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2006-07-11 Society can't afford to undervalue vital assets

When a recent "Phoenix" magazine cover seemed to imply that our, dare I suggest, somewhat unhealthy Minister for Health was not so much concerned with the people on the trolleys as with the desserts on the trolley, it was evident that yet another vote of `no confidence' was being aimed at Mary Harney, and the endless problems within her ailing Health System.

 

The medical profession surely ought to be one of the most valued  after all, our lives are in their hands  and yet, doctors and nurses are overworked, hospitals are understaffed and plagued by pitiable conditions.

 

We hear in the news about attacks on members of our Emergency Services as they set off on life-saving missions. One fireman recently needed thirty-five stitches in his face after a brutal broken bottle attack, others wear `stab-vests' under their uniforms.

 

Similarly, paramedics, psychiatric nurses and members of the Garda Síochána (our `Guardians of the Peace') lay themselves open to risk on a daily basis. All of these professions are more like vocations, rather than run-of-the-mill jobs. When applying for these posts, does the job description on the application form point out the inherent risks invloved, and how poorly-paid some of these crucial careers can be?

 

Teaching is, or should be, also a vocation. Teachers have the single greatest impact on academic achievement, as they instill a love of learning and self-discipline in their pupils, while encouraging creativity, self-expression and respect. However, respect for teachers themselves does not seem to be what it once was.

 

As we watch re-runs of old family favourties such as "Little House on the Prairie" (some of us ; not me obviously), it almost seems strange how the village doctor, teacher and priest/minister were so highly respected, and held in such high esteem. Now, these and some other professions seem to have lost some of their status. At one time, doctors, teachers (educators) and priests (spiritual advisors) were the most highly revered professions, but now, society seems to look up to those working in property, building, finance, fashion, cars, computers, politics, and to A-list sports stars and entertainers. Thankfully, those of us down on the D-list do not fall under this umbrella.

 

Focus needs to be brought back on to certain jobs, those jobs which are responsible for shaping and saving lives. Perhaps we could institute a programme of awards for excellence in teaching and medicine. There are a handful of teachers I would love to present an award to, some admittedly posthumous, in recognition of their excellence. By publicly acknowledging their quality contribution, and by treating these vital professions with greater respect, perhaps we can also extract the `bad eggs' from the profession.

 

With an increasing emphasis on money-making and material wealth, I wonder if we will also soon be facing a dearth of skilled master-tradesmen such as plumbers, joiners, mechanics, electricians and carpenters, as well as experienced drivers and pilots to ferry us from A to B. Other important careers, such as air hostesses/stewards, have already lost a lot of the glamour they once boasted.

So many people give the impression that they dread going to work, and once home in the evening they simply want to forget all about their working lives. Others find work engaging and exhilariting.

Sometimes, for a variety of reasons, I dread going to work, but so far never enough to pack it all in and search for an alternative. A phrase which had an enormous effect on my life, but may appear gloomy to some, was what spurred me on to follow my career goals, and choose what I really wanted to do with my life, so that I would not end up a bitter old man full of regret  "True hell is `the you' facing `the you' that might have been". Perhaps the most important and least valued job, and one for which there is little or no training, and no remuneration, is that of the parent. Parents often happen by accident, and in many cases, parenting is conducted almost on a trial by error basis, and by following earlier poor examples. While often privately recognised, good parents are seldom publicly recognised.

Perhaps it is up to parents and educators to bring the focus firmly back onto the more `sacred professions'  those professions and vocations which hold the burning responsibility of shaping and saving our lives.