Human Dignity – does our job really define us?

This morning as I was walking to the bank in College Point, I encountered a familiar scene in this neighborhood where I work.  A middle aged woman was rummaging through the garbage cans searching for bottles and cans to return for 5 cents each.  This was her job, and sadly you see this form of “Self Employment” all the time around here.  This is not Haiti.  This is not Ghana.  This is the United States of America.  We have our own stories of desperation and human need; thankfully on a smaller scale than Haiti and Ghana, but it is right before our eyes here none the less.

Human dignity is a gift that comes from being born in the image of God.  Our dignity  is a part of our birthright.  And if we are blessed enough to have grown up in a loving home (whether it is Haiti, Ghana or the USA), then human dignity cannot ever really be taken from us.   Of course this is easy for me to say, I have a wonderful job.  So many in America do not.  I am sure it is frightening and discouraging for all Americans right now struggling to find work and the means to enjoy the anticipated lifestyle that Americans have come to expect.

There is no shame in being poor.  There is no shame in lacking the opportunity for a job.  But so often in the USA human dignity is closely defined and connected to our work and how much money we earn.  Currently in the USA the jobless rate is far higher that we are accustomed to.  It does not seem to be changing for the better.   But our 10% unemployment rate in the USA is 85% in Haiti and many other third world countries.   Why do Haitians flock to America, willing to  risk drowning crossing the ocean in a flimsy boat not suited for such a journey?  It is about jobs.  It is about the will to strive to earn a living and the hope to have a better life.  It is the desire to be able to earn enough money to send money back home.  Every day Mexicans die walking across the desert of Arizona in the scorching heat to find work.  Thank God humanitarians have provided water stations out in the desert so that they do not die from lack of water, but many still do.  This amazing human will to just have a chance in life is why the work of the iF Foundation is so important to me.  We are providing opportunity one family at a time.

Being out of work, being “let go” by a company where you thought your job was secure, not being able to find a decent job out of college after investing all that money for the education;  all chip away at our sense of our own human dignity.  It should not, we should be far more defined by “who we are as people” rather than by our job.  Human dignity is a gift, and the culture cannot take it away from us, but it can sure feel that way.  And if we in America struggle with these issues, think of what it is like for the people who live in Haiti and Ghana.  In Haiti and Ghana there simply are no employers in the countryside.  You have to be street wise and creative to survive on whatever you can do to raise money for your family.  Tragically there are no safetynets there; no food stamps, no government assistance.  They are on their own.

Human dignity is something that we can help accentuate and build up in the way we see and treat people.  The woman this morning scouring the garbage for 5 cent bottles to return has a personal story.  She has a family.  She has needs and wants.  We all do.   If we can learn to afford every living person the dignity they deserve it would immeasurably help people struggling to feel and know they are loved, valued and cared for.  That feeling is worth more than anything.  It does not feed the belly, but it feeds the soul and that can sustain a person for a long time.  Please let us each care deeply about those in need, whose circumstances are beyond their control.   Human dignity means more than even a paycheck.  It does not cost anything to value life and raise people up who need it.  .
Fr. B

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