May 08, 2020

During crisis, under-appreciated jobs keep the world ticking along

Many years ago, I watched a most memorable episode of the sci-fi/fantasy series Twilight Zone. In it, a lowly, picked-on secretary accidentally finds herself in a parallel universe via a faulty photocopying machine.

There, to her bemusement, it turns out that the pecking order is vastly different, with beautiful models being somewhere near the bottom of the heap, and clustering admiringly around the highflying secretary, hoping for tips on how to be her.

I’ve been constantly reminded, ever since, of the plight of all those unappreciated occupations that keep our world ticking over – the teachers, the carers, the hospital attendants, the garbage workers, and others whom we just take for granted and pay far less than they deserve.

And it’s left me wishing that they could similarly get their day in the sun.

Now, finally, thanks to COVID-19,  it’s happened. On Richard Fidler’s Conversations the other day, for example, Thomas Keneally spoke of supermarket stackers finally having their moment of public appreciation.

And we’ve seen how whole communities in the UK are coming out to their front doors to clap all the health workers now risking their lives every day, to save those of others.

Home schooling parents, tearing their hair out, suddenly understand just how much teachers do to give their children a decent education, without which they would find it even more difficult to make their way as adults in an increasingly challenging world.

While we’re self-isolating, our bins are overflowing, but regular as clockwork our garbos are out emptying them for us.

Imagine streets filled with refuse if they didn’t do their job! And in what are proving to be some of the most dangerous environments in our society for the virus, nursing homes depend for their very existence on adequate numbers of carers who have proved to be as vulnerable to infection as the residents they care for.

Let us make sure that in a future when this coronavirus is controlled, these and other previously unsung heroes of the everyday aren’t just pushed back into their twilight zones and again seen as second-rate; but that – instead – we continue to give all such occupations the status that they deserve, and acknowledge them as amongst the ones that the younger generations can aspire to and be proud to fill as key contributors to keeping our society on an even keel.

And even if COVID-19 is conquered in that future, there are other heroes who will be called upon time and time again.

We will, sadly, have constant reminders of the amazing work of the previously taken-for-granted volunteer rural firefighters, as climate change brings on more furious and widespread seasonal fires and they continue to work to save our bushlands, wild life, local residents and homes at grave risk to their own lives.

Let’s work to make sure that they all have the best equipment, protective gear and communication lines possible, as well as the financial support that they need.

And most of all, let’s build on the paradoxically beneficial effects of the virus on climate change, and continue to work on our planet’s health as well as our own.

Image: Miljan Živković, iStock. Models are posed and do not represent actual people or events.

Originally published under the title ‘Twilight zone’.

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