Allow me to tell you the story of something that happened to me as a child and that has haunted me ever since. I was about eight years old and living in a neighborhood in Corpus Christi, Texas, in which all the streets were named after characters in the “Robin Hood” story. My parents and I lived on Robin Hood Street. I was an only child and amused myself by building forts and tree houses in the backyard, riding my bicycle with its banana seat, and collecting the “Wacky Packages” cards I bought for a dime at the corner Jitney Jr. store.
I played some with various neighborhood kids. My best friend, Sue, and I spent hours tormenting Barbie dolls and listening to the 45 record of Paul Revere and the Raiders’ “Cherokee Nation.” I rode my bike up and down the sidewalk with Frank and remember making mud pies in his backyard.
Patti lived across and down the street and had at least one brother that I recall. One hot summer day, I was playing in my front yard, when a group of kids in front of Patti’s house called out to me to come over to go swimming. They had just bought a good-sized, above-ground swimming pool that had been installed in their backyard. I said yes, let me go ask my mom. I excitedly changed into my swimsuit and ran out to meet the others.
We all walked around to the side of the house, down the driveway, and through the gate to the backyard. I naively failed to notice the kids’ smirks and barely contained laughter, which exploded when we came around the corner of the house to an empty pool. They delighted in watching my excitement at being invited turn to dismay as I realized they were playing a cruel trick on me. I turned and ran home, their derision still echoing in my ears. My cheeks were hot with shame.
I wonder if only children are easier targets for neighborhood pranks because we have no protective, older brother or sister to stand up for us.
What that experience taught me, whether true or not, was that I didn’t belong. I was an outsider. When, in tears, I told my dad about what happened, he tried reassuring me that it’s OK to be different. It’s OK to march to the beat of a different drummer.
This feeling of never quite belonging has never left me. Childhood provided other reinforcing messages of “difference.” There have been times, however, when I thought maybe my isolation was a thing of the past. There were glimpses of being a part of a team, of belonging, of being wanted. My first years as a librarian felt that way. I loved the work, my colleagues, and the patrons. But then, one day, I was called into an office and led to another empty swimming pool.
Understatement: rejection hurts. Especially when you feel you have gifts and talents to contribute, but they are pushed aside. Your efforts are misunderstood, and you are left asking why. So, at this moment in my life, I am still struggling to make sense of this loss and to find someone, somewhere who wants and needs my gifts.
I am not writing this solely for myself, however. I am writing because millions of others find themselves in similar situations. They have gifts and talents to give the world but find no outlet for them. Jobs are scarce; competition is cut-throat. “…[E]ver more sophisticated robotics…reduce the need for human workers in every business, most notably at the moment in the auto industry, shipping and warehousing, education, and medicine….Computers and robots don’t ask for raises, they don’t talk back, they don’t take days off….” (p. 15, “When the Rich Get Richer” by Anthony Walton, U.S. Catholic, May 2015).
During Pope Francis’ speech to Congress on September 24, 2015, he used the phrase “common good” six times. He said (Laudato Si’, 129),
Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good [emphasis mine].
Much work needs doing. Ask any full-time employed worker who, because of “downsizing,” must now do the work of three people for the same salary. Those who are working are overworked in many cases, while thousands of people have no work at all. It should be, therefore, a moral imperative for business and government to partner to create jobs, reduce unemployment, and restore the dignity of those who need work.
My own experience has shown me that one area in which thousands of jobs could be created is in public education. Every school teacher I know, including myself in my years of teaching, spends innumerable hours working before and after school, many times late into the night, to complete tasks necessary to ensure the next day at school flows smoothly. Many of these tasks do not require the expertise of a teaching certificate, however. Things like cutting out templates for educational activities, grading papers, designing new assignments, bookkeeping, and filing could be done by a teacher’s assistant. Imagine if every classroom teacher had an assistant!
Many other white-collar jobs have lost the assistant positions that used to make them run smoothly: secretaries, runners, mail-room clerks, and more. Doctors do patient data entry, accountants type their own correspondence, and government employees manage their own attendance records. Though computers aid in these tasks, it still takes the employee’s time to complete them. Read Craig Lambert’s Shadow Work: The Unpaid, Unseen Jobs that Fill Your Day to learn about more of the ways we do work that others used to be paid to do.
Of course, the tired refrain is, “There is no money to bring back jobs such as these!” Well, we should find the money. People need work. People have skills that are going unused, and there is much work to do. The richest 1% should partner with government to create and fund these and other jobs because, if they do not, over time our nation will look like other nations who have a radicalized underclass who will pick up arms rather than tools. Rejection hurts. Let’s do this for the common good.