Municipal Government, New York

A Glimpse at How and Why We Work

January 19, 2016
By Bill Hohlfeld

A Review of: Working Stories –  Essays by Reflective Practitioners, Ed Murphy, Editor

Albany, NY. When we hear the word “work,” each of us conjures up a different vision, and begins to vibrate to a different frequency. For some of us, work is a grueling affair that entails early mornings, long commutes, late nights and ungrateful bosses. For others, it is an opportunity to actualize oneself, make a difference in the world, and live more fully.

Most of us lie somewhere nearer to the center of that vast spectrum. In this compilation of essays, Ed

Ed Murphy, Editor

Murphy, editor and Director of the Workforce Development Institute (WDI), introduces us to 12 authors who reflect upon, and then write about their complex relationship to the world of work.

As is so often the case, when writing comes from the place within us that is deeply personal, it tends to reveal the truths that are the most universal. A common theme that runs throughout various authors’ works is that of the profound effect on all of us by parents, teachers, or colleagues in the workplace, who intentionally serve as mentors.

Each of the stories also celebrate what can be achieved by applying the tried and true methods for success, such as strong work ethic, pursuit of higher education and maintaining integrity at home and in the workplace. Yet, the body of work completely avoids sounding like some “bootstrap” lecture, because it is infused throughout with our interdependency as family members, citizens and, of course, workers. It also freely admits that from time to time, a little good fortune, often found in the kindness of others, can make a major difference in our next step, and our next destination.

All of the essays are engaging on one plane or another. Whether it is an intimate look at one man’s need to save the environment, or a woman’s need to see pay equity established across gender lines, an attorney’s need to see economic justice applied evenly across class barriers, or just the recognition by an author that it was the good wages and benefits provided by the union employer of a parent or parents, that enabled them to reach their potential; every author illustrates the importance of work and the meaningful role it plays in our lives.

Perhaps, the most powerful theme of all is the idea of the dignity of work. Lin Murphy tells us in her essay, Meaningful Work, “ Every human being has value, regardless of the size of their paycheck or their job.” That is a voice it is imperative we hear, especially when surrounded by stories of success and accomplishment. In an economy that gets more difficult to navigate on a daily basis, it is good to be reminded that, “ finding work that matters isn’t always easy. Sometimes, a job is just a job. We work to earn money to pay our bills… This is necessary and honorable.” Her remarks are well received.

The combined effect of these essays is to provoke thought. Reexamining the American disdain for the word “collective,” considering what we really mean by the term “social justice,” or truly assessing our need for government to play a role in the economy in general, and the workplace in particular, are all inescapable consequences of a close reading of Working Stories. Mr. Murphy does an admirable job of assembling this collection of work (including his own, On Becoming a Leader) in a manner that presents all these ideas in a forum that feels safe to be in.

The anthology adroitly avoids falling into the trap of sounding pretentious or condescending as can sometimes be the case with written work that grapples with such issues. On the contrary, as Andrea Goldberger states in her essay,Our Collective Conscience, “ This is not about the labor movement saving workers— it is about empowering workers to take collective action to save their fellow workers.”

That tone, which conveys respect and appreciation for all of us who work, can be found throughout, from the forward written by NYS AFL-CIO President Mario Cliento, straight through to the final essay, Seeking Justice in Albany by attorney Richard Winsten, who makes it clear that working people don’t need to be taught or led as much as they need to be protected from “just plain fraud.”

Rather than gobble this book up at a sitting as though it were a bag of peanuts, readers are better served to sample it in smaller servings over a more extended period of several days. It allows for better digestion of the rich content and the time to savor the taste of a dish served up by and for an America that comes home hungry after working hard each day.

For more information on how to obtain copies of Working Stories, or to find out more about the valuable work accomplished by WDI please contact Ed Murphy at emurphy@wdiny.org

January 18, 2016

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