Friday, June 7, 2013

Junebug And The Dignity Of Human Work

Gaaa...  That sounds so boring and academic.


If you read the post I wrote yesterday, you know that "Junebug" is a movie.  And in that post, I summarized, briefly, the plot of that movie.  So, I am not going to summarize it again today, because that would just be dull.  And this topic is already sounding dull enough, as it is.

So, here we go.

There is a scene in "Junebug" in which Johnny is at work.  It is a darling scene, one of my favorites in the film.  It is probably the only scene where Johnny looks totally, unabashedly happy.  He clearly loves his job and his co-workers.  You may now be wondering, "What type of awesome job could this be, that young, high-school-dropout Johnny loves so much?  It must be some wondrous, pipe-dream, unrealistic for an 18-year-old to have, type of job.  A job thought up by some out-of-touch-with-reality movie producer."  I understand if you are thinking that.  But, you are wrong.

Johnny's job is what many would describe as blue-collar.  He works in a packing plant, I guess you could call it.  It is a place where things like dishes are packed into boxes using various types of packing materials -- like styrofoam peanuts and bubble wrap.  The workers chat among themselves while going about the job.  They go outside and eat their lunches together.  They go back inside and pack some more.  And they are all obviously good people -- salt-of-the-earth people.  They are very fond of Johnny and he of them.  They clearly enjoy one another's company; and they take pride in their work.  And the workplace itself, though not at the level of a company such as Google, appears to be clean and safe and comfortable.

As I watched this scene, I started to think about the Catholic Church's teachings on the dignity of human work.  Now you may be thinking, "NOOO!!! Do not shove your religious viewpoints down my throat!!!"  That is not what I am trying to do, though.  You can take these things or leave them.  You can have a different opinion.  You might believe that the Catholic Church likes to "keep people down" by advocating stuff like no birth control and big families and other things you see as being in direct opposition to human development.  And, I admit, it can sometimes look that way.

Be that as it may, though, I do very much enjoy the Church's teachings on human work.  And as I watched Johnny at his job, as I said, I began to reflect on these teachings and on how this film poignantly illustrates and gives life to them. 

The Catholic Church teaches that work is important to and for people, and that people have both the right and duty to work.  The Church also tells us that human work is FOR the good of those who do it and that people should benefit from their work.  To quote from "The Catechism Of The Catholic Church" -- "Everyone should be able to draw from work the means of providing for his life and that of his family, and of serving the human community."  (And, just so you know, "his" in this case also means "her.")  The "Catechism" also addresses unemployment in this fashion -- "Unemployment almost always wounds its victim's dignity and threatens the equilibrium of his life.  Besides the harm done to him personally, it entails many risks for his family."

Human work is important then, in and of itself, as an activity pertaining to human dignity.  It is also the means by which most people provide for themselves and their families. 

The job done and the wages earned are not the only concerns of the Church about work, though.  Catholic leaders have often spoken about the environment of the workplace, itself.  This environment should respect the dignity of the person -- his or her mental and physical health and well-being.

So, back to "Junebug."  As I watched Johnny and his colleagues doing their jobs, I saw many of the Church's teachings in action.  I saw a workplace in which the employees appeared to feel safe and happy.  It seemed that they derived satisfaction from their work.  I saw a place where the joyful side of their humanity could be expressed and where they could care for one another as friends.

On the flip side, Johnny and his very pregnant bride are living with his parents.  This made me wonder if his job pays a living wage.  Could Johnny and Ashley live independently if they didn't have the support of his mother and father?  In wondering about this, I thought about the teaching of my faith regarding the importance of jobs paying a living wage.  Of course, "Junebug" is pretend.  But, there are people in Johnny and Ashley's situation.  And though it is not a bad thing for a young couple expecting a baby to live with either the bride or the groom's parents, it is still best if the newlyweds could feel capable of providing for themselves.  And perhaps, as a society, we could think of ways in which people who do not have a high degree of education -- but who are, nonetheless, bright, capable, and willing to work -- could be paid a wage which would allow them to establish new and happy households and families.  Is it really fair to expect young people to all earn college degrees and be 30 years old before they can marry and have children?  Maybe our country has a little problem in this regard.  Not every person likes school.  Not everybody is good at school.  Too many bright young adults are having their potentials wasted in our current economic set-up.  In my opinion, anyway.

You may be thinking to yourself right now, "This Marla person really over-analyzes things."  And you would probably not be wrong.  I think it is interesting to consider, though, how "Junebug" brings to light and encourages us to think about situations that are not uncommon for the young adults of our country to be in -- beautiful young adults who are our legacy. 


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