As this pandemic drags on, it raises questions about the value of what each of us does for a living, when compared to the amount of money that we make for those jobs. There isn’t a day that goes by right now, or somebody doesn’t talk about the heroes who are working in the medical field, or the heroes who are working on the front lines, or the heroes working in the grocery stores and providing us with essential goods and services, but the question that needs to be asked whenever we discuss all these people, is how we assign a monetary value to what they do, especially when we are all calling them heroes right now.
Should heroes be paid only the minimum legal wage for the work that they do? Should heroes be forced to work ridiculous hours while we sit in the comfort of our homes, making more money while we chat on Zoom video calls? How do you assign a monetary value to what people contribute?
My good friend, Robert J. Sawyer, wrote an awesome book, a few years ago called, “Hominids“. In it, he describes a parallel world to our own, where Neanderthals rose to be the dominant hominid on the planet as opposed to us homo sapiens.
In that world, no one asks what it is that you do for a living. The question they ask instead is, “what is your contribution?”
This unfortunate series of events, this pandemic, gives us an opportunity to re-evaluate what we see as important, what we see as necessary, and the value that we assign to all the things that we do on a daily basis. Perhaps, we need to take a lesson from Sawyer’s Neanderthals, and start looking at what people do as contributions to society, rather than a job that pays this or that, depending on how lucky you are or whether you are fortunate enough to find yourself that job and get that juicy salary.
We need to ask ourselves hard questions, like whether the CEO making several millions of dollars per year, has a contribution that is somehow so much more valuable than the person risking their lives in an intensive care unit at a hospital. Perhaps it should all be about what we contribute, rather than the job we do. Perhaps we need to look at our current social and economic system, look at what has worked up to this point, what hasn’t worked, and where we are headed in the future, to decide what kind of society we should be building going forward.
I made a stupid joke a few weeks ago, saying that if I was an evil scientist who wanted to bring about rapid socio-economic and technological change, this pandemic is just the sort of thing that I would create to make it all happen. Now, I was only joking, but we are facing an opportunity for unprecedented and rapid social, economic, and technological changes.
Maybe we should start thinking more like Sawyer’s Neanderthals when it comes to how we view work.