Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Unseen Work

Environmental & Science Education
Reduce Reuse Recycle
by Ed Hessler

The educated person is "one who has fully grasped the simple fact that his (sic)self is fully implicated in those beings around him, human and non-human, and who has learned to care deeply about them."—J. Glen Gray

Hamline University recently announced a change in office cleaning procedures.  "Common spaces will be cleaned and vacuumed but we are now responsible individually for cleaning/maintaining our cubes. This means we will empty our own trash and recycling into common containers and vacuum as needed. A vacuum cleaner will be available for your use (describes location)."

None of this is inconvenient. And maybe it is about time although I hope it doesn't put people out of work but instead lightens their load. It should have one immediate effect: reduced use of plastic basket liners. I hope it will lead to another: more recycling.

Lessons from the Night is a short film that follows a night janitor in her office rounds. Maia Wallmer was an Arabic translator in her native Bulgaria but while on assignment in Melbourne (Australia), political turmoil at home forced her to remain.  She found work as a janitor.

Ms. Wallmer is bright, reflective and works hard as you will observe in this likely low-paying, barely acknowledged or appreciated job. It is also solitary work in what appears to be a gloomy environment. The artificial light is harsh and edgy without any softness. I doubt that any employees who know her, if they even cross paths, have any idea of her past.

Diorama of Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike [Adam Jones, Ph.D.]

Our lives impact the environment in many ways. Work is one; cleaning another. It is easy to miss the links between them as well as the people. Lowering the impact on the environment of work and cleaning-up involves many challenges. There is at least a master's thesis there.

A line from David Orr's essay, The Liberal Arts, the Campus, and the Biosphere came to mind. Orr noted several "indifferences" students learn while in college. He wrote they "also learn indifference to the human ecology of the place and to certain kinds of people: those who clean the urinals, sweep the floors, haul out the garbage, and collect beer cans on Monday morning."

It is too bad that Studs Terkel is not still present to interview her for a second or third volume of Working, a book about what working people do all day (not much there on the night workers). Of course, it is about a world that likely no more exists but it remains a great and important read. He was a wonderfully gifted observer, interviewer and reporter.

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