The Hierarchy

The following is a discussion that took place over our morning coffee… Gord’s reflections with Ann’s thoughts in  (brackets).     A different format… we’ll see how it reads.

An interesting week with interesting observations of the culture we live in and our own inner programming.   This week Gord is working on some small construction projects for Spinnakers Brew Pub in Victoria.  (Ann thinks he took the job so he could be close to his true love:  BEER!)  His tasks are rerouting the wheelchair access ramp and digging holes for the footings of two new beer tanks.  Nothing remarkable, just some basic planning setting up the layout, cutting the asphalt, then manual labour laying on ones belly and digging 3-foot holes by the handful, and collecting the materials and putting them in the “farm truck”.

So why post about such a project?  Why is this interesting?  It has been a year since Gord worked offsite doing a ‘purely manual labour’ job for someone else.   He chose it because his best friend was too busy, and the business (besides being a brew pub) has a high degree of ethics, one that mirrors the ethics Gord brought to his own business 15 years earlier.

We do a widely immense array of work;  everything from consulting for homeowners, builders, and bankers, to writing policy for the BC Ministry of health, public speaking on topics of lifestyle, permaculture, green building, plants, rain water harvesting and greywater resource recovery,  solar PV, and the science behind the thermodynamics and moisture properties of earthen architecture.  We research out plants, have created a viable farm and nursery, and feed ourselves using our own skills and hard work.   We are also homesteaders, which means we try and provide for many of our year round needs ourselves… including our water and energy.  Here in our own community we scrub the floors of the local public washroom, and collect the compost materials from the bins, and yet we also sit as councillors designing tax policy, and setting policies in place that “try” to incorporate intelligent understanding of the nasty predicament of our planet and culture.

Note:  Ann’s edits are in brackets.

This brings us back to Gord lying on his stomach doing work that you otherwise might see a young fellow performing because it would rank as the lowest of all jobs… hard physical manual labour.  (Ann thinks this is Gord’s cultural programming to classify manual labour below intellectual labour…it’s not a lowly job…it’s just a physical job).   Think about a finely dressed customer (someone trying to impress others with looks rather than substance),  going to one of Victoria’s best establishments, nice shoes (imported and made in a sweat shop, with a large carbon footprint), unmarred hands, and fine suit (waste of money and the earth’s resources), walking past a grey haired fellow (I love your grey hairs Gord) in his farm overalls (cute clothes) lying on his belly in the sludge of spilled grains and hops, long since decomposed.    Even the owner of the establishment, a great fellow in Gord’s view, does not quite seem to understand why a fellow of my age (you’re only 45  Gord) would be carrying out this work,  unless of course you were destitute (or you have such a fit healthy body that you can and are showing off).  I suspect from the glances and the comments that 10% of the patrons look down upon this labourer, with grey hair, farm clothes and a farm truck – no understanding as to why this person is even there.  (That’s their problem – take pride in your work Gord – you are talented and hard working and you can build almost anything…my kind of guy.  Rough hands also give the best back rubs.)

Our farm is busy, the tasks lists are long, and anxiety races over Gord as he says “Yes” to this job, knowing full well that dinners will be late, farm duties delayed for two weeks, and the ageing body will ache.   (And Ann will take on more of the farm duties.  Note that taking on this job was entirely Gord’s decision).  What was not expected by Gord was the feeling that would arise from hearing the conversations of the patrons, or seeing the disapproving sneer as they stepped out of their BMW’s and Audis.    How does one take this?  Do you apply the judgement to oneself?   (No, your sense of self worth should come from inside…not our #@&%$$ up culture of consumption and entitlement).  Do you see it as an “observation of the culture”?  Is it worthwhile to place yourself in such a position of judgement?  (personal choice).  I do not have the answers, other than to say that it is somewhat demoralizing to be so misunderstood.  (let it go Gord, you’re a good man, their judgement is their problem.)

But then there are others, a friend Michael, who walks by and we meet eyes, I get up and give him a hug.  Friends for years, and a shared reverence for each other, for skills and challenges we have placed upon ourselves, and our willingness to make ourselves vulnerable.  (Gord, maybe you do need to do this job to finally kick your #@&%$$ up cultural programming out on it’s ass?  Just saying.)   And Hymas, a patron that was challenged in her mobility and I brought back her dog after he took off towards the road, a person that three times came back during her visit to the Pub to chat.   And then the young brewers one by one coming out to look into  the holes and ask “How far do you have to dig?” or receiving a gracious “thanks” after loading spent grains onto another farmers truck.

What is the lesson?  What is the presumed hierarchy?  Who should even care… and should I just have said no and stayed home on the farm and instead not cancelled the 6 grade six school groups that had wanted to tour the home.   (Actually we cancelled the grade 6 tours because we were just too busy, and because the class groups are just too fragrant…before this job came about).  What’s the value of placing yourself in a position of humbleness when others do not have a clue to understanding the more complex person they walk past and feel sorry for?

No profound ending here, just lots to ponder about values, life, culture and how we all individually navigate this shit.  The only take away is the pleasure of having people take the time to express their interest, to appreciate the quality of the staff and  perhaps listen to Ann’s comments and continue on that path to ignore that culture I have tried hard to leave behind.

