Labor Day and John Henryism

John Henry statue

At the heart of Labor Day is the idea that if you work hard enough you’re awarded with sales so incredible they can only be a reward from Cthulu — the happiest shopping deity of them all … No, wait. In this day and age Labor Day may actually be stranger than that. Oh, right. It’s supposed to be about appreciating workers — labor workers, in particular — for the accomplishments they made in this country.

There was a slow change-up from the backbone of the economy being slavery and indentured servitude to workers who could demand better treatment (and be accommodated in the slightest). Even if it wasn’t uncommon for some of these workers to only want such for people who looked like them, their ideas helped form any notion of decent working conditions we have today. The shift of jobs to places where people can be paid much less for their hard work has had a hugely detrimental effect on the morale in this country, including the way it seems to be milked to blame other people for this — instead of people who wanted to and could maximize profit.

When connections and being on the right side of red lines add up to more opportunities, it’s easy to wonder sometimes what hard works adds up to outside of that. There’s a condition called John Henryism in which people who are denied opportunities work twice as hard to make something of themselves — at the expense of wrecking their bodies. If you’ve ever lived in a crowded neighborhood that isn’t upwardly mobile, you’ll likely be familiar with older people who still get out despite the fact that it’s quite hard on them physically. It’s both bittersweet and inspiring, just like any solid notion of work.


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