No doubt you read the news story about Mayor Marion Barry working with a trash collection crew.
Some regular members of the crew commented disdainfully that Hizzoner isn't very good at the work. But one man, identified as 10-year veteran Harold Vaughn, took what seemed to me to be a much more sensible view of the mayor's experiment.
Vaughn gave Barry an "A" for effort. "It's nice of him to come out and try," Vaughn said. "Can't everybody throw trash, you know. It's not as easy as it looks."
Hardly anything is, Harold.
Almost any job has its difficulties, whether it's shining shoes, raising a daughter, clerking in a store, playing psychiatrist to a mentally ill computer or being president of the United States.
We learn from experience. Even our presidents benefit from on-the-job training.
He whose performances does not improve with practice is lacking in either ability or enthusiasm for the assignment. I suspect that in most cases the problem is insufficient motivation.
Dirty work, hard work, and the "stoop labor" required of migrant agricultural workers are considered by some to be degrading. Inasmuch as nobody enjoys being looked down upon by his peers, we all try to find jobs that will improve our social status.
The result is that it's hard to find ditch diggers and sewer cleaners and trash men and dishwashers. To attract applicants, employes must make the pay attractive or settle for whoever is on the bottom of the economic ladder at the moment: blacks, Puerto Ricans, South Americans, or illegal immigrants, who make up the most desperate labor category of all.
People who are forced by circumstances to accept jobs that are considered by some to be degrading should keep in mind Harold Vaughn's philosophy: "Can't every body throw trash, you know." Trash removal is of great importance in an urban area. If you don't think so, just ask a resident of any city that has endured a prolonged strike by trash collectors.
The work must be done, and there is a knack to doing it well. Whatever role fate assigns to you, you will not be happy in it unless you play it as expertly as you can, unless you have the intelligence to recognize the fundamental worth of your work, and unless you take pride not only in the contribution you make but in the skill with which you make it.
If what you're doing were not important, nobody would be paying you to do it. If a paycheck is involved, your work is important.
And so long as you're accepting the paycheck, your goal should be to do the job better than anybody else on the payroll.
Pride and self-esteem aren't the only reasons for doing your best. There's also a very practical reason.
The only way you'll ever escape from work that's considered degrading is to do it so well you win a promotion. You won't climb from the bottom of the ladder to the first rung by considering the work at the bottom beneath your dignity.
Mayor Barry, when you spend an hour throwing trash, you risk the barbs of people who say, "Some mayor! He doesn't even know enough to be a good trash collector."
The hell with them, Mr. Mayor.
I hope yo keep on trying your hand at the various jobs for which you hire people, including the so-called peon jobs.
Find out for yourself what these people do. Learn to recognize who does the job as well as he can with the equipment God gave him and who is goldbricking because he thinks he's too good to do this kind of work.
Find out which of your agencies serve the community well and which do not. And get your facts in person. Don't sit in your fancy office reading reports and listening to snow jobs from department heads. Get out there on the firing line, make first-hand eveluations, and then take appropriate action.
As Harold Vaughn would say, "Can't everybody make good judgments, you know." One needs experience to do it well.
Our Town's government has flaws. Its citizens voted out Walter Washington, who was for a long time considered invincible, and gave you a shot at the job. Since you've been receiving a mayor's paycheck, you've taken a lot of abuse, some of it deserved, some not.
If you want to end up being pushed aside by a promising newcomer, as Walter Washington was, don't spoil the shine on your polished boots by throwing any more trash. Just wear $300 suits and look handsome for the cameramen.
But if you want to be remembered as a good mayor, or if you want to move up to the next rung of the political ladder, I think you'll be well advised to keep on finding out for yourself what it takes to make a big city tick. Before you make decisions, show us you know what you're doing.