October 23, 2008

It's What You Do With It!!!!!!! (Part 4)

We Whistle While We Work
(or Ch.6.4)

People need to get paid. This much we know. Without getting paid, there is little hope that we have in enjoying the finer things in life: that 2500 sq ft dream house, annual vacations to the Domincan Republic, romantic dinners on the lakeside, 18% table cream instead of just coffee whitener, new shoes for our kids in the fall, and Thursday afternoon drinking at Dewey's. But it's the idea that so many people are willing to sacrifice so many of the finer things in life in exchange for that extra few dollars that gets to me. Some people thrive on the recognition of being an outstanding worker. This reinforces their desire to work more. Produce greater results. Get that fatter paycheque. I have 8 days of classes to go to before I am finished my degree and am expected to enter the workforce. I just need some clue in deciding what in the world I should do about it!

So this blog looks at a few things:

  • the appreciation of workers with formal educations vs non-formally educated workers

  • people that are comfortable with working "less desirable jobs", but still have a socially relaxing and relatively low-stress atmosphere, sufficient job satisfaction, and a quality of life that it provides them with enough things to get by day-to-day with a smile on their face.

  • the hours of work per week needed to support a certain lifestyle, and the effect of working those types of hours
  • working towards the preservation and improvement of our environment, rather than the destruction and exploitation of it

  • who benefits from this work, really?

  • do-gooders and volunteer workers & wanting to make an impact but ask for nothing

I get a large appreciation for how life is lived, could be lived, and should be lived by looking at my own past & present decisions, actions, experiences. Take now for instance. Rather than studying for a midterm that accounts for 30% of my mark, I am working on my blog that really only about 4 or 5 people ever read. No doubt that more time could have been put in studying for this/any midterm, in reality, a person has to really pick & choose what they want to be doing, where & when to do it, who they are going to be doing it with (or for), and lastly, why they feel that this work being done is actually going to be worthwhile in the end.

All along, I have made decisions to "work" at my engineering degree, so long as I e v e n t u a l l y pass the required courses. In hindsight, it really is a crying shame that I missed Raised Fist at Red's about 5 years ago to the day, because of the emphasis that I had placed towards working on my engineering degree and studying for that statics mid-term. It is with the work ethic demanded from the engineering program in combination with my acknowledgement of the extent of corruption & inequality in the world, that I now look at what work is a lot more extensively: who does this work benefit when and where it is finally directed, and at what costs to the individual, family, community, or society result from this work? For every 600 engineers that enter the workforce upon graduation every year, how many of them will find work that is not only A) self-satisfying, but will also satisfy the needs of: B) their economy, C) their employer, D) their planet, E) their family? And how often do each of these things work against eachother?? And which of them will govern??

There are a lot of people out there who have landed themselves "respectable" jobs. Respectable, in the sense that society appreciates having the person's skills used in a way that extends out to both the social and physical infrastructure of the community. Social infrastructure would include things like working to establish a healthy foundation for health/childcare providers, teachers, non-profit support groups; whereas physical infrastructure would include those of us who work to build roads, strip malls, and water treatment plants. However, since any and all of these types of work generate wealth & cash flow, Harper "smiles" and the country prospers, in terms of GDP anyway.

On the flip side, a lot of these well-respected jobs out there are not given any respect at all. Lawyers. Politicians. Teachers. Endless pay hikes are in sight for these "professions". Their professional expertise, in my opinion, are in their capability to coerce people into supporting their salaries/lavish lifestyles for the dirtiest, nastiest work we ask of them: Keeping us out of jail, legislating rules that must be followed in order to stay out of jail, and Raising Our Children. Glorified babysitters that supposedly inspire future generations to give us all a brighter future. Okkkkaay. But my ideas for the revamping of public education is a blog for another day...And the lawyers, with their years of university education and Armani Suit-Wearing, compensating lawyers' salaries for the commitment they made to simply become a lawyer just baffles me. I say this now til I need a lawyer. (Secretly I am actually a HUGE Boston Legal fan). But my dream would be that one day we wouldn't even need any lawyers because everyone could just accept & respect eachother and eachother's stuff.

- Office Jobs -

8 til 4:30. 5 days/week. 2 weeks vacation/year. Show up: 8:10. Turn on computer, get coffee #1: 8:30. Read e-mails: 9, 9:15. Sort out plan for day: 9:30. 2 1/2 hours later? Lunch time. Back to desk: 12:30. Check facebook account and get coffee #3 or #4: 12:45. By 1:00? Back to it. Only 3.5 hours left. Make that 3 with 2 good pee breaks and a little bit of gossiping with the cute girl in the cubicle next door. 2:30: Roll eyes at Michael Scott for second time today. And we all know that last half hour doesn't really count, since we seem to have forgotten where we put our keys, afterall.

Not a bad gig. Whether these office jobs earn $15/hr as an administrative assistant or $85,000 per year as an professional engineer with 12 years of experience, essentially the daily routine is just the same. Similarly, labourers in construction can get paid well too. (And rightfully so!) One of the jobs that an associate of mine gets paid respectable wages to do is scoop sludge into a large steel bin with a shovel while I run around with a pen and a notebook in my attempts to fill this bin as efficiently as possible. This kid gets paid approximately equal wages to a junior engineer, and will be comfortable doing so for the foreseeable future. He will be able to raise a family and afford that summer vacation and would also enjoy his new 54" plasma tv with the Christmas Bonus he got, all for shovelling sludge. Mr. Will Hunting didn't have a problem with emptying trash cans and sweeping floors in a school either, and was still able to mack on Harvard students... If anything, maybe he could earn more than them by the time that those students got their loans paid off!