11 responses to “The Hierarchy

  1. Jamie Wallace

    Quite a profound post Gord and Ann. Love the humour but the message is a harsh glimpse of our culture. I’ve been on the end of a shovel most of my working life. While working in England we (gardeners in a royal park) were viewed as second class citizens. Those who sneer are missing out on a satisfying part of life, manual work.

  2. I’d like to commend Gord in a physical job well done. No, I have not seen the work and I may never, but just being on one’s belly around the “social Elite” proves Gord is the best person in the room. When the SHTF, Gord will be sought for his intelligence long after the BMW’s & Audi’s have sucked their last dino drop. Heck, even the proprietor wouldn’t take the time to research and do his/her own work. Cheers!

    • Thanks. I do have to give the owner a lot of credit as he has a tremendous social ethic for the staff, soon to be owners, and the wider community including the local farms. As they never indirectly sought me out, he is just in the learning phase of who I am, and likewise I am observing who he is and what he represents… a person who earlier gave up his career and engaged in a passion.

  3. This mirrors a lot of what I hear my partner, Steve, say about his feelings of frustration and loneliness stemming from the fact that most people in our culture do not understand the choice to live simply and outside of corporate systems. The other feeling that comes up for him is the fear of abandonment, of being taken for granted or of being exploited because he is willing to do things that others aren’t. For solidarity, he turns to writers like Wendell Berry and Harland Hubbard. (We aren’t so much gardeners/farmers/manual laborers as we are gleaners/recyclers, selling used books from our 1905 duplex rental.) I love hearing, though, that people stop to engage with a slow and personal exchange that they’re not likely to get in a ‘tweet’ or other current cultural meme. We have not lost our longing to be human, despite the pressure to be systematized!

  4. LOL Exfoliating back rubs….

  5. If it bothers them.Their problem.
    If it bothers you. Your problem.
    Just live your truth.

  6. sandra leckie

    With apologies to Leonard for excerpting his song…”Ring the bells that still can ring
    Forget your perfect offering
    There is a crack in everything
    That’s how the light gets in.” (No, Gord, I am not making a plumber’s butt jab.! I’ve seen you in your overalls- they’s great!’ ) You and Ann ring many bells. Onward!

  7. Grace Cockburn

    I don’t know. Unless the passersby were actually voicing their contempt (and by your own admission, it was maybe 10% who “looked down” on you, and therefore 90% didn’t) it seems to me that most of the “judgement” is in your own head, and directed outward toward the passersby. I don’t see that being frumpy is a pre-requisite to being environmentally responsible. I have “fine suits” I’ve been wearing for 15-20 years (quality, you know?). Some I’ve bought new, some I’ve searched out through consignment stores, and some I’ve sewn myself. Do I have to carry receipts to avoid your scorn? Ditto the shiny shoes. I have Italian heels that are over 15 years old (sneakers are more likely to be produced by slave labour than “Made in Italy” pumps, which are made with real leather and can be resoled and repaired almost indefinitely. ) Do I have to post photos to show you that when I come home, I change into jeans and sweatshirt and dive into my garden? I’ve grown a garden for 45 years, and canned/frozen/dried its produce. 90% of the furniture in my home is second-hand, refinished by me. I recycled before there was recycling, and fought the garbage collectors who didn’t believe so little garbage was actually possible (one can every 3 months,in 1973!). I’ve taken a 1970’s bungalow to the peak of its possible energy efficiency and never touched a government grant. I’ve sewn my own clothes, drapes, upholstery, cooked 99% of every meal from scratch, shopped consignment first, vacationed at home for decades. For most of the past 40 years, we’ve owned one vehicle, driven it as little as possible. My husband took the bus to work for 35 years. I admire the work you do, but I am getting a little tired of the automatic dumping on those who, on the surface, appear to be living a more “ordinary” life. Seems to me we need to be building community, based on what people are actually doing, not tearing it apart based on superficial appearances. “I’m greener than you” is not going to get us anywhere.

    • I am sorry Grace that you see this as “automatic dumping”. There are segments in society that do judge based on an activity that another does. Coming from a place myself, of a fancy car, nice clothes etc, by no means made me less appreciative of the people I employed, and I had no problems cleaning the toilets or sweeping the floors in front of 35 people, nor did I have an issue dealing with the office activities. On the other hand I had a partner who would throw pennies at the fellows’ feet, actually true. Being on the recieving side of a comment that is meant to demonstrate “hierarchy” meant to delineate one’s status in society, has impact, and my question in this blog was not to “dump” but to question how someone else would respond? Would they respond?

  8. Grace Cockburn

    Yes, intent and perception are often at odds. And it is probably a universal impulse to make snap judgements based on appearance (friend, foe, fur, fang?) I am not immune to it, and we all need to be careful to temper it.

  9. What an interesting read. Not something I see every day. Having just removed and replaced part of my concrete foundations I can certainly feel the impact on my body. I have always liked manual work but at 70 it is not quite so kind to me. One of the many reasons I became an architect was because I was working on an ice covered roof in Rankin Inlet NWT (then) and thought to myself that I didn’t want to be up there when I turned 50. It turned out to be a good decision and i was able to maintain the on the job active manual part as well. Keep up the good musings. Love them.

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