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DIGNITY OF LABOR: DEALING WITH THE SHIT

A hue and cry followed the Sherig Lyonpo’s less than flattering comments on Bhutanese doing cleaning jobs in Australia. His comments were supposedly indicative of an attitude that looks down upon blue-collar jobs as “shitty.” At the end, Lyonpo had to extend an apology to the many whose feathers he had ruffled.

Many Bhutanese did condemn Lyonpo’s comments as not honoring dignity of labor. However, he had his share of supporters as well who felt that the comments were pulled out of context and politicized.

Even as Lyonpo’s words and the motive behind are being dissected and debated over, dare we believe that blue-collar jobs are something to be ashamed of? Definitely not in an ideal situation.

While the Education Minister’s words and tone used to describe toilet cleaners down under cannot be condoned, maybe the reaction we are witnessing from the Bhutanese society points to far more than just righteous indignation against a slur on our values including dignity of labor.

Here we might be seeing the expected discomfort of a section of society that would squirm at the thought of picking up a sweet wrapper from a park in the country, while in a foreign land, just because you can cloak yourself in anonymity and earn big money; you proclaim the value of dignity of labor. Pervasive hypocrisy and wounded pride, to be exact.

Dignity of labor should be practiced but not only in Australia. Would you be willing to clean toilets in Bhutan as well? Ask all those Bhutanese youths out there languishing for lack of vocation.

Yes, the government recently lit a thousand butter lamps for meeting a target remittance goal (!). But an alternative perspective can be: if all the experienced and qualified workforce in country leave for greener pastures abroad including menial jobs, who will carry forward the nation building process? And remittance but forms only a small part of the country’s revenue.

Therefore, the need of the day is to increasingly nurture a generation that believes that whether you are a red kabney recipient or a roadside worker, here or abroad, if you pursue your duties and responsibilities with integrity and excellence, you are worthy: as a human being, individual and professional.

Professionalism does not require a degree. As MindTree Ltd. co-founder and author Subroto Bagchi puts it, one trait that makes up a professional is that he does not need supervision on the job. He knows what he has to do and does it thoroughly. The second is the ability to certify the completion of one’s work. These are the two qualities that “differentiate a professional from someone who is simply professionally qualified”.

A professional is one who will do his best whether the world is his audience, or his bedroom. And our youth need to know that blue-collar jobs are as much a platform to perform, and exercise professionalism as are desk jobs.

But yes, the fact that this incident created a furor, attracting negative publicity mostly would hopefully guide the national conscience to appreciate hard work irrespective of the task or land.

Meanwhile, the core of the whole issue in question: dignity of labor should not just be lip service. Baby steps matter. What if your office someday demands that you dedicate a few hours to cleaning? Would you be willing to roll up your sleeves and join the rest in literally “dealing with the shit?”

 

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