scheme of things, completely unnecessary. As an attorney, my job exists only at this particular time in history and only in this certain place. It exists only because of a complex and utterly manmade structure that did not exist in the past in its current form and is not guaranteed to exist for any part of the future. Without this fictional system, I have no professional usefulness at all. I cannot fix anything tangible (human or otherwise), I cannot create anything, I cannot go to another place or time and provide anything of value to anyone.

The more I think on these altogether unpleasant facts, the more I am committed to help the boys avoid ever being in this situation as adults. Yes, I want them to have a college degree; yes, I am fine with them being suited professionals scurrying off to an office every day. The critical difference is in what they do in that office: it has to be something that has universal applicability, that is creative in nature, and that provides a direct and tangible benefit to others. I want them to have skills that can survive any change in the fictional social system in which we currently live, that can transfer to any other environment and still be useful.

And as much as I want them to have a useful “educated” life. I also want the boys to be able to take care of things that most of my generation has lost the ability to take care of. They’re going to be men someday and as such they need to know how to shingle a roof, frame a house (I’d settle for a shed), plant a garden, and pour a sidewalk’s worth of concrete. For the most part our society has lost the knowledge that there is great value in skilled, creative work, and we need to change that, one person at a time. If my boys can grow up to see the great worth there is in working with their hands, we’re a small step down a long road to help people begin to respect such work again.

What of the boys in all this, you ask? What do they themselves gain in all my plans for them? Well, the fact that they will wake up at 40 and know that their work matters seems to be gain enough - at least it does to me. Additionally, they will have the satisfaction that comes with creating something yourself, helping someone in a tangible way, participating meaningfully in real life instead of in some fabricated facsimile thereof. If I can work as a parent to give them a fraction of that, then perhaps the usefulness of my personal life will somehow redeem the futility of my professional one. Please, may it be so.

1 comment:

Richard said...

I think your definition of "useful" is too narrow. Is being a good wife/mother/neighbor/friend/daughter "useful"? Are you necessary to your family? I just spent three days staying with my mother in the hospital (she's getting better and my brother is taking the weekend duty), mostly just being there, sometimes helping her move around or fixing a sheet. Was that necessary or useful? I think so, even though I wasn't making a product or building something with manual labor.

That said, I agree that practical mechanical skills are good things to learn. I'm not too un-handy, but nothing like my next door neighbor--I wouldn't dream of framing a building.