In the lumber yard, these teens are happy enough to rake in 30 hour weeks just so they can keep their cell phone and use it to text for when they are gonna need to buy some more pot (pure speculation, with some degree of confidence). Alternatively, these guys are working in the lumber yard to earn wages as their second or third job. One friend there is 40 years old and works 40 hours parking cars at the airport, 10 hours at a restaurant, and the same 12 hours that I work there every week load trucks, just for a little bit of income. Then this is compared to:

a teacher who has endless out-of-office hours to endure in order to be considered a well-respected teacher making a difference on our kids lives,

an engineer who is responsible for spending the countless hours making the reports that will result in millions of dollars being spent on the implementation of a technology,

a field engineer who is compensated for "working" as they drive to the site for 90 minutes and then back again at the end of the day.

These people will be getting paid better overall wages than the guy who parks the car, loads the lumber, or scoops the sludge. 62 hour weeks though! The average work week for Albertans is 38.8 hours (highest in Canada), but depending on the field, it is not uncommon for Albertans to reach 80. This, compared to some European countries that work 35 hours each week & have at least 4 weeks of holidays each year. Remarkable! With this time, it is expected that a person will have time to enjoy their family and friends. It provides a more wholistic approach to life. Somehow it just makes sense to me to work less. I mentioned this before, http://eternalhappyness.blogspot.com/2008/03/daylight-savings.html ,but thanks to the Sociology 363 course I am in right now, this topic of working has been on my mind like some'n wicked. And with the election last month, I looked at the registered political parties and found one out of Vancouver's East Side called the Work Less Party. They go into a very reasonable argument for the way we can have a better Canada based on less productivity. Its platform does have some problems, yet they are nothing that a young capable engineer couldn't get paid to handle... The best information on the workless.org party website is a short video which talks a lot about working less, enjoying life more, and having a smaller impact on the environment as a result. Check out http://www.workersoftheworldrelax.org/ .

- The Environment -

Another form of work is dedicating oneself to the protection of Mother Earth. In Alberta, especially, this is an admirable choice in that the province's resources are being depleted insanely fast (water & oil) and the air, soil, and source water are being damaged as a result. So you go tree-planting. 2 cents a tree or something right? And you do this, despite the rate of deforestation will at least keep up to the rate that you are putting them into the ground. Mike Hudema's greenpeace hippies might like you to go and blow up an oil well or tamper with some oil field equipment to deter growth. The privatization of yet another utility like the Goldbar waste water treatment plant might make a person think twice before applying for a job working there (yeah right). Working for a water utility like EPCOR might be frowned upon if a person has the education and inspiration to make a true difference working for an NGO like watercan.com that promotes equal opportunity to access to clean water and basic sanitation services. But then again, why should a person deny themselves the opportunity to be making, say, $60,000 ± $10,000 right out of school? Is this the reason why we only ever see pensioners out there showing their concern for Canada and the environment? Is the rest of our labour force just too consumed with making all that money?

If so, then how big of an impact is their work really having on our environment - our world? Automakers shut down in Windsor and put people out of work when sales are down. Pulp mills in Port Alberni shut down when prices being paid by the US market are low. And then what will these people do? Come to Alberta for a job in Energy. Pillage and burn that environment even faster. (Not to mention the increased crime rates, and decreased quality of workmanship). Or else, the outsourcing of work allows for rampant degradation of other countries' environments - in my world. On a global scale, The World Bank makes it impossible for impoverished countries to develop through industrialization to any degree without having a terrible impact on the environment, thanks to the lack of emission regulations set by the country. In Confessions of an Economic Hitman and The Secret History of the American Empire, John Perkins describes what is involved in getting a country industrialized based on the potential for the economy to eventually become self-sufficient. But what happens is once these loans have been granted to the developing countries, they are never able to pay back these loans, and the people there suffer with insufficient drinking water provisions, terribly low wages, and unimaginable sanitation services. Yet the construction and engineering firms that go to these places not only make a killing, but there employees are well compensated for the work they do to for this "development" to become possible.


But then again, there are just sooo many people out there in the world who wish to work to make a positive difference. They want to make their life's work worth while. Most people like to think that their work will be appreciated by at least someone, and that they will help at least one other person. Mr. Engel was my first inspiration - a grade 5 teacher (who I've dedicated a facebook group to) for his commitment to challenging 10 year olds to become better people. Mr. Goldethorpe was a highschool physics teacher who said "it's going to take the skateboarders of the world" to make the change necessary for a sustainable world. Even with weird metaphors, he had incredible intentions of making his students better. Engineers Without Borders - what can I say? Pretty much the best kind of people in the world. So receptive, willing to work for the good of others - expecting only the knowledge to take back with them to Canada to spread the importance of how we can playyourpart.ca . There are those of us who simply volunteer out of our own good hearts, knowing that work can wait. But this is a very small fragment of the population. It's not so much because people don't care - it's just that sometimes caring - and feeling - anything different than how we have been raised to feel about our potential to make a significant impact on the world, is hard. A person has to really feel and then want to continue caring in order to do more thinking, reasoning, believing in something more.
Shit, I'm late for work.

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