The Case for Working With Your Hands

There's an interesting article at nytimes.com called The Case for Working With Your Hands that covers the appeal of getting down and dirty and fixing things with your hands. Instead of getting lost in cubicle land, the author encourages people to get away from alternate universe corporate realities and dive into a world where you can easily see the results of your actions.

The trades suffer from low prestige, and I believe this is based on a simple mistake. Because the work is dirty, many people assume it is also stupid. This is not my experience. I have a small business as a motorcycle mechanic in Richmond, Va., which I started in 2002. I work on Japanese and European motorcycles, mostly older bikes with some "vintage" cachet that makes people willing to spend money on them. I have found the satisfactions of the work to be very much bound up with the intellectual challenges it presents. And yet my decision to go into this line of work is a choice that seems to perplex many people.

The Case for Working With Your Hands

Picture of The Case for Working With Your Hands
sort by: active | newest | oldest
1-10 of 11Next »
That was a great story, thanks for posting it!
SirRideaLot8 years ago
Let's see if all the people who work the trades quit I guess everyone else would have to throw away their cars, bikes, motorcycles, toilets, sinks, heaters, and so on... Imagine your car has a simple problem like the air filter is dirty and needs changing. OH WELL sorry no one gets their hands dirty anymore cause it's "STUPID" My, my, I guess that 40 thousand dollar auto is: Just a pile of junk now! Throw it out and go buy a new one, at least counting out more dollar bill will keep you hands clean...sucka! LOL
LtFransky8 years ago
I'm a plumber with a University degree (Queen's) and an Officer's Commision. As far as I'm concerned, plumbers are more important to society than doctors. Think about it. Plumbers are entrusted with the health of the whole nation. All it takes is one mistake and a whole community can be wiped out. You need water to live. If you don't see a doctor or a lawyer regularly, you'll be fine. But without water, you won't survive the day, and if sewage isn't treated properly, people die. If you want real world examples, look up Walkerton, ON or Kashechewan Indian Reserve.
You are referring to my comment (below)? If your arteries need "re-plumbing" you'd be a bit stuck without a qualified surgeon. If my tap leaks I'm happy to have a go at it myself. The article is in your favour, I was just asking whether medical professionals were included as "hands-on" in the same way. L
Erm...I have the highest respect for people who work with their hands, and agree that clean water and sanitation is essential, but it might be a bit far to say plumbers are more important... And you can survive for several days without water. ;)
PKM8 years ago
The trades suffer from low prestige, and I believe this is based on a simple mistake. Because the work is dirty, many people assume it is also stupid.

Hm. I think there is yet another interesting cultural divide here. I got the impression here that "the trades" have a bad reputation, not because the work is considered simple or stupid, but because of "cowboys" who exploit the customer's ignorance of what they are doing to massively overcharge for simple work.

This isn't helped by "ConsumerWatch" type TV programs that secretly film plumbers changing a washer, sitting around reading the paper for two hours and charging hundreds for it, or the ex-cowboys who go on these programs and brag about charging some sap 2000 currency units for a simple job so they could buy a jetski.

There's probably an element of confirmation bias here as well. My power shower broke, and I bodged a fix (of course) until a plumber came to look at it. He said the whole unit would have to be replaced because it had been stuck at some point and overheated, so was now "broken". I basically kicked up a fuss (saying, quite rightly, that the simple application of a pencil to the right place made hot water come out of the shower which I classed as being "not broken"), and he eventually, with many dire warnings about how it was a quick fix and probably wouldn't last, bent a washer back into shape and reassembled the shower.

That was months ago, and I've used it every day since with no problems. A couple of experiences like this could easily make someone indiscriminately mistrust all tradesmen. I'm not saying he was being deliberately dishonest, but as a reasonable person I would appreciate having the facts and options ("I can do a quick fix which may not last forever, or replace the unit for more monies") than a declaration of what I needed to do which turned out to be completely false.

In the interests of full disclosure, I have dealt with plenty of conscientious and honest tradesmen etc. in the past- I suspect the difference may have been because in the past they would have been dealing with my dad, who was a knowledgeable and practical older man, and now would be dealing with my landlady who is a slightly ditzy-sounding blonde young woman...
fuffer478 years ago
I heartily agree with the conclusion that people many times think that because you don't mind getting your hands, arms, clothes dirty, that somehow, you don't have the intellect to put two and two together. As a custom Paint Contractor in the Dal Tx area now for 25 years, people are still amazed when I tell them that I don't mind that part of the work at all. The heat sometimes in the summer and the cold outside can be a pain to work around. But what comes with prepping a house for painting and actually doing it, whether it be by brush, roller or sprayer, never bothered me much at all. Altogether not a bad way to make a living and not a killing...... Sonshine Services, Dallas Texas 469-358-3929
jeff-o8 years ago
After a day of staring at a computer screen at work, I can't wait to get home and cut stuff out of wood.
lemonie8 years ago
Doesn't look exciting, but a good read. Would you put e.g. Doctors in the same space as e.g. plumbers?

Depending on what they do, yes. Doctors definitely "work with their hands," and a process-control engineer (a.k.a. "plumber" :-) who designs and implements large-scale chemical processing systems has to deal with nearly as complex situations.

The author is contrasting, I think, direct operations on material objects (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) with abstract, usual computer-based operations with abstract "information."
1-10 of 11Next »