Here is my Labor Day article from last Sunday’s Rome Sentinel.
One of my favorite growing-up memories is of a time when my father took me to hear the President of the United States speak in my hometown of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Walking away from the event, Dad repeated a single sentence from the President’s speech: “We must learn to treat one another as indispensible partners and not disposable parts.”
I’m not surprised that this phrase stood out to him. My father’s family moved to New York from Puerto Rico when he was a small child. He grew up facing the dual pressures of prejudice and poverty. My grandmother and her seven children lived in a one-bedroom trailer with no furniture. My father worked his way through college as a janitor.
Dad knows firsthand what it feels like to be treated like a “disposable part” because of one’s ethnicity or blue-collar status. Nobody cares about learning what the janitor’s name is until he misses a spot! Years later, he eventually worked his way out of poverty and made a comfortable life for my siblings and me. However, he never forgot what it felt like to be treated like a “nobody” at the bottom of the pile. He raised me to respect the humanity in all people, especially those who work in occupations that receive less prestige than doctors and lawyers.
This is an important value to remember as we celebrate the Labor Day holiday. We cannot afford to hold onto the myth of the “self-made individual” any longer. We all depend on one another for community stability. We couldn’t even order lunch or gas up the car if weren’t for the labors of others. This Labor Day, it’s time for us to make a Declaration of Inter-dependence. We need each other. Our future depends on it.
So, when you’re ordering lunch at the diner, make a habit of looking up from your menu and looking the server in the eye. Remember his or her name. Say “thank you” and take a moment to honor your common humanity and mutual inter-dependence.