Pride - Is Also a Good Thing?

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So my last post was a philosophical rambling about why we love working for ourselves here at Solace Farm. While I was writing that, I kept taking tangents, but managed to edit that post to stay on topic – by telling myself I'd come back and post about the tangents separately :-) So...

Previously, I said that we are busy on the farm because we are doing things we like to do, learning new skills, and doing things ourselves instead of working a full-time job so we can pay someone else to do them. A part of this is that we are taking pride in what we do, even if it just simple manual labor.

As a society, we've been teaching our children for decades that, simply put, they're too good for manual labor, that they are meant for great things (meaning academia or the business world, tech industry, management, etc – something that makes money!) So then - what does it mean if they don't like those things, or simply aren't good at them? We've classified so many things that our daily lives depend on as “unskilled labor” or “art” (which we all know you really can't make a living at) or “a hobby”, we've demeaned them and devalued them (both psychologically and financially) and lost the knowledge base for them, so that people don't want to or even know how to do them, and then we wonder why so many young people suffer from depression, and just struggle with life in general.

I don't want to get too bogged down in generalities here, as I can easily get on quite the soapbox about this, but I just want to make the basic point that: I think we're off-base as a society in creating a value scale with physical/tangible life at one end and the esoteric world at the other, doing/”working” vs. thinking/“leisure time”. Growing food vs. computer programming, mechanics vs. Russian lit professors, raising and teaching our children vs. an office job, making clothing vs. being famous actors (or just... famous...?), law enforcement vs. CEO. We strangly define “quality time” as empty time. “Being” vs. “doing”. We (modern society) work so hard to earn “free time” that then is spent doing all the things that we just worked 40 or 60 or 80 hours a week so that we can pay someone else to do “the work” – buying groceries or clothes (rather than growing and making them), dealing with kids' school issues (rather than teaching them or just enjoying time with them)...and often those things were not done as well as we'd like (who hasn't complained about the quality of a shirt, “fresh” vegetable, waitstaff, teacher, etc) because – well, think about how little we pay them, and actually de-value those things. (And don't even get me started on the physical/health consequences of devaluing a physical life!  That's a whole nother post...)

Don't get me wrong, I love our Netflix time most evenings – but largely because that's my reserved knitting time :-) That is what relaxes me and I enjoy being entertained while I knit. And after a few months of watching whatever TV show (is there a word for binge-watching, but one hour at a time?!), I have a shawl, or sweater, or 5 pairs of slippers, or all of the above, to show for it.

It's been an interesting journey for me as I've sold and marketed my various products over the past 10 years. From vegetables to meat to knitting to soap, I've come a loooong ways from when I first started. I am no longer EVER apologetic for the cost of my items (I might be sorry that someone thinks the price is high, but I'm not actually sorry it is high!). I know that the true value of these things is still probably twice what I'm asking (or vastly more – for my most recent shawl, I calculated it took me roughly 50 hours to make the yarn alone, probably that again for the actual knitting, at $200 I'm still just making $2/hr!), and I've gotten comfortable with that. Interestingly, I think it has largely come from, as my previous post discussed, having so many things I want to do, and that has increased the value of my time. The highest hourly wage I ever received at a “real” job was $13/hr. Usually I was paid between $2 and $7, even as an armed park ranger (and college graduate, for all of those). Now that I have no dollar value to my time, I have come to find it much more valuable, based pretty much on what else I could be doing with it! 15 years ago, I would have maybe watched a movie, or read a book, or gone hiking - aahhh, the days when I would literally read a book all day!  Now, if I'm using my time to make a product for someone, I am forgoing raising my children, feeding my family, knitting my own Christmas gifts instead of someone else's, playing with my kids, working in the garden – or even just doing something else with a better monetary value - it's more worth my time to make soap than knit, for example. And my point is - I would not have this increased exchange-value of my time if I hadn't acquired all these skills and interests.

Basically, I have learned to take great pride in what I do, because I have learned the value in it. It is hard to do a lot of things we all take for granted. I mentioned last time that I buy our bread. I get the $6/loaf local artisan bread, because I have spent years grinding wheat, making and caring for sourdough cultures, and kneading and baking and kneading and kneading and baking. I know first-hand how much work and skill goes into that Bread Peddler bread (and all the weird ingredients that don't!), and it's more than worth its price to me. This same valuation process has happened for things I do continue to do - cheesemaking, soapmaking, hand-spinning, knitting, gardening, teaching – once I've started doing it myself I am blown away that we expect to get a decent education for our kids at the price we're paying teachers, or reasonably healthy food or quality clothing for what we pay for it. Every time I catch myself thinking “$1.39 for an avocado!!” I then think that that's immensely cheaper than driving to Mexico and picking my own, and vastly easier than growing my own (trust me, we've had a little avocado tree for several years that I think is actually dead now). 

Here on the farm, we are trying to “take back” those de-valued skills, the “menial” jobs, and realize the value in so many skills that are taken for granted and no longer respected. The reason I love not just knitting a beautiful shawl but actually cleaning, carding and spinning the wool first, from my own sheep, is – simply put - pride. Caleb doesn't just want a buckskin outfit – he wants to make it himself from start to finish, and he will be so proud of it. My boys are proud of their foraging contributions to meals, of their impressive knowledge and skills compared to other kids (and even some adults), and I'm proud of their ability to behave themselves in public :-) (If only it wasn't only in public...) All because we did it ourselves! I think our world would be a better place if we were truly proud of both ourselves and others for being good waiters, mechanics, store clerks, gardeners, weavers, potters, restaurant kitchen staff, on and on. It is easy to recognize a stunning lace shawl as a true work of art (interesting turn of phrase, by the way, “work” of art...), but what about a really good meal?  Not a Michelin-restaurant meal, just a well-balanced, colorful, satisfying, home-grown and home-cooked meat-n-three, or even pasta and salad.  Or an artisan bread baker.  Or really good wait staff.  Or a nurse that made your kid laugh so he didn't even notice he got a shot. So many of these jobs that, literally, our lives depend on, are low-status and “dead-end” rather than well-paid, respected careers recognized for keeping the rest of the world alive and operating happily (and paid accordingly). I hope we can teach our boys to value the right things in life, and maybe even get others to start thinking a little differently about the right priorities as well...

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