By Helena Rodriguez: Freedom Newspapers
Once upon a time, a warlord rampaged throughout the countryside, killing every peasant until only a monk remained. Furious, he ordered the monk brought before him and shouted, “Do you know who I am?”
“I am he who can run you through with a sword without even batting an eye!” the all powerful warlord declared as he looked down at his seemingly helpless victim.
But the old monastic, looking the warlord straight in the eye, said, “And do you know who I am? I am he who can let you run me through with a sword — without even batting an eye.”
This story illustrates there can be a sense of power in being powerless and it’s often the powerless who are, in fact, the power behind the powerful.
Why do I bring this up on Labor Day weekend? I think we can look at this in terms of an employee-employer, worker-boss, little-guy/big cheese relationship as well.
I’ve been blessed over the past 18 years to have had some great bosses throughout my journalism career. Along the way, there have also been a few power-hungry supervisors, managing editors in training, who liked to exercise their power and remind you who was boss, for the time being, when the real boss was away. But there was also a brief and almost disastrous period in my career in which I was in charge of a small newspaper staff while the real boss was away.
That’s when I realized that in being the big cheese, the head honcho, the top dog, the fearless leader, el jefe or el numero uno, there is a fine line to walk.
Bosses must be nice, but not too nice, otherwise no work gets done; and they must be firm but not too firm, otherwise morale suffers, and that’s not good because it will eventually affect productivity and the bottom line.
The first Labor Day holiday was observed on Sept. 5, 1882, in New York City, during a time in which we can safely guess that work was much more physically demanding. Nowadays, a good number of us have desk jobs where we can slip in an occasional personal e-mail, a text message or a cigarette break, yet we still complain about having to get back to the old grindstone and we count the hours until Friday afternoon.
And yet I also know there are many hard working Americans today. I salute all laborers more than ever because we live in a time of rising costs of living and salaries that are at a stalemate; in a time of two-income, often not by choice, households; in a time in which many have to work more than one job or work overtime to make ends meet.
Samuel Gompers, founder and longtime president of the American Federation of Labor, said long ago the Labor Day holiday differs greatly from other holidays we observe, even federal holidays such as Memorial Day and Veterans Day. He said, “All other holidays are in a more or less degree connected with conflicts and battles of man’s prowess over man, of strife and discord for greed and power, of glories achieved by one nation over another. Labor Day is devoted to no man (in particular), living or dead, to no sect, race or nation.”
On Labor Day, it’s all about the workers.
Helena Rodriguez is a columnist for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico. She can be reached at: