Yesterday we celebrated Labor Day in the U.S., a day of tribute to the working class in recognition of the contributions they (we) make to the *”strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.” Although no one knows exactly who first proposed the idea, we’ve been celebrating this holiday since 1882 (legislation making it an official holiday passed in 1894). Always the first Monday in September, Labor Day traditionally marks the end of summer, and, excepting those in the retail and service industries, most Americans celebrate the day with barbecues, picnics, parties, and parades.
And so yesterday, I began thinking about the many meanings of labor. We have an entire working class of people that we call Labor. And yet, no matter which socioeconomic class you belong to, the word also has personal implications. Labor is work, exertion. When we make an effort to accomplish something, we are “laboring.” However, the word also has negative associations, such as drudgery, menial work, and sweat shops.
This week’s journaling prompts help us reflect on the meaning of labor — from a deep, personal understanding to the broader context of society as a whole.
- If you live in the U.S. how did you celebrate this recent Labor Day holiday? How do you usually celebrate it? And what does this holiday mean to you?
- Do you think it’s appropriate to have a national holiday honoring the contributions of organized labor and/or the working class? In what ways yes, and in what ways no?
- When you think about Labor, as a class of people, who do you imagine? What do they look like? What kind of work do they do? As you have defined or imagined it, how do you feel about this group of people?
- At the top of a fresh page in your journal, write the word “labor.” Beneath it make a list of all the ways you labor (however you interpret the word). Which of these labors do you enjoy and which do you not enjoy? Which list carries the greater weight — enjoyment or not-enjoyment? Write about what you notice and what changes you might make, if any.
- Look up the word “labor” in a thesaurus. Write down all the synonyms that evoke an emotional response. Then, slowly review your list, noticing how you feel as you read each word. Select the word that evokes the strongest feeling and freewrite for ten minutes about it.
- Think about common phrases that have the word labor in them: child labor, pregnancy labor, inducing labor, labor pains, Labor Party, labor relations, labor of love, fruits of labor, and so on. Can you add to this list? Which ones stand out most to you, and why?
- When you are engaged in something you love to do — a hobby, social activity, sport, etc. — do you feel that you are laboring? Why or why not? What makes the difference?
How do your feelings and attitudes about labor affect your perceptions of life? Share your thoughts — leave a comment.
* U.S. Dept. of Labor