Worthwhile Work

Next week work will be taking me to LA. The week after that I’ll be heading to… well, someplace else. Geez. I hate flying. I have a phobia. It terrifies me. Think “Rain Man.” Anyway…

This week I’ve met a few well-travelled folks, people who are retired and spend their time travelling about the country building homes with Habitat for Humanity. My boss has extended me the luxury of working on a Habitat house in the day, and working my real job at night. I think I’m not wise for assuming this schedule, but I am thoroughly, thoroughly enjoying helping build the house. I get to do physical labor, I meet generous folks, I do something good for another family, and I feel like I’m living like I’m supposed to. And, you know, it’s a good thing for one’s humility to do something you know little about. I have no idea how many times this week I’ve been shown what I’ve done wrong. But there are some really fine, practical, hands-on educators doing this stuff. I’ve been working with a guy and I’ll ask him, “So, how do I do this? What am I doing wrong here? How do I fix this?” He’ll show me how to do it, and then have me do it myself. Then he’ll say, “Do you want me to tell me you why?” and if you answer in the affirmative, he’ll explain the reasoning behind the action. I am always fascinated that there’s a reason behind pretty much everything, and that a zillion little things are discovered throughout history, preserved and passed down and taught, becoming common knowledge in a particular community. Anyway, I like this approach to teaching. Tell somebody how to do something. If they’re happy with that, so be it. But then offer to explain why that’s how it’s done. If they want to know, tell them. Either way: easy, efficient, done.

One of my kids asked me why I’m doing this. So I explained, again, that everything we have, and everything we can do, has been given to us for a reason: to help other people. Hopefully, one of these days it will stick. And hopefully, one of these days I’ll do a better job of living up to it myself.

Here’s the interesting theoretical aspect to the experience: you’ve got the two poles of American socioeconomic political theory coming together in a way that works very well. The company sponsoring this house is a big-business capitalistic enterprise which just so happens to have invested one and a half million dollars into Habitat, and on this gig is pitching in big time. On the other hand, there’s an element going on concerning the haves and the have-nots, about socioeconomics and about what’s fair and what’s not, and about people who aren’t worried about getting their hands dirty and their knuckles busted. It’s a really interesting mix of various ideologies coming together both in theory and in individual people. The frameworks battling it out silently and far behind the scenes are enormously complex. But, I like my version: everything we have, and everything we can do, is to help other people.

This basic understanding and agreement is part of what I’m preaching in life.

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