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By Susan Hines-Brigger

The Dignity of Work


Not a New Issue
Doing Our Part
For Teens: Make the Most of Your Work
For Kids: What I Want to Be When I Grow Up


Recently, while waiting in the drive-thru at a local fast-food restaurant, I heard the patron in front of me yelling at the worker. I'm not sure what he was yelling about; perhaps she got his order wrong, or maybe they were out of something he wanted. But he was not happy and made it well known—by his tone and choice of words—to the worker and the rest of us in line.

When I got to the window to pick up my order, I apologized to the young woman for the man's behavior.

"It's O.K.," she replied. "I get that all the time. I'm used to it."

As I drove away, I thought how sad that was. Here was a young woman trying to earn some money—maybe for school, maybe for a car, who knows?—and this is the type of behavior she must endure.

Not a New Issue

This month we celebrate Labor Day, a day to recognize the work done by all.

The Church has long addressed the issue of the dignity of work and workers. The 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum by Pope Leo XIII challenged Catholics to focus on the worker within the context of the workforce. It addressed issues such as just wages and issues affecting the various social classes. A hundred years later, Pope John Paul II revisited the same issues in Centesimus Annus.

The U.S. bishops also repeatedly address the issue of work with their Labor Day statements. In last year's statement, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, D.C., chairman of the bishops' Domestic Policy Committee, emphasized: "Work should strengthen our family life, providing resources and respect, benefits and health care for families. Work should enhance our family, community and spiritual lives. Work should allow a family to live in dignity."

He added, "As we perform our work, our contribution to the continuation of God's creation, we need to recognize that even the simplest thing we do can be a contribution to the common good. The decisions we make at work can in small ways help shape the fabric and ethics of our society."

Doing Our Part

Work is an essential part of our lives. It is our responsibility to make sure that every worker strives for and receives the dignity which he or she deserves. Here are some ways we can do just that:

• Take pride in the work that you do.

• Treat other workers—co-workers, salespeople, etc.—as you would like to be treated.

• Become informed about bills being introduced in Congress that affect workers, and make your thoughts about them heard. For instance, the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2003 has been introduced in both the House and Senate. Read up on this bill and then write your congressional representatives to urge them to support the bill.

• Make yourself aware of issues facing workers. Check out the Web site of the U.S. bishops' Committee for Social Development and World Peace (www.

• Remember that, while work is an important part of your life, it is not the only part. Don't forget to stop and enjoy the other important aspects of your life such as family, friends, hobbies, sports and leisure activities.

• Read Rerum Novarum or Centesimus Annus. Both are available online at

Next Month: The Original Animal Worker



For Teens: Make the Most of Your Work

Many of you may be just starting out in the workforce. Others may have been working in some capacity, such as babysitting, for a while now. And, of course, all of you work as students.

One complaint I often hear from teens is that most of the jobs available to them—fast-food restaurants, grocery stores, paper routes, babysitting, etc.—don't make much of a difference. I beg to differ. Regardless of what your job is, even if it is simply attending school, there is dignity and worth in what you are doing. When you serve people in a drive-thru, you are providing a service they could not get without you. You are also learning valuable skills such as responsibility, time management, listening, customer service, etc., that will help you throughout your life.

No matter what you work at, take pride in your work. If you babysit, pay extra attention to the kids you are watching. In school make sure your assignments are completed thoroughly and neatly and on time. Remember, your work is definitely worthwhile.

For Kids: What I Want to Be When I Grow Up

Growing up, I always knew that I wanted to be a writer. I used to write stories about make-believe monsters and exciting adventures. Do you know what you want to be when you grow up? Maybe you want to be a teacher, police officer, doctor, singer or baseball player.

Find or draw pictures of people doing that profession. Make a collage of the pictures. Talk to an adult who works in that profession. For instance, talk to a police officer about what he or she does on the job and the schooling and training required for that job.

Also, think about why you want to be in a certain profession. If you like helping people when they're sick, maybe you should consider being a doctor or nurse. If you like teaching people things, maybe teaching is in your future.



Do you have ideas or suggestions for topics you'd like to see addressed in this column? If so, send them to me at “Faith-filled Family,” 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202-6498, or e-mail them to

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