“The city is beautiful and prosperous. It is much better than the countryside.” – Zhang Huike
This line, in one of my favorite movies, stayed with me for a while. It didn’t resonate with me because it brought back memories of childhood experiences I’ve had, but because it was meaningful and succinct to the young character’s story. Old Teacher Gao is trying to keep his very young students in school but he sometimes loses them because they have to work to feed themselves and their families. Zhang Huike is one of those very young students, and a trouble maker as it begins.
The film “Not One Less” is, beneath the surface, a story about labor to me. It’s about working and doing what you’re told you’re supposed to do in order to get paid. That’s what the story is about. The message that you get during it is much more intangible. Teacher Gao’s circumstance at the beginning of the film requires him to find a substitute teacher for himself. The events that follow are remarkable, not because of the turn of events and sequence of actions, but because of all the ideas that sneak up on you quietly. Ideas we already know.
What makes this idea of work, and this interpretation of labor, more interesting to me is to add a different perspective than our own. That is usually the case when we learn to appreciate something we’ve taken for granted in the past. It’s also universal to the idea of working that most of the planet can relate to in a very similar way. We can call it bartering. We can call it trade. We can even call it charity or philanthropy if you will, but it’s really all some kind of job to be completed.
Whether we wake up every day and look forward or dread the type of work in front of us is not the point. The fact is that we all have something to do for something to gain. We intentionally and unintentionally judge, envy, dismiss and appreciate others every day for the work they do.
Appreciation of work is also universal. The acknowledgement and celebration of it is what is always subjective.
The first Monday in September is a national holiday in the United States created by the labor movement in the late 1800s. It is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of workers in the United States. The amusing thing about this holiday is that we honor it by not working. Actually that’s not entirely true. There is much work to be done over the Labor Day Holiday. We just don’t get paid for it, but we sure do appreciate it when it’s accomplished.
As I’m finishing typing this I’m getting ready to drive out to my next Barbeque dinner with friends and family, so we can not work together today.
I’d like to dedicate this to the people who I think are the hardest working people in the world. All the teachers who quietly and mindfully do their work every single day in every single form, and labor through it without the fanfare. I’ll also be thinking of young Zhang Huike and all the extra chalk he brought back or Teacher Gao’s substitute teacher.