Monday, September 03, 2007

Grandeur from rude nature

For the past week Sarah and I have had a young woman living with us, testing the outdoor life by working on the Plow Creek farm. Mandy, a young woman who grew up in a Chicago suburb, gets up at dawn to join several other folks who grow, harvest, and market berries and vegetables.

This morning Mandy asked me where Labor Day came from. “I think it was started by unions to honor workers,” I said.

A little research revealed this gem: “Some records show that Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a cofounder of the American Federation of Labor, was first in suggesting a day to honor those ‘who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold.’” The first Labor Day was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City.

I grew up among farmers and who carved grandeur from rude nature. Even though I became disabled in my late teens and moved from the working man world to the white collar world, I am still shaped by growing up among people who worked for a living.

As I’ve been working with a web designer to build a new Evergreen Leaders website, I’ve often thought of my father building a new barn in the early 1960s. Almost all of our neighboring farmers decided they couldn’t make a go of it and moved away from their farms to work in factories.

In today’s post on Labor Day, Seth Godin contrasts the hard physical work of manual labor with the hard work of today–taking risks. My father knew how to do both, work eighteen hour days physically and take the risk of building what at the time was the most advanced dairy barn in Minnesota. Godin describes perfectly the risk he took:

  • Today, working hard is about taking apparent risk. Not a crazy risk like betting the entire company on an untested product. No, an apparent risk: something that the competition (and your coworkers) believe is unsafe but that you realize is far more conservative than sticking with the status quo.

Dad took the risk of building that barn, a risk that made it possible for him to raise ten kids on that farm and still be living on the farm 21 years after he retired. Apparent risk is also a way to create grandeur from rude nature.

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