When we were young our authority figures stressed the importance of hard work. If your experience was like mine, you came from a working-class family who understood the value of a dollar.
My father was an Italian immigrant who spent 12 hours a day, six days a week at his job as a barber. He spent everyday on his feet, serving customers. Not once did he complain. He did what he had to do to raise his family, so that they would never want for anything.
If you were unlike me you possibly had parents who had a “career” that brought with it a lot of self-importance. I think that collectively we believe that our jobs determine our value, worth and identity. It’s why we sacrifice so much of our lives for our jobs, because we crave the admiration, and envy of our family, friends, community and society.
As I said, my family was working-class, and as a result, I never really thought about a “career”, and my parents never thought it was all that important to have one. Clearly though, I was going to have to work to feed myself. Even amongst my extended family there wasn’t a lot of stress placed on education, and so when I attended university I was the first in my family to do so. At Guelph, I was surrounded by peers who had very different experiences. I couldn’t help but feel intimidated that their parents were executives for multi-million dollar corporations, or lawyers, or doctors, or bankers, or teachers.
Embarrassingly I admit that it took me a while to notice that people reacted favourably, or not, to a person’s socio-economic status. I began to feel ashamed that my dad was a barber and my mother was a housewife. When people asked what my parents did for a living I feared their reaction when I told them. Depending on the person, I often received a look of disappointment, and sometimes pity. Looking back on all of this now I should have told them all to “fuck off” but I was susceptible to this type of judgment. I mean, we often look down on secretaries, and people in similar jobs as people who lack any intelligence, or ambition. Blue-collar work is low brow, and for a while I bought into this conventional wisdom.
I worked hard to find a career that I felt would fulfill me, and because I liked to write I landed on communications and public relations. Rather than private, I determined to work for the not-for-profit and charitable sector in the hopes that I would contribute to disenfranchised members of our society.
So I did this for six years and I learned a lot of lessons. The most important was that individuals in positions of leadership rarely deserve to be there. In many cases they are sociopaths, or even psychopaths who engage in a shocking amount of nepotism and cronyism. Their favourite topic of conversation is themselves, and they have little empathy for others.
Have you ever wondered why front-line staff are always the first to be laid-off when a company encounters financial hardship? Really when you think about it, how does that make any sense? Employees are not the ones making these decisions. Executives with six-figure salaries are responsible for the failure of the organization that they lead, so why are they firing innocent people? Only a sociopath would behave this way. Their motivation is to protect their societal position, status and salary at all costs. These are not acts of rational, sane and decent people.
It’s no wonder that the majority of my friends are unhappy in their jobs. How are they supposed to care for their careers when companies are demonstrating a complete lack of loyalty for their employees? How are they supposed to survive by making $35,000 a year while living in a city as expensive as Toronto?
A study was released yesterday that indicated that more and more Canadians are living pay-cheque to pay-cheque, and it’s clear why. Housing prices, rent, food, entertainment and basic living expenses are increasing every year but salaries are not.
The argument that capitalists love to preach is that those struggling in a free market need to work harder to climb the ladder to success, but in reality there isn’t enough space at the top, and those who’ve made it don’t want to share the wealth.
In addition, I’ve seen what ambition does to people, and it’s not pretty. Superiors bully, intimidate and compromise their virtues, values, moral, ethics, integrity and dignity to get where they are, and to stay there, they will commit the most atrocious, back-handed acts. In this respect there is no decency. Rarely do executives embody interpersonal skills, and when they do, I suspect that they were coerced into taking a social etiquette course in the not too distant past.
I worked with a woman once who had taken one of these courses and speaking with her was a treat if you needed some comedic relief. You could see the textbook flashing through her mind as she asked, “Hello Franco, how. are. you? [Internal monologue: Refer to page 35 and ask about a personal detail you already know about said colleague]. How. is. your. dog. Maude?”
Socializing did not come naturally to this woman, and not because she was autistic, but because her priorities in life were messed up. Work was more important to her than people. Ironically she never once stopped to understand that work often involves interacting with people. She was also responsible for callously firing the most people in the organization’s history, so her lack of people skills may have been part of the reason she was hired.
These are our leaders, people whom we’re told we should idolize as fine examples of capitalism. Now this isn’t an anti-capitalist piece but it does demonstrate that there are inequities in our society, and that a free market is inherently unfair, and rewards only a few of us — 1% of the population to be exact.
To keep order in the work place the fear of termination is ever-present. What I have found in my experience is that employers will preach about the need for fresh talent, individuals who “think outside of the box” but once these individuals are hired, they are given little room to express their ideas. If they step too out of line, or too far outside the “box” they are reminded that they might not make it past their probationary period.
When I was in university I wish my professors were more honest about the realities of the work-force. I wish there was a course that prepared people for how hard, unfair and damaging it actually is. There should be first-hand accounts about the fear that working in this specific environment elicits, and how to cope, many people self-medicate. Depression is also rampant, and the stigma of mental health deepens the burden.
This is what’s going on right now in cities all across North America. We’re all earning less money, working longer hours, and living beyond our means in the desperate attempt to find happiness, or a purpose in all the mayhem.
We’ve been lied to. Not to be too much a cynic about the whole issue (I know, too late!), but the framework we’ve developed to help guide our lives is flawed. If we’re supposed to identify with our shitty jobs, it’s no wonder that the majority of us are so broken.
Unfortunately this is all we have to work with. As a result, pharmaceutical companies make record profits; bars, and clubs are at full capacity every night; and the shelves at all our liquor stores are empty.
So many of us feel trapped, incapable of making a change, and afraid that if we do, we’ll find ourselves trapped once more. If this was Argentina, a revolution would be underway.