In late 2018 Geoffrey Owens, known to many as Elvin on “The Cosby Show,” was spotted bagging groceries at Trader Joe’s. Social media blew up when a picture of Owens appeared, but instead of praising his willingness to work, people made disparaging comments about his job.
After discovering what was happening, the first person Owens contacted was his 19-year-old son, saying, “I’m really sorry if this embarrasses you.” His son sent a beautiful response that moved his father to tears.
An interviewer on “Good Morning America” asked Owens about the social media comments. He responded by saying, “This business of my being this Cosby guy who got shamed for working at Trader Joe’s, that’s going to pass… but I hope what doesn’t pass is this idea... this rethinking about what it means to work, you know, the honor of the working person and the dignity of work. And I hope that this period that we’re in now, where we have a heightened sensitivity about that and a re-evaluation of what it means to work, and a re-evaluation of the idea that some jobs are better than others because that’s actually not true… Every job is worthwhile and valuable.”
What message are we sending to our children when society is willing to shame someone for an honest day’s work?
According to Fit for Work, both paid and unpaid work is good for our health and wellbeing. It contributes to our happiness, helps us to build confidence and self-esteem, and it rewards us financially.
Additionally, working keeps us busy, challenges us and gives us the means to develop ourselves. It can create a sense of pride, identity and personal achievement. Work enables us to socialize, build contacts and find support, and it provides us with money to support ourselves and explore our interests.
There are health benefits, too. Working people tend to enjoy happier and healthier lives than those who do not work, and work has been shown to improve physical and mental health.
Perhaps a paradigm shift is in order where instead of teaching children that certain jobs are beneath them, we teach them about the importance of a work ethic and doing every job well.
Here are some ways we can all promote the value of hard work:
No matter what the job, encourage others to work to the best of their ability.
Model a strong work ethic.
Equip your kids with the skills they need to earn a living. Chores can help them get ready for work outside the home.
Avoid the temptation of giving your child everything. Allow them the opportunity to work for it.
Help them connect the dots to how the work they are doing (or not doing) impacts others.
If people weren’t willing to fulfill certain positions, imagine how it would impact your life. It's definitely a great teaching moment for kids to think about as well. Every job is important. In fact, a ripple effect takes place when one person does not fulfill their responsibilities at home, in the workplace or in the community.
Tyler Perry once said, “Developing a good work ethic is key. Apply yourself at whatever you do, whether you’re a janitor or taking your first summer job, because that work ethic will be reflected in everything you do in life.”