A friend of mine recently told me about the mixed feelings he had after overhearing a comment someone made about him. This much sought after mechanic, who owns his own auto repair business, related that as a good customer was coming in to pick up his car, he said to his twelve year old son, “Let’s go see the grease monkey.” My friend said he really wasn’t hurt but he wasn’t happy about that depiction either. It just left him feeling, well, like a caricature. Considering that this customer was always satisfied with the work performed, was that supposed to be a compliment?
I can relate to that a bit because as an educator, I have frequently heard the refrain that, “those who can, do and those who can’t, teach.” The caveat to that one is those who can’t teach go into guidance. However this pearl of wisdom made its way into our culture, it always gets under my skin because it does make me feel like a caricature; that is, undistinguishable from everybody else, good or bad, hard-working or not. And for sure, this one can’t be blamed on Gov. Christie. It is, in fact, the fault of good people who just say things about which they are uninformed.
The same ‘caricaturing’ is said of doctors and lawyers because the common assumption about their dedication to their job is that Lowe’s and Home Depot together don’t have enough wheelbarrows in their stores to handle the amount of money these people rake in. I mean, they’re just mercenary do-gooders, right? This really could be funny but for the fact that I know doctors and lawyers who are not in need of another wheelbarrow to handle their cash flow. By the way, they also happen to be generous and compassionate individuals who enjoy making a difference in someone’s life. You want names, I got names.
The problem with this kind of caricaturing of occupations is that it doesn’t tell the whole story. Someone who works with their hands, for instance, is often portrayed as being not as smart as the person who earned a college degree. But do we ever think that the person who earned that college degree might not be as smart as the person skilled with their hands? Last I checked, the head and the hands work together.
What does ‘smart’ mean anyway? What happened to creativity and fine craftsmanship? Isn’t troubleshooting and problem solving one and the same thing? Some of the brightest, Ivy League educated people I have come to know couldn’t come up with an innovative thought if their life depended on it. I got names for this, too.
Sometimes depictions are meant to be funny when we portray the work others do. But for the end result to be one that does not provoke defensiveness or anger, there needs to be a relationship between the parties that encumbers trust and respect. It is only when we don’t feel respected that we can’t laugh at ourselves.
Someone close to me once commented in a snarky tone that it can’t be that hard to write every week for ‘a little column’. “After all, you just sit at a computer and type”, they said. Yep, that’s it. Nothing’ to it. “Wanna try?” I asked. She declined. Geese…whatever happened to keeping our traps shut about someone or something if we have nothing good to say?
You know, I think a teacher taught us that in kindergarten!
